Ever fantasize about blasting off on a trip into outer space?
That might work someday soon for those with millions of dollars to burn. But for the vast majority of us who aren’t that lucky, traveling to Newfoundland might be the next best bet. The unique rock formations, stunted trees and brutally harsh offshore winds in this remote Canadian province are so out-of-this-world that they cannot help but lure those with an adventurous bent.
There aren’t too many places on Earth where you can simultaneously view whales, icebergs and puffins, those cute, cuddly birds with bloated heads and massive, orange, triangular bills. Or sample bakeapple, a delectable orange berry so rare that it’s literally worth its weight in gold.
Enterprising visitors whose timing is right (the berries can only be harvested 2 weeks out of the year) will want to visit come summer, when bears are in hibernation, temperatures have risen and the area is alive with reenactments that depict the life of Leif Ericson and his crew, who set anchor in what is now known as L’Anse aux Meadows around 1000 A.D., about 500 years before Columbus arrived in North America.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, L’Anse aux Meadows features a replica of a sod house just like those the Vikings built. Visitors can step inside, where re-enactors in full period regalia discuss life back in the day.
The adjacent visitors’ center, which doubles as a museum from mid-June until October, showcases nails, bronze pins, wood shavings and a spindle whorl among its exhibits. A 15-foot, 4-seater faering (open boat) that Viking warriors used to fish and hunt seals serves as the museum’s centerpiece.
Visitors who want to scope out the kinder, gentler side of these wayfaring Scandinavians can do so at Norstead, a “Viking port of trade,” just 1 1/4 miles away, where modern day look-a-likes demonstrate cooking, carving and pottery.
Another must-see attraction is Gros Morne National Park, the second-largest national park in Atlantic Canada located on the west coast of Newfoundland. The park is accessible by a road lined with homey towns such as Woody Point, where visitors can stop to chow down on steaming, hot, wholesome food. Here you’ll also find lobster, the local favorite, but it’s only available for about 3 months out of the year, beginning in the middle of May.
You can easily burn off lunch at Gros Morne. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the park is home to inviting hiking trails that knife through uninhabited mountains to quaint camping spots atop towering cliffs that seem to buckle from the giant waves that throttle the rocks down below.
More placid spirits might be perfectly content to hop a touring boat for the freshwater fjords, which are carved out by glaciers and are never far from waterfalls, sandy beaches and gigantic lakes (referred to as “ponds”).
The crowning touch of Gros Morne is the Tablelands, bright orange-colored terrain that was thrust up from the bowels of the earth eons ago when the continents collided.
Your final World Heritage stop is Red Bay, which in its day was one of the world’s largest whaling stations; today, it is perhaps the best-preserved example of the European whaling tradition. This once-robust settlement sprang up in 1550 when Basque mariners and whaling ships from southern France and northern Spain poured into the area to collect whale blubber, at the time in big demand as fuel for lamps, as well as for use in paints, varnishes and soaps.
For an even more intimate glimpse into the lives of Newfoundland’s 16th-century Basque fishermen, take a boat to Saddle Island, where the old Boney Shore Walking Trail is still rife with whale fossils that are hundreds of years old.
At the orientation center overlooking the Red Bay harbor, visitors can view a 30-minute film about underwater archaeology at this once major Basque whaling station and inspect a 450-year-old chalupa, the workhorse of 16th-century boats that Basques used to chase and harpoon whales.
The rich history of Red Bay and Newfoundland’s rich geography of national parks make it easy for newcomers to become mesmerized by all the sights they encounter here, all totally unforgettable and completely out of this world.
– Mike Snow
Mike Snow is a former news reporter based in Africa and Asia, and has filed travel articles for major publications in many of the 100 countries he has visited. Follow Mike’s travels at MikeSnowOnline.com.