Elusive Moose, Iceberg-Brewed Beer And Chasing Whales In Newfoundland, Canada

Words: Adrienne Wyper

On a map Newfoundland looks like a moose’s head, splattered with blue paint. A perfect geographical nod to its moosey motherland, Canada.

Sunrise at Cape Spear, Canada’s most easterly point. 
© Barrett & MacKay/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

And though it’s a little off the UK’s radar it’s the nearest point of North America to us - just five hours away by plane and a stunning place of natural beauty, wild animals and icebergs.

Plus its capital, St John’s, has the most number of bars per square foot of anywhere in North America. What more could you want?

Once you’re there it’s deep blue sea against granite cliffs, endless pine forests, myriad wild flowers and berries, cute fishing villages with houses painted in jelly-bean colours. And space.

It takes time to adjust to the island’s scale - it’s enormous. Twice the size of the UK, with a population of around one per cent of ours, its half a million residents live in communities strung out along 6,000 miles of coastline. Access to the natural world, and seriously stunning scenery, is on your doorstep.

And that’s why people come: For ’bergs, birds, whales and walks.

St John’s cityscape. Credit
© Barrett & MacKay/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Eyes On The Ice

The rocky coastline is rugged, and the interior dotted with countless lakes - so many it seems the Newfoundlanders have struggled to name them all – there are, rather unoriginally, 82 Long Ponds.

But the real dazzling views are out to shore. On the horizon you’ll see what look like white container ships, or waves breaking on an offshore reef. But actually, they’re icebergs, calved from glaciers in Greenland, then carried southward down the coast on the Labrador Current to ‘Iceberg Alley’, off the coast of Newfoundland, one of the world’s best bergspotting locations.

And it’s also one of the easiest. Onshore breezes waft these 15,000-year-old chunks of ice towards the coast, but with summer temperatures in the 20s you can stand on shore and be impressed in short sleeves.

Iceberg and Newfoundland flag.
© Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Iceberg dwarfing buildings 
© Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Puffin Stuff

Cute colourful puffins are also very easy to see here, in Elliston. Over 2,000 pairs visit the rocky islet to breed between May and September, and just 50m away across a channel you can watch them bobbing up and down by their burrows or flying off in search of food for the pufflings (cutest baby animal name ever).

More than 35 million seabirds gather here every year, including northern gannets (see them diving like spears into the sea to catch fish), kittiwakes (a type of gull), and guillemots.

Puffins at Elliston.
© Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

On The Whale Tail Trail

You don’t need a boat trip for some whale-watching; if you watch, and wait… you’ll see humpback and minke whales from coastal paths and even in the capital’s harbour.

Obviously, on a boat you’re closer to the whales, and going out onto the water gave us a great perspective of the Island itself, with stunning views of the cliffs, lighthouses, seabirds and lobster fishermen along the way. Iceberg Quest tours cost $60 for a two-hour trip, leaving from St John’s up to four times a day.

Whale watching Bay Bulls
© O'Brien’s Boat Tours/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Take A Walk

The East Coast Trail runs for 265km of sublime sea and sky views with towering cliffs, sea stacks, fjords, forest and meadows. The paths link 30 communities where you can stop for refreshment, or stay the night, and are so well signposted it would be hard to take a wrong turning! You can start in St John’s, heading past the Battery and up Signal Hill for stunning sea and city views.

Up in Bonavista, the 5.3km Skerwink Trail, hugging pine-clad granite cliffs, ambling across meadows and past ponds, is rated as one of North America’s best.

Hiking Cupids Avalon. 
© Dennis Minty/Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Moose On The Loose

Moose squaring off
© Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

The moose - all100,000 of them - are elusive, despite all the yellow moose warning road signs we see everywhere. We glimpsed just three, each time standing on the edge of the woods by the road, tall, motionless, glossy brown.

And the moose seem to be elusive even to each other. At Fisher’s Loft hotel the metal sculpture of one lovely specimen proved irresistible to a local flesh-and-blood moose – and the attempted mating that ensued was quite a thing to behold!

Newfoundland Fishers Loft moose.
Adrienne Wyper

Pick Up A Paddle

Silently gliding across the water in a kayak (apart from your splashing and squealing), you’ll feel part of another world. There’s nonstop banter from the guides at Stan Cook Sea Adventures who are keen to immerse you (not literally, happily) in their world, pulling up lobster pots wriggling with starfish, as well as lobsters, passing round spiny black sea urchins on the paddle so we could take a closer look, and a nibble (‘creamy and tingly’ was the verdict).

Our two-hour tour took us along both sides of the fjord, getting up close to a waterfall, and into a long, narrow sea cave.

Newfoundland kayaks 
Adrienne Wyper

Kayaking in cave
Stan Cook

Hearty Eats

Traditional Newfoundland specialities are mainly of the old-fashioned waste-not-want-not home cooking style and ‘fish’ always means cod (other fish are specifically named).  

On the menu, look out for fish and brewis - cod with hard-tack bread, scruncheons - like pork scratchings, toutons - thick, bread-like pancakes and Jiggs dinner - salt beef boiled with potatoes, carrot, cabbage, turnip and turnip greens, or poutine - chips with cheese curds and gravy.

Newfoundland is big on berries. Look out for its specialities - partridgeberries (tart flavour), creeping snowberries (taste minty) and bakeapples (look like strawberries, taste like… you guessed it).

Fancy a drink with dinner? Sample craft beers from local breweries - my favourite was Quidi Vidi Brewery’s Iceberg beer, brewed with phenomenally pure water harvested from passing icebergs.

Jiggs dinner, Nicole’s Cafe
© Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Stay In Style

The large, comfortable Sheraton in St John’s is set on a hill in the centre of town. The spacious rooms, with super-comfy beds, have big windows with harbour and city views. There’s a plant-filled atrium with an indoor waterfall, tucked behind which is the gym and pool.

Fisher’s Loft is a cluster of traditional wooden buildings set on a Bonavista hillside with stunning views. A collage of land and water studded with cheery wooden houses. Room style is solid, simple and oh-so comfortable - and there are blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Works of art (including the aforementioned moose) and seats are dotted around. 

The Deets

Canadian Affair offers holidays to Newfoundland year round, with six-night packages from £959 per person, including return flights from London Heathrow, and accommodation (based on two sharing) at a three-star hotel. For information and reservations, call 020 7616 9933 / 0141 223 7515 or visit www.canadianaffair.com

[Eat Your Way Around Kolkata]
[The Philippines: Undiscovered Treasure Of The Far East]