Dave Howard kayaks among whales and ‘bergs in a land far away
Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula is, by any standard, remote. From New York, it takes about 12 hours – seven flying, five driving – to get to Quirpon Island, right at the tip of the peninsula, which is on par with travel to Alaska. And it feels at least that far away. The London Sunday Times, in fact, recently ranked it one of the world’s five most secluded destinations.
There are a few reasons why.
Northern Peninsula accents are so unintelligible that a Canadian television news show once used sub-titles while airing an interview with a local fisherman.
Newfoundland has its own time zone (90 minutes ahead of Eastern Standard Time) and names that are straight out of Dr. Seuss: Ha Ha Mountain, Luscious Bite, and Heart’s Delight. The crew of last year’s “The Shipping News” couldn’t even make it this far and filmed instead in northeastern Newfoundland, where there were enough lighting trucks and power and hotel rooms to accommodate them.
My reading material on the flight included “Some Superstitions and Traditions of Newfoundland,” a 1919 book that vividly delineates the perils of these waters: “It is asserted by many mariners,” author P.J. Kinsella wrote, “that the sea does actually wail and shriek in the demand for human life.”
I had come to Quirpon (rhymes with harpoon) to hear the Atlantic wail, to kayak among the whales and icebergs.
Soon after arriving, I found myself lying face first on a slab of ice or, more precisely a “bergy bit” of an iceberg. I lay on my slice of dazzling white, about the size of a baseball infield that had sheared away from the berg looming 75 feet overhead only two hours earlier. It was a bit unnerving.
Host, captain, and fearless iceberg explorer Ed English is the co-owner of Quirpon Lighthouse Inn. Bergs are as common as lobster traps here, so English suggested checking out a pair of behemoths.
“Want to climb on?” he asked, when we encountered the bergy bit. He warned me not to try to stand (I’d need skates), so is slithered around walrus-style, entombed in a wetsuit.
…The Quirpon Lighthouse Inn, opened two years ago next to an operating 80-year-old lighthouse, may be the most intriguing addition to the neighbourhood. Guests take a motorized skiff or a kayak to the northern tip of the 4-mile-long uninhabited island. There are no TVs or phones in the 10 rooms, but the inn’s viewing platform, high on a bluff, more than, makes up for their absence. Here, at the intersection of the Atlantic and Iceberg Alley, humpback whales swimming north meet 10,000-year-old bergs drifting south. Around sunset, clusters of whales rise to lazily exhale. In spring, polar bears feast on seals. Dolphins and killer whales are regular visitors. It’s a setting that Captain Ahab might have given his other leg for.