An Icy Welcome
I saw tangible signs of this fact walking across a treeless, cliff-bound dot on the map called Quirpon Island. Covered almost entirely with spongy moss, the terrain gave way at one point to a bog in which the submerged foundations of an earthen hut could be seen; one that, according to my guide, was considerably older than a 16th-centujry European settlement.
Unfortunately for history, we didn’t slow down in our hurry to make it to the other end of the island and the highpoint of any visit to this part of Newfoundland – a trip to Iceberg Alley. Every June and July, the narrow strait between western Newfoundlandand Labrador is filled by a stately regatta of icebergs, heading south from the high Arctic. You can arrange to kayak out amongst them and perhaps even get close enough to find out what an iceberg smells like. Some of them are as old as 10,000 years and contain scents and air bubbles from the Paleolithic era of the Mastodon and Giant Walrus.
The Alley is also a seasonal feeding ground for the 36-tonne humpback whale, herds of which cross paths with the icebergs before August as they hunt their diet of capelin and krill. Whale watching is something you can also do from the front-row seat of a sea kayak, and, if there’s anything at all that can compare with the sight of a whale breaching in front of an iceberg mere metres away, please let me know.
Quirpon Island itself is deserted except for an automated lighthouse on a point that scans the Strait of Belle Isle to the Labrador coast. The lighthouse-keeper’s home has been turned into a spotless, lovingly restored inn that would epitomize the word “quaint” if it wasn’t perched beside a helicopter landing pad on cliffs that crashed into a foaming sea.
Run by the redoubtable Ed English, an adventure tour operator out of Steady Brook, the Quirpon Lighthouse Inn and its breathtaking setting are regularly celebrated in the pages of the world’s better newspapers, and the establishment deserves as much publicity as it can get. It offers all the authentic touches of a Victorian sea captain’s home berth and anchorage – the feather beds, the varnished wood that slows the rot of sea spray and even meals of cod tongue, a local delicacy that is exactly as it sounds, but (trust me) tastes infinitely better.
Outside at night, thousands of birds flit like ghosts over the island’s sea-battered precipices, calling shrilly through the surf and wind. Try lying prone on the chopper pad, as I did, and watch the moon rise out of the ocean, its light momentarily turning an iceberg into a flickering candle as the stars above chart a course through the pulsating aurora borealis. It’s certainly an image that stays with me as I write this, even though I’m afraid I never did manage to bottle the world’s softest fresh air.
The Quirpon Lighthouse Inn (tel: 877-254-6586, www.linkumtours.com) is run by Linkum Tours referred to by National Geographic Traveler as a premiere guiding services. Based out of Steady Brook, they offer a large variety of trips around the province, including kayaking, guided camping, and whale and iceberg watching (June-July). Itineraries are easily tailored to individual desires, and many winter activities are also available. Inquire about rates at their five far-flung inns, including a wilderness lodge and two lighthouses.