Los Angeles Times: Go with the flow to ‘Iceberg Alley’ in Canada

Off Labrador and Newfoundland, spring is prime viewing season for icebergs. Behold their natural beauty, but don’t get too close:

…Today, that glacial ice oozes and creeps toward the waterline. Its edges melt and break off, catching the frigid Labrador Current. Every year, an opalescent armada drifts south toward Canada.

And every year, more and more travelers like my companion and me make a pilgrimage to the austere and sparsely populated coasts of southern Labrador and northern Newfoundland to greet those bergs.

Streaked and shimmering, arched and tunneled, spired and prowed, pummeled and listing, these frozen behemoths briefly mesmerize, then melt. For centuries, fishermen cast their nets here for cod until the species became depleted and the waters were closed to fishing in 1992.

Its impressive bergs earned this stretch of the Atlantic a moniker: Iceberg Alley. The fishermen whose nets were once ripped by itinerant floes now haul tourists for close-up views of their former nemeses…

…For the ultimate iceberg show, however, detour to Quirpon Island, a rolling, moss-and-juniper-clad speck off the extreme northeastern tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, about 45 minutes by boat from the mainland.

Quirpon (pronounced CAR-poon) was once home to an 1860s lighthouse that guided sailing vessels and steamships. The lighthouse is now automated and the lightkeeper’s 1922 home has been transformed into a comfortable inn, with simple but hearty meals, convivial conversation — and no telephones or TV in the rooms. Linkum Tours, which owns the isle, advertises “the longest iceberg viewing season in Newfoundland.” From the wide wooden helipad overlooking the mouth of Belle Isle Strait, we could gaze in every direction at a tableau not only of icebergs but also humpback, minke and orca whales. (The same current that carries icebergs here is a watery conveyor belt for fish between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic.) At sunset, their breaching and spouting and chuffing were surreal, like an outdoor Imax movie.

Early in the morning, we scrambled down the rocks to see what the current had brought in. Faceted bergs and whale flukes lighted up in the rising sun. When we grew tired of squinting at the distance, we tramped around the island, every step lofted by springy ground cover that invites napping. The only sounds were those of the surf, whales and seabirds.

At sunset on Quirpon, a bottle of Grand Marnier appeared. The dinner table was set with clear glass pitchers of water: iceberg water, chilled by iceberg ice harvested in 5-gallon buckets from the cove.

When immersed in whichever beverage you prefer, the ice makes a popping sound that has earned it the label bergy seltzer: tiny explosions of compressed air bubbles trapped in the original snow layers millenniums ago. Chemically, the liquid is indistinguishable from distilled water. But in this remote and wild setting, the clean, soft taste was beyond compare.

On Quirpon, sipping iceberg water (or triple sec with iceberg cubes) while gazing out at icebergs was a highly agreeable form of suspension. Nature came full circle. The time capsule had opened.

Madeline Drexler, Special to the Los Angeles Times