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By Jennifer Van Allen
One of the great appeals of living in New England is its proximity to a beautiful coastline, spectacular beaches, and scenic hikes; a place where our natural environment is at our fingertips wherever we go. But when was the last time you actually came up close to whales and dolphins? Or found yourself watching a throng of rainbow-beaked puffins sunning themselves on a rock so close you could almost reach out and touch them? And have you ever seen a mammoth iceberg up close, big as a building, beautiful as a sculpture?
For those sorts of experiences, it requires leaving the comforts of New England behind and heading north of the border, where there’s one province that can provide all of this breathtaking nature. If you’re fortunate enough to have an extended vacation, there’s a two week itinerary that will take your breath away every day.
Newfoundland and Labrador is a place of fierce beauty that lives and breathes by the sea, a rugged land with more than 18,000 miles of coastline. And no two miles look the same. It’s a place where mystery and light wash over the landscape in equal measure. Here, visitors are treated to one of the greatest live shows on earth: 35 million seabirds, thousands of whales (Newfoundland and Labrador happens to be the humpback capital of the world) and 10,000-year-old glacial giants gliding along the shore, down what is known as ‘Iceberg Alley’.
Binoculars are optional, of course, but if you make only one purchase before visiting Newfoundland and Labrador, it might not be a bad idea. The region proudly boasts of being one of the world’s birdwatching capitals, with more than 350 species. The Atlantic Puffin is a must-see, and it’s not hard to spot these colorful characters – take a boat tour from Witless Bay around the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where more than 500,000 puffins make their home. Or if you’ve not yet got your sea legs, visit the community of Elliston where Puffins can be easily observed from terra firma.
To get up close and personal with thousands of northern gannets, razorbills, common murres, black-legged kittiwakes, and double-crested and great cormorants, head for the very accessible Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve and stand only 65 feet from their nesting sites on the aptly-named Bird Rock.
As much fun as whale watching is between Boston and Provincetown, Newfoundland and Labrador is truly one of the most spectacular whale watching places on earth. Every year the world’s largest population of humpbacks return to feed on capelin, krill, and squid along the coast. And 21 other species of whales and dolphins visit along with them, including the minke, sperm, pothead, fin, and orca.
You’ll find them here between May and September, feeding and frolicking just off the shore. If you want to get even closer, you can do it from a sea kayak, but there are other ways to spot them, too: from the beach at St. Vincent’s, from Point Amour Lighthouse or Cape Spear, or from a tour boat out of places like Trinity, Bonavista, Twillingate or St. Anthony.
Of all the reasons to visit Newfoundland and Labrador, however, nothing can match the simply awesome sight of floating icebergs. These icy giants break off from glaciers on the coast of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, and gradually make their way past these shores – an annual migration down Iceberg Alley. It was one of these that doomed the Titanic on its maiden voyage 400 miles off the Newfoundland and Labrador coast in 1912.
As huge as they are, what you see is only 10 percent of the actual iceberg — the other 90 percent is below the ocean surface.
The town of Twillingate is perched right on the edge of Iceberg Alley, and is a favorite spot for spying icebergs; a number of boat tours in the area will take you out to see the bergs and watch for whales and seabirds. Or visit Long Point Lighthouse on a high bluff in nearby Crow Head, where you’ll have a panoramic view of the surrounding sea and any bergs that float on by.
Need help locating a berg? Visit icebergfinder.com.
Afterwards, while you’re sipping a cold drink, don’t be surprised to find that ice in your glass was harvested from one of these frozen giants. The ultra-pure iceberg water is also the vital ingredient in locally-made vodka, gin, and beer.
Just in case icebergs, birds, and whales are not enough to get your heart racing, here is a shortlist of other adventures to experience across Canada’s easternmost province that should be on every visitor’s to-do list:
If there is a downside, it’s that it’s impossible to see it all on one visit. On the other hand, once you’ve had a chance to experience the nature of Newfoundland and Labrador, you’ll be planning the itinerary for your next visit before you’ve even flown home.
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Glorious festivals for everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador
In this beautiful coastal Canadian province, there’s always something fun to celebrate and something unforgettable to see.