It sounds like the edge of the world doesn’t it. I know its not a place that pops in to mind when planning a road trip but, with its rugged landscapes, varied wildlife and renowned hospitality, it makes for an unforgettable experience.
(My Top 10 has been selected from a 2011 trip. All photos from that time have been lost so stock images have been used for this post.)
1. Colour, Colour, Everywhere…
The first thing you notice is the colour. According to legend, houses are painted this way to help sailors find their homes upon returning from sea in fog and other inclement weather. Whatever the reason, the colourful homes, lighthouses, barns and sheds are stunning against the backdrop of such a bleak landscape.
2. Vibrant City Life
Founded in 1497, St John’s is the oldest city in North America. With a population of 114,000. it has retained its ‘small town’ feel but, what it might lack in size, it more than makes up for in vitality, action and craic. During the day, you can enjoy the colourful jellybean houses and the galleries, visit one of the neighbouring villages or take a sea trip. Later on you’ll probably head to George Street which has more pubs per foot than any other town in North America and where you’ll find music every night of the week – not to mention lots of local beers to sample. There are so many restaurants to try out – of course you have to taste the fish!
You might wish to partake in a screech-in – a ceremony performed for ‘mainlanders’. It varies a bit depending on the venue but involves taking a shot of screech (rum), kissing a codfish and reciting ‘Long may your big jib draw’ (this is a good luck wish, a jib being the sail on a schooner). You are now an honorary Newfie!
3.The Great Outdoors
It can be difficult to tear yourself away from St. Johns but you’re here for the scenery and landscapes. Gros Morne National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the west coast. Stunning glacial fjords, forests and thousands of moose make it an outdoor lover’s paradise. You don’t have to be a serious hiker – there are plenty of easy trails and boat trips for all to enjoy.
The island boasts a 9656km coastline. One of the most popular regions is the Bonavista Peninsula where you can enjoy spectacular scenery interspersed with small fishing communites and heritage sites.
4. Moose Burger
Well…. when in Rome…..
You can do a lot with moose meat – stew, stir fry, stroganoff, burger, bologna, meatballs, jerky …. A member of the deer family, its just like using venison and other game recipes…
Moose were introduced to Newfoundland in 1904 with the idea of developing hunting tourism. The population has increased drastically ( about 120,000) to the detriment of various ecosystems (not to mention safety – there are an estimated 600 moose-vehicle collisions per year) . In places like Gros Morne, high density of moose has restricted the regeneration of young trees, thus changing the mix of vegetation which in turn affects other wildlife like bears, lynx and coyote.
To help control the exploding moose population and reduce its impact, there has been a huge increase in the number of hunting licenses issued – you can even get a license for the national park itself. You can take your moose to the local butcher for cutting into steaks, roasts, and ribs – there must be a lot of very well filled freezers on the island!
Newfoundland is a great place for viewing icebergs in all their glory. May and June are the best months – the icebergs make their way down the Atlantic after breaking off from glaciers in Greenland and currents carry them right past the island. You can join a boat tour to get up close or just watch them from land.
The puffin is Newfoundland’s provincial bird. . The best time to see the birds is mid May – early September when they gather in colonies to breed. The largest colony in North America is just 40 minutes from St. Johns – 225,000 pairs!
The world’s largest population of humpbacks visits this region every year to feed in the rich waters. The best time for viewing is mid May – September. But you’ll see more than humpbacks – orca, sperm, blue – there are around 20 species of whales and dolphins to be spotted. As with the icebergs and puffins, you can take a boat trip or just enjoy a bit of whale-spotting from shore, anywhere along the coast…
8. Irish Heritage
Its impossible to ignore the Irish vibe on the island. Often dubbed the ‘most Irish place outside Ireland’ you don’t have to go to a pub on George Street to hear an Irish accent.
The Irish began arriving during the 18th century. Men were contracted for two fishing seasons and wintered once in Newfoundland before returning to their families in Ireland. During the 1770’s an estimated 5,000 men made such trips. Seasonal migration evolved into emigration and, by 1835, up to 35,000 Irish immigrants had settled here permanently. Many lived in isolated communities – well into the 20th century – their accents and traditions creating a very distinctive subculture.
While the 2016 Census of Canada suggests that only 20.7 per cent of the province’s total population claim Irish descent, many trace elements of Irish culture have endured.
Newfoundland boasts the only Viking site in North America. The site at L’Anse aux Meadows provides the earliest evidence of Europeans on the continent. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will find structures built in the same style as those found in Greenland and Iceland from the same period. Excavations include three homes, a forge and four workshops with evidence of iron production and woodworking.
L’Anse aux Meadows is quite a distance from St. Johns but much closer is the Colony of Avalon – a well preserved 17th century English Colony – where you can witness an active archaeological dig and call into the visitor’s centre.
I’m finishing with what was for us the highlight of our trip. Just above the archaeological site at the Colony of Avalon is Ferryland Lighthouse. The 25 minute trek up to the lighthouse is worth it for the views alone but allow enough time to enjoy a wonderful experience. Go in and order your picnic which is made in the little kitchen, grab a blanket and go find a spot on the hillside. As we enjoyed our afternoon selection, we watched a whale making its way through the sound below…. brilliant!
Where exactly is Newfoundland?
Newfoundland and Labrador is the most easterly province of Canada
Car: Ferry from Nova Scotia takes about 6 hours
Air: St John’s International Airport – US Airports / Canada Airports / London Heathrow,
Gander Airport – Halifax / Toronto
Deer Lake Regional Airport – Halifax / Toronto / St Johns
There are public buses in St Johns and between the main urban settlements. Beyond that, public transport is not readily available so car rental is the best option.
The island is bigger than you think.
St Johns > Gros Morne = 667km (6.75 hours drive)
St. Johns > L’Anse aux Meadows = 1068km (11 hours)
St Johns > Bonavista =311km (3.15 Hours)
You’d easily fill 2 weeks. That allows a few days at Gros Morne before heading up towards L’Anse aux Meadows. Then head for Bonavista peninsula for a few nights before going to St. Johns. From here you can do the Irish Loop and enjoy a boat trip and some shorter day trips to Ferryland etc.
It also combines well with other destinations in Eastern Canada. Our trip began in Quebec, then Toronto, before flying in to Deer Lake and out of St. Johns.
Note – moose present a real danger to motorists at dawn and dusk (to a lesser extent at night) – so much so that many locals prefer not to drive at these times. The animal is drawn to headlights and, upon impact, cars typically knock the moose’s legs away, leaving its body to come hurtling through the windscreen.
When to go:
This is not a sun destination!! Summer highs are around 25 degrees celsius. Coastal weather can include fog, cloud and wind.
The tourist season is really just from April to October – many places shut down for winter. The busiest time is from Mid June – end August. This is when you get the best weather, festivals, etc. Then you want to factor in icebergs, puffins, whales……
Bits and Bobs….
Picnic – We were able to just walk in and order our picnic. I see from their website that booking in advance is now necessary.
Flying home – We’d an early morning flight from St. Johns to Newark, and then the late evening flight to Dublin. The St Johns / Newark flight is about 3 hours. So we’d several hours at Newark….. BUT…. that was PERFECT for the Jersey Gardens Shopping Outlet Mall. A shuttle bus operates between the airport and the mall…. a 10 minute trip for $9 return…. We’ve used it several times. Don’t worry about your luggage – if you have to bring it with you then just pay for a shopping trolley at the mall and wheel your bags around (and you can pack all your purchases before you get back to the airport!).
Car Rental – We picked up our car at Deer Lake airport and dropped it back at St. Johns airport – always make sure to check for surcharges if not returning to same location…
I found this watercolour, as well as the ‘featured image’ on Flickr – They are by artist Alan Schmierer
Before you go:
If you enjoyed my Top 10 of Newfoundland then have a look at these Top 10’s: