Earth, sea, sky: the common elements that define the Atlantic Canadian landscape have an uncommon appeal in Newfoundland & Labrador. The province’s northerly position lends the last of these a special quality of light, and the water washing its 17,542-km (10,900-mi.) coast seems to change character constantly. Moreover, the earth itself is diverse, encompassing everything from daunting mountains and dense boreal forests to starkly beautiful barrens. Further blessed with a rich history and wondrous wildlife, this faraway place is clearly far from ordinary.
“Rugged” is the word best used to describe the look of Newfoundland & Labrador. Wedged between water and woodlands are cliff-top fishing hamlets, balanced precariously on the jagged shore. The scenery in national parks is even more dramatic. Witness perennially popular Gros Morne, a UNESCO-anointed site where you can float on a fjord carved during the last ice age and admire photogenic rock formations created hundreds of millions of years ago when the planet’s tectonic plates collided; or remote Torngat Mountains National Park, where glacier-dotted peaks that date back nearly four billion years rise up out of natural amphitheatres.
A human story is also etched upon this ancient earth. Labrador’s Native people, for example, have called “The Big Land” home for several millennia: indeed, stone caribou fences, burial mounds and other archaeological evidence they left behind predate the pyramids. The Rock, meanwhile, has its own long history. After all, Newfoundland has been welcoming “people from away” since 1000 AD when Leif Eriksson and his Viking cohorts set up camp on the Great Northern Peninsula, building huts out of the sod and crafting iron from the bog-ore it yielded. Their L’Anse aux Meadows landing spot is now a haunting UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the centuries following Eriksson’s arrival, European fishermen came to reap the ocean’s bounty. Luckily for wildlife watchers, some spectacular animals still do the same. An estimated 35 million seabirds flock in seasonally—puffins, osprey, gannets and more spiral around easy-to-access reserves. Super-sized whales swim in to feed from spring through early fall, and tour boats will take you out to watch them breech and blow—perhaps against a backdrop of icebergs that loom as much as 60 m (197 ft.) above sea level. In the northernmost coastal regions you might even spy polar bears, which the Inuit believe are embodiments of the Great Spirit.
With extraordinary sights like that vying for your attention, isn’t it time you dropped by too?
Heart’s Content marks the 150th anniversary of the first permanent trans-Atlantic telegraph cable—and the dawn of global communications—in July (www.heartscontent.ca
This spring, WestJet makes travelling between St. John’s and London (Gatwick) easier by a launching a non-stop service linking the cities (www.westjet.com
Stylish boutique hotels keep sprouting up in the capital: note the debut of Jag in late 2014 and The Luxus in 2015 (www.steelehotels.com
A new Category III landing system at St. John’s International Airport will facilitate take-offs and touch-downs on foggy days (www.stjohnsairport.com
Marble Inn Resort, just east of Corner Brook, is now packaging multi-day adventures to Gros Morne and the Torngat Mountains (www.explorenewfoundland.com
St. John’s—which earned a spot on National Geographic
’s list of “Top 10 Oceanfront Cities” last year—is a compelling mix of old and new. Designated heritage venues and classic Crayola-coloured houses blend with contemporary office buildings in this upbeat seaport. Shops, galleries and restaurants, many of which give tradition a modern twist, are plentiful. So are bars: jumping George Street reputedly has more per square metre than any street in North America! The province’s largest urban centre also boasts its broadest selection of accommodations—business class and boutique hotels, historic inns and quaint B&Bs among them (www.stjohns.ca
Corner Brook, Newfoundland & Labrador’s second city, makes a convenient base for sports and nature-loving day trippers. Sitting in the shadow of the Blow Me Down Mountains, it puts visitors within easy reach of both Marble Mountain and the Humber Valley. An average annual 5-m (16-ft.) snowfall draws an international contingent of downhill and cross-country skiers to the former, while the latter is a favourite locale for anglers and golfers. Sailing or kayaking on the boater-friendly Bay of Islands is a memorable alternative (www.cornerbrook.com
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Naturally, this province has much in store. For starters, it is home to four national parks, including Mealy Mountains (the country’s newest and Atlantic Canada’s largest), which will welcome its first guests in a few years. The remaining three—Gros Morne in western Newfoundland, Terra Nova in eastern Newfoundland and the Torngat Mountains on Labrador’s northern tip—are stand-outs in their own right. Collectively, they offer activities ranging from snowshoeing and snowmobiling to hiking, biking and botanical treks, along with kids’ programs and campfire events for all ages.
These parks, however, don’t hold a monopoly on outdoor fun. Take the Humber River area: although known primarily as a winter skiing and snowboarding destination, it promises warm-weather pursuits like hiking, rappelling, golfing and caving too. On-the-water options in Newfoundland & Labrador include world-class salmon fishing, sea kayaking and whitewater rafting. Increasing numbers of scuba divers and snorkellers are donning dry suits for a peek at what lies beneath as well. If you would rather see the sights from a boat deck, whale and birdwatching trips are widely available, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg . . . literally and figuratively. June through early July, berg chasing is so popular that the tourism board maintains a website to track the movement of these mountains of ice (www.icebergfinder.com
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
The past is proudly displayed at dozens of historic attractions and more than 100 museums. Some are modest operations; others, such as The Rooms—St. John’s provincial museum, gallery and archives complex—are state-of-the-art. Yet the true beauty of Newfoundland & Labrador’s strong culture is evident everywhere. History and folklore, for instance, are passed on orally with the number of tales being matched only by the number of enthusiastic tellers. Music is handed down as well, so old tunes from Europe sound as fresh as they did when they were first carried across the Atlantic, especially when reinterpreted by bands like Great Big Sea. Traditional influences are equally apparent in the visual arts because the motifs
that knitters, quilters and other craftspeople used for generations have been adapted by today’s cutting-edge artisans. The provincial Craft Council website shows you where to buy the best (www.craftcouncil.nl.ca
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Start your day by watching the sunrise at Cape Spear. Dawn breaks at this easternmost point before anywhere else on the continent (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/nl/spear/index.aspx
Get a bird’s-eye view of gannets at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve or pretty Atlantic puffins at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (www.env.gov.nl.ca/env/parks/wer/index.html
Twillingate is the
place for vacationers wanting to go with the floe. This old-school outport on Notre Dame Bay calls itself “The Iceberg Capital of the World” (www.twillingatetourism.ca
History comes alive in St. John’s, but the “undead” are just as intriguing. Fans of goosebump-inducing ghost stories can tour downtown at night on a Haunted Hike (www.hauntedhike.com
A series of architecturally advanced studios turned tiny Fogo Island into a big art-and-design destination. Now a stunning inn provides five-star lodgings (www.townoffogoisland.ca
Curious epicures shouldn’t leave without sampling cod tongues, moose burgers, blueberry grunt and other delicacies (www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/thingstodo/fooddining
Moose alert! Newfoundland’s 110,000 moose can be a major hazard for motorists. So be especially careful when driving highways at dusk and dawn.
The Viking Trail, 489 km (304 mi.) on Newfoundland’s west coast, paves the way to a UNESCO-designated duo—L’Anse aux Meadows and Gros Morne National Park —providing a crash course in history en route
The 230-km (143-mi.) Discovery Trail winds along Newfoundland’s east coast. The ample cod stocks John Cabot observed in 1497 have been depleted, yet fishing villages, fertile farmlands and tall timber stands remain.
The Kittiwake Coast—Road to the Isles Route, 172 km (107 mi.) in the province’s Central Region, stretches from Notre Dame Provincial Park to Notre Dame Bay where icebergs, whales and coastal hiking trails await.
Kids will love Norstead—a recreated Viking port of trade near L’Anse aux Meadows featuring authentic-looking structures and a full-scale replica of a period ship. Costumed interpreters are on hand to tell old Norse tales and to demonstrate traditional tasks such as blacksmithing, weaving and pottery making (www.norstead.com
PARK PICK: RED BAY NATIONAL H ISTORIC SITE
Designated as both a national historic site and a UNESCO world heritage site, Red Bay recalls those heady days in the 16th century when Labrador was an international industrial centre. Here, Basque whalers from France and Spain manufactured much-coveted oil out of blubber, thereby proving that oil booms are nothing new in this part of the world. At the Visitor Orientation Centre, from early June to late September, modern-day visitors can catch a film recounting the era, then check out models of whaling station buildings and archaeological artefacts—including a rare chalupa (open whaling boat). Costumed interpreters and innovative programs enhance the time-warped experience. (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/nl/redbay/natcul/unesco.aspx
More info on National Parks and Historic Sites: www.pc.gc.ca