Far Flung Wonder: Newfoundland & Labrador

Located at the edge of North America on one of the four corners of the world, Newfoundland and Labrador is the kind of place you go to see and appreciate nature in all its glory. Dramatic coastlines, sweeping barrens, thick boreal forests, and ancient rock formations – the natural, wild beauty of this place surrounds you at every turn.

At just over 400,000sq.km. (about the same geographic size as Japan), the living landscape is its own wonder – teeming with seabirds, moose, caribou, and rich marine life.

With more than 29,000kms of rugged coastline, you’re never far from the ocean. You can see houses of yellow and blue, lime, aqua, and green that cling to the shore in villages, outports, coves, guts, and bays. The inhabitants are more than proud to show their true colours to visitors; uniquely, the locals speak more dialects of English here than any other place in the world, and they even have their very own Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

Exploring Hiking Trails

The pristine coastline of Newfoundland and Labrador is dotted with beaches, sea stacks, and close to 300 hiking and walking trails, including historic footpaths between abandoned fishing communities, trails to deep fjords, towering cliffs, and sub-arctic barrens, through lush inland forests, and over the Earth’s mantle.

Along the way, if the timing is right, you’ll see seabirds, whales, and icebergs. And keep an eye out for moose and boreal songbirds as you connect with the unspoiled wilderness. The diverse trails and the fresh sea air is rejuvenating for the mind, body, and spirit.

The hiking experience varies greatly, ranging from short 2km strolls to multi-day hikes. There’s the 6km Shoreline Heritage Walking Trail in Bay Roberts, which is a coastal walk that wanders along sheer cliffs, sweeps of beaches, sheltered coves, and craggy headlands where you can see whales follow capelin, squid, and other fish into the bay, especially in June and July.

For a longer hike, the Labrador Pioneer Footpath is a 65km coastal trail that combines a series of traditional walking paths along the shore of the Labrador Strait between L’Anse-au-Clair and Pinware. Once the only land link between these communities, you can look out for shipwrecks, whales, icebergs, and Atlantic Canada’s tallest lighthouse.

The multi-day 265km-long East Coast Trail meanders along the scenic shores of the Avalon Peninsula. The salt-scoured seaside trails take you through 30 coastal communities and each trail has its distinctive topography, history, and surprises – like a geyser powered by the waves and the first sunrise in North America.

Icebergs

When it comes to viewing icebergs, Newfoundland and Labrador are one of the best places in the world. On a sunny day, these 10,000-year-old glacial giants are visible from many points along the northern and eastern coasts. They come in every shape and size, with colours from snow-white to deepest aquamarine.

If iceberg watching is something on your list, Iceberg Alley is the best place on the continent to see these ancient frosty giants.

These huge bergs arrive from the Arctic every spring – roughly 90% of icebergs seen off Newfoundland and Labrador come from the glaciers of western Greenland, while the rest come from glaciers in Canada’s Arctic. Their sheer size is awe-inspiring, and that’s without seeing the 99% still below the surface of the ocean.

Since icebergs are so plentiful around these parts, locals actually drink them – as Berg water, or use them in spirits like Iceberg Vodka, Gin, Rum, and of course Iceberg Beer.

UNESCO Sites

Newfoundland and Labrador is home to four unique and different World Heritage Sites, and no visit to the province would be complete without making it to at least one of them.

The Gros Morne National Park provides a rare example of the process of continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rust-coloured rocks of the Earth’s mantle lie exposed at the Tablelands. Recent glacial action has also added to this spectacular scenery. You can explore the park’s breathtaking vistas on amazing hikes (or relaxing tours) of its geological wonders – and take in 485 million years of Mother Nature’s work.

If you prefer human history, check out the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site at the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. It was the first real evidence of these Europeans reaching the new world over 1,000 years ago (long before Columbus) and the excavated remains of wood-framed, peat-turf buildings are similar to those found in Norse Greenland and Iceland.

For more recent history, visit the Red Bay National Historic Site which is home to a whaling industry and a major source of whale oil that lit the homes of Europe, established by Basque mariners in the 16th century. Called Gran Baya by those that sailed here every summer, this archaeological site showcases the earliest and most intact evidence of European whaling tradition – including whale bones and a restored chalupa – located along the Labrador Coastal Drive.

At Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve on the southeastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula is a narrow, 17km-long strip of rugged coastal cliffs that predate the age of dinosaurs. Dating back 580 million years ago, it’s home to the world’s oldest known collection of large, multicellular fossils that illustrate the beginning of life on Earth. You can see these fossils and walk on rocks that were once the deep ocean floor.

Wildlife

There’s no shortage of wildlife in this relatively remote part of the world. Along the coastline, it’s not hard to spot plenty of whales and seabirds; you’ll find more species, more often, in more places around here than anywhere else in North America. There are 22 species of whales alone, including the world’s largest migrating population of humpbacks.

As icebergs drift south, humpbacks migrate north. This is the place where their paths cross and are home to the world’s largest population of feeding humpback whales. These whales return each year to feed on capelin, krill, and squid along the coast. Another 21 species of whales and dolphins visit along with them including the minke, sperm, pothead, blue, and orca.

Between May and September, you can see them feed, frolic and even breach near Newfoundland’s shores. Catching a single glimpse of these majestic mammals is an exciting and unique experience, whether it’s from the deck of a tour boat, the side of your sea kayak, or a seaside trail.

Whales can be seen in all bays along the coastline; spectacular viewing sites are Signal Hill, Cape Spear, Trinity, Cape Bonavista, Twillingate, White Bay, Strait of Belle Isle, St. Vincent’s, Cape St. Mary’s, Cape Race, Witless Bay, and St. Anthony.

Newfoundland and Labrador are aptly named the seabird capital of North America as it’s home to the most spectacular and accessible seabird colonies. More than 35 million seabirds – northern gannets, kittiwakes, murres, Atlantic puffins, osprey, falcons, hawks, torm petrels, razorbills, and bald eagles – gather at the six ecological reserves here every year.

Experience the chaotic gatherings of25,000 gannets and 7 million storm-petrels, just to name a few. Witness more than 500,000 Atlantic puffins at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, North America’s largest Atlantic puffin sanctuary. Or, stand a mere 20m from Bird Rock at the magnificent Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, one of the most accessible seabird nesting sites in the world.

Birds of prey such as hawks, falcons, ospreys, and owls also patrol these parts. They share their nesting grounds with over 800 bald eagles – one of the largest populations on the continent.

On land, the pristine landscape and abundance of the large and small game make for incredible sightseeing, by car or hike. For example, in Gros Morne National Park the moose population density is one of the highest in North America (so be cautious driving, especially at dusk or dawn). The region is also home to woodland caribou and an abundance of black bears, some topping the scales at 600lbs.

Getting There

While Newfoundland and Labrador are off the beaten path, it does get a lot of visitors during the spring/summer season when bookings can fill up fast. The best months to visit are April to June when icebergs are most plentiful, whales can be seen breaching and frolicking in the waters, and seabirds start to come ashore.

To avoid disappointment, you should book accommodations, car rentals, flights, and ferries in advance. While it is remote, flying time to the main airport at St. John’s (on Newfoundland) is about 3.5 hours from Toronto and about 5 hours from London. Air Canada, WestJet and Porter fly here daily. For more, check www.newfoundlandlabrador.com.

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