If you’ve always fancied yourself as a David Attenborough or Joanna Lumley sort of World Traveller try a journey of exploration to Newfoundland and Labrador. Alyson McIlroy recently travelled to the most easterly point of North America with West Jet on the scent of something different.
The region, famous for its stunning scenery and wildlife, sounds both romantic and remote. Romantic, yes but remote … not any more. Westjet operates a daily service from Dublin right through May-October into St. John's on Newfoundland island off Canada's Atlantic coast, the charming capital of Newfoundland and Labrador province. The flight takes just four hours forty minutes and transports you to somewhere refreshingly, thrillingly different, where wild living is more about rugged countryside than night clubs.
The www.NewfoundlandLabrador.com site will have you spellbound with gorgeous imagery and background to this still little-known region, but Alyson had well-informed local guides from McCarthys Party Tours & Convention Services to whisk her direct from the airport to have a look around the city. Nestled around a pretty harbour first settled by the British in the 1600s, St John’s is enclosed by rugged hills. Downtown is known for its colourful ‘row houses’: we’d call them terraced houses back home! Above the city is Signal Hill, which features walking trails and Cabot Tower, site of the first transatlantic wireless communication in 1901.
The city familiarisation took in wonderful crafts at The Quidi Vidi Village with a chance to taste the eight brands of Quidi Vidi beers (sampling glasses obviously!), brewed for the local and selected Canadian and International markets. The newest addition to the product portfolio is a truly unique beer made with a distinctive ingredient – iceberg water harvested from icebergs that drift off the coast of Newfoundland.
Opportunities for all sorts of outdoors activities abound, from hiking, kayaking and birdwatching to whale watching. Accessing those opportunities is simplicity itself making the region very suitable for a self-drive itinerary – and the go-as-you-please ethos leaves plenty of free time to enjoy the moment. Who wants to keep on schedule when you’ve just spotted a whale pod close to shore after all?
The scenic and historic Irish Loop drive which starts at St. John's and heads south into the heart of Irish Newfoundland, and the magical world of whales, seabirds and caribou, before returning to St John’s is a great starting point for adventurers and has terrific resonance with our own local travellers.
Must-dos include the wonderfully named Colony of Avalon, currently under excavation with archaeologists discovering new information and artefacts relating to the earliest permanent European settlements of North America on a daily basis.
Wildlife is spectacular and all around you. Get up close and personal with a boat tour with Gatherall’s Puffin & Whale Tours, visiting Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site. Make time to enjoy a Lighthouse Picnic at Ferryland, the most easterly restaurant in all of North America, where waves, whales, and seabirds are all part of the vista. Part of the Lighthouse Picnic experience is the short (‘ish’ -1 km) walk to the lighthouse along a natural isthmus with the sea on both sides of the path. This is as Far East as you can get on the continent. Straight across the Atlantic lies County Clare, Ireland.
The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve describes itself as ‘a place alive with the rhythm of 400 million wings beating’. It’s also a wonderful spot from which to view the spectacle of 40 tonne whales pulsing through clear blue water.
The village of Trinity is one of the most scenic in the province and is filled with historic sites including museums, living heritage blacksmith and cooperage, Fort Point lighthouse and the most lovely and quaint brightly painted ‘saltbox houses’. Well worth a visit, particularly if you include a local boat tour out to the eerie seascape of icebergs and vivid blue ocean.
Rugged Beauty Boat Tours at New Bonaventure offer a great a three hour tour to the enchanting and long abandoned communities of Kerleys Harbour, Ireland's Eye, and British Harbour.
Back to base at St John’s and the Johnson Geo Centre provides inspiring insight. This geological interpretation centre located on Signal Hill has a mission is to educate and inform the public on the importance of Newfoundland and Labrador’s geology, and to foster curiosity in science and the world around them. It has superb galleries with exhibits relating to planet and provincial geology, oil and gas exploration, natural resources, space exploration … and the Titanic disaster.
Immerse yourself in local culture at Newfoundland and Labrador's largest public cultural space, called simply ‘The Rooms.’ It's the place where it all comes together - history, heritage and artistic expression, uniting the Provincial Archives, Art Gallery and Museum.
And, when exhaustion sets in after all those days out, there’s great food and drink available just about everywhere you turn. Ambience is relaxed and informal and you may just be tempted to kick back and relax in the choice hostelries! Alyson recommends Portobella’s Restaurant, St John's; Petty Harbour at Chafe’s Landing (allow some time to visit Herbie’s Old Shoppe); Stellar Restaurant at Clarenville Inn and Twine Loft at Artisan Inn.
And, if you’ve been wondering, the Newfoundland and Labrador dog breeds did in fact originate right here!
Contact Alyson McIlroy at the Lisburn branch (028 9260 4455) of Oasis Travel to find out more about travelling to Newfoundland and Labrador.