Hooked on Outdoors Magazine: Newfoundland

Kayak around the northern tip of Newfoundland during the summertime and you’ll see icebergs as big as 15 story buildings drifting along the coast melting, rolling and crumbling as they go.  A calving berg can let loose an avalanche of ice chunks the size of pianos and small houses.

Paddle closer and you may see blue streaks running through the white ice (formed when melt-water refreezes in cracks), waterfalls, pouring off the top and thousands of divots forming across the surface as the iceberg slowly dissolves.  Listen closely and you can hear it melting:  it cracks and fizzles, as millions of bubbles release air that’s been trapped within since the Stone Age some 12,000 years ago.

Newfoundland’s icebergs come from the west coast of Greenland, where the world’s fastest moving glacier dumps five cubic miles of ice into the ocean each year (that’s equivalent to a one-foot-deep lake covering the surface of West Virginia).  As these ice cathedrals travel south with the Labrador Current-along a water route dubbed iceberg alley- they’re carved into fantastic shapes by the winds and the waves; giant horseshoes, mountain peaks, domes and wedges.

Quirpon Island, off Newfoundland’s northern most point, has the longest iceberg-viewing season.  From May to August, hundreds of bergs drift past this island, many grounding in shallow bays along the mainland, within a mile from shore.  These sheltered inlets often accessible only by boat, typically offer calm conditions that are ideal for beginner and intermediate paddlers.  Areas more exposed to the North Atlantic and the region’s strong winds and currents, can dish up considerable chop and impressive swells, making them more suitable for expert kayakers.

On a 10 –mile trip around Quirpon or a day-paddle along the main coast, it’s not unusual to spot a few dozen migrating humpbacks, minkes and orcas.  Falcons, puffins, gannets, and kittiwakes are also common.  What you won’t see:  many other people or boats.


…stay in the Quirpon Lighthouse Inn, an authentic renovated light-keeper’s home, and enjoy fresh cod, homemade apple pie, and iceberg vodka (the real deal, made locally from pure iceberg water).  Gear rental, guides and customized sea-kayaking trips can be arranged through Explore Newfoundland (877-254-6586; www.linkumtours.com).

Kari J. Bodnarchuk

Boston Sunday Globe: Natural Selection

Quirpon Island, Newfoundland – I spotted the iceberg as my guide and I paddled our kayaks around a granite headland off the northern tip of Newfoundland. From a few miles away, it looked like a bar of soap floating in a big bathtub – not quite what I had expected – but as we paddled closer, I realized it was as tall as a seven-storey building and as big around as a city block. It loomed overhead, and my 16-foot kayak seemed like a little piece of driftwood floating by.

The berg had grounded in a shoal and would stay there and melt of be pushed out to see by the wind. As we approached it, I could see blue streaks running through the white ice (formed when melt water freezes in cracks); water trickling down one side, giving it a shiny glow; and seagulls perched on a jagged cornice high above us.

“If the birds suddenly take off, it’s a good sign that the berg is about to calve [or break apart] – “they feel the vibration,” said Ed English, my guide, who owns Linkum Tours and runs hiking and sea kayaking trips around the province.

A calving berg can let loose an avalanche of ice chunks the size of grand pianos and small houses. If you are too close, when a wave from a block of falling ice can swamp or capsize your boat. There is also the chance the iceberg could roll, and since seven-eights of a berg lies underwater; you do not want to be nearby when it takes a tumble.

This berg had recently calved, and as I followed English around its corner, we found a gray seal sleeping on a floating chunk of ice. The seal lifted its head and watched us quietly slip past.

The iceberg had collapsed in the middle, so the walls on our side swept down to sea level. They were covered with thousands of dimples, formed as the berg slowly dissolved. We stopped paddling and listened to the ice as it melted: a crackling, fizzling sound, created as millions of bubbles released air that had been trapped for more then 12 000 years.

I had hiked across glaciers in New Zealand and Nepal, kayaked around 80 foot blue whales in the Sea of Cortez, and explored remote sections of the Australian Outback, but I had never seen an iceberg firsthand. It was one of the main reasons I drove 3 000 miles last July – a road trip from Boston to Newfoundland and back, via ferries and the open road. Along the way, I also wanted to explore a less fleeting relic of the past: a mountain of rock where the hearth’s mantle was exposed several hundred years ago.

Quirpon Island is blanketed in peat bogs and rocks, and ringed by cliffs and coves with a few sandy beaches. You can explore the four-mile long island on foot – the rolling hills, dramatic sea cliffs, and small historic spots (old foundations from sod huts, which may have belonged to the Vikings, and Quonset huts, which were used by soldiers during World War Two.) – or climb the hill at Cape Degrat, which offers great views across the island and a large cove with eider ducks, common murres, and the bald eagles.

The iceberg-viewing season lasts from approximately May to September and coincides with the whale migrations north. Whales and icebergs cross paths all summer long in the Strait of Belle Isle. Here, the ocean plunges hundreds of feet, making it an ideal feeding ground for humpbacks, minkes, orcas and occasionally belugas, and deep enough for the bergs to slip through.

Each night, I sat on the rocks near the water and watched humpbacks and minkes surfacing 10 feet away. Some guests have reported getting sprayed by the spouting whales and being able to touch them, they were so close.

During a day paddle around Quirpon, it’s not unusual to spot several dozen whales some breaching only 30 feet away. The white belly of a minke whale passed right under my kayak one morning – an amazing experience – and curious white-sided dolphins followed us out to the icebergs.

On the last day, I kayaked up to the dock in the mainland town of Quirpon, and met an enterprising man who has figured out a way to tap into the ancient icebergs. Boyce Roberts, a cod fisherman who lost his livelihood when the fishery collapsed in 1992, harvests ice to make drinking water. When a berg calves, Roberts goes out in his fishing boat and uses a winch to hoist 100-pound chunks of ice into the boat. He brings them back to be melted, bottled, and sold as pure iceberg water.

Kari J. Bodnarchuk

Saltscapes Travel: More than a Place to Lay your Head

It’s safe to say that George Washington never slept in any of Atlantic Canada’s historic inns. But Sir John A. MacDonald did. So did Charles Dickens, and the future King George V. In fact, these beautifully restored gems have seen their share of rich and famous during the course of their histories, and most have long stories to tell. Small inns are a romantic step back into a slower-paced time when traveling just a few kilometers was a wonderful adventure. Spending a few days at one of them is a great way to make mew friends and get to know a community intimately from the inside – to try another life on for size, just for a few hours.

Unique inns give vacationers a chance to tap into a variety of experiences

It’s hard to imagine a more rugged existence than the life of a lighthouse keeper on a remote piece of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. What was once a lonely, cold, harsh existence is today an utterly irresistible escape for any urbanite at the end of their rope. Part ecotourism bonanza, part lighthouse aficionado’s fantasy camp, the Quirpon Lighthouse Inn gives travelers a chance to live the life ofa 19th century lighthouse keeper for a day, a week or more.

The village of Quirpon is a place where human and natural history converge. It lies just a few km from L’Anse aux Meadows, the only known Viking settlement in North America. Some historians, including the Pulitzer Prize winning author Samuel Eliot Morison, believe that John Cabot may have made his first landfall right here in Quirpon Harbour. Nearby the town of St. Anthony is the center of Newfoundland’s sealing industry and the home base of the world-famous Grenfell Mission. But the annual show that nature stages is the area’s biggest tourism draw. For one thing, this is “Iceberg Alley,” the only part of Newfoundland where iceberg sightings are practically guaranteed 12 months of the year. And in these waters, 26 species of sea mammals call the area home.

Quirpon Lighthouse Inn is located on an island in Quirpon Harbour. Guests reach the island by a quick boat ride, and then walk a short distance to their quarters in an old lightkeeper’s house beside a working lighthouse. Despite the rugged surroundings, the service is high-end with lots of amenities and gourmet meals featuring local seafood. The seven-by-two km island is great for hiking, bird watching and kayaking. Proprietor Ed English says herds of seals numbering in the thousands often attract polar bears in the early spring and whales are a daily sight year round. You don’t even need a boat to get close to them. “The water depth right at shore is about 200 feet,” says English. “Whales come so close you can literally reach out and touch them from shore.” But the best part of the Quirpon Lighthouse Inn according to English, comes when a late spring storm sweeps across the Great Northern Peninsula. “It’s a really cozy place to be when that happens. If you want to see an ocean storm at its finest, you’ve got to come to Quirpon.

Tom Mason

New York Post: New-found Glory

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.

Dave Howard

National Geographic Adventure: Touch and Go in Iceberg Alley

In the early warmth of spring, mammoth icebergs calve from the glaciers of western Greenland and begin a slow, 1900 nautical-mile drift- first north with the West Greenland Current and then south with the Baffin and Labrador Currents, spending their first few winters locked in sea ice before finally reaching Newfoundland’s shores.  Then one day, a village on the northern coast wakes to a 200,000 –ton ice-mountain towering over town., and everyone knows summer is coming.  This is Iceberg Alley – stretch of frigid waters running south from western Greenland, and the Davis Strait to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Nowhere else can paddlers easily get so close to the world’s great icebergs.  The monsters scraping the edge of Newfoundland can rise more than 200 feet above the sea, dwarfing those of coastal Alaska.  They are pinnacled or tabular, crystalline, electric blue, slowly turning, tumbling, melting in the heaving North Atlantic swell.  The ice is ancient-layers of compressed snowfall and air some 3000 winters old – and so pure that its melt-water is used to distill Newfoundland’s premium Iceberg Vodka.

….The Trick is meeting up with bergs.  Their paths are erratic; they’ll appear suddenly and vanish just as quickly, disappearing, with a change in wind or tide.  Ed English, co-owner of Explore Newfoundland, one of the province’s premier guiding services, woke one morning two years ago to find a huge berg parked outside his seaside home.  “It came and sat there for ten days,” English says.  “And then one day, while I watched, it just upped anchor and left.  It went out 500 yards, turned right, and was gone in 20 minutes”  In 1999, English approached six pinnacled icebergs during a single day of exploration, and by sunset all but one had collapsed, the 175-foot towers crashing in to the sea. …

As soon as I landed in St. John’s, in early June, the chase was on.  On my map, I’d circled popular iceberg-sighting areas, including Notre Dame Bay and the towns of Twillingate and Fogo.  But English had spotted two large bergs off Quirpon (Karpoon) Island, the northernmost point of Newfoundland.  So early the next morning, photographer David McLain and I were pushing off from the isle’s eastern coast, set on a circumnavigation.

Cresting six -foot swells in Grands Galets Bay, we quickly found our first berg, a spectacular twin-spired cathedral twirling in the current.  I’d once paddled the entire Inside Passage, from Alaska’s ice-choked Glacier Bay to Puget Sound, but I’d never seen any thing like this.  Along with awe, what I felt was fear:  Those pinnacles were exactly the kind that can collapse suddenly-and catastrophically , for anyone who is lurking too close.

Not that any berg is really safe.  Seven-eighths of the thing is underwater; if you approach the visible ice, the rest of it is looming beneath your keel.  And despite their size, icebergs can roll in a couple of minutes.  Yet the allure is as irresistible as a siren’s song.  Jim Price, a veteran Newfoundland guide, keeps his clients 300 feet away from the bergs-but on his days off he’s been known to ride up onto the edge of one, pausing briefly on the ice before shoving off.  Ed English has even gone scuba diving in to the crevasses and vivid blue caves of icebergs he deemed to be stable.  (After talking icebergs with English for a while, David and I started referring to him, in awe as Crazy Ed )

I’m more conservative. I kept my distance and tightened my grip on the paddle.  Beyond the berg lay the open sea, the tremendous sweep of the horizon, and past that by 700 miles, Greenland.  To our left, the shore steepened into 500-foot cliffs that obscured the view to the north.  Leaving this skittery berg behind, we slowly rounded the promontory.

And then we saw it, a great tabular berg, slightly concave and grounded a half mile from shore.  It looked promising- stable and massive- so we made camp on a rise above a cove and studied it until dusk.

On each of the next two mornings the VHF radio reported ”many to numerous icebergs” in the Strait of Belle Isle, a major shipping lane leading to the St. Lawrence Seaway: an ominous warning to ships , extra excitement for us.  We paddled to and from the berg and tested the surf among rocky islets.  It was a heavy ice year, and the waters were strewn with what the Canadian Ice Service called “bergy  bits” – ice the size of small houses – and treacherous grand piano- size “growlers.”

Tag with the Devil

For hours at a time, I made quick approaches, always sprinting away from the icy rampart when my nerves- or good sense-seized control it was like playing tag with the devil.  On the second day, after a morning of these close passes, we returned to camp for lunch.  Topping the hill, I gasped.  The sea boiled. New growlers floated in the ocean swell. The iceberg was rolling- a gargantuan seaward yaw, mythical in scale.  We’d been planning to move on in search of more bergs, but suddenly I realized how wrongheaded that strategy was:  The beauty of these ice mountains is in their transformations.  In a single day, a berg may calve, fracture, and capsize, heaving its underside to the surface and submerging its highest walls.  It’s like paddling across the sea and finding another iceberg, without every moving camp.

On our final morning, we rounded the northern tip of the island, Cape Bauld.  The sky had cleared, uncloaking the snow-patched coast of Labrador, sweeping north up Iceberg Alley I glimpsed dozens of bergs atop the swells, some maybe a quarter-mile long, all glowing in a crisp white silence.  A hundred yard offshore, I rested my paddle and joined their drift, the Labrador Current nudging my kayak southeast at the leisurely iceberg pace of one knot.  Then I peeled away and headed for Port.

Byron Ricks