Glaciers, Geology and Graffiti
The next day was our iceberg cruise, which also included close-up sightings of humpback whales. The coast of Newfoundland and Labrador is a prime whale-spotting area in the summer, with 22 species of whales and dolphins roaming the waters. We would get a rare sighting of shy minke whales on another cruise.
The following two days, we were immersed in the scenic and geological wonders of Gros Morne National Park.
“Its significance is not just as a natural park; it is really significant geologically,” said Calder. “What you are looking at are some of the oldest mountains on earth.”
The park’s distinctive barren Timberlands area, part of the earth’s mantle that was pushed to the surface by colliding tectonic plates, helped to prove the theory of continental drift.
“The Tableland is a look directly inside the earth,” said a park ranger. “The type of rock you see there is not anywhere else on the surface of the earth. It should not be on the surface. Validation of plate tectonics happened right here.”
We got a close-up look at the park’s fascinating geology on a boat tour of Bonne Bay.
“This is some of the most diverse geology in the world,” said Bontours guide Wayne Parsons. “It is a wonderful example of geological time line, going from new to old. It is literally time flashing in front of your eyes — geologic time.”
We had already seen nature’s bonsai and sculpture. Now Parsons pointed out white calcite streaks in the rocks: “geologic graffiti.”
Fishing Villages and St. John’s
As the boat docked in the village of Woody Point, the crew conducted the traditional screech-in, a humorous ceremony that involved repeating oaths about Newfoundland language and lore, one “lucky” member of the group being selected to dance a jig and kiss a cod, and all of us drinking a shot of the rum-based liquor screech. We were then made members of the Order of Screechers.
Woody Point was one of several charming fishing villages we visited. We had ample opportunities to walk around the towns, especially the harbors, where colorful fishing boats were tied to the piers and lobster traps stacked on the docks.
At Twillingate on Notre Dame Bay in northeastern Newfoundland, we stopped at the Long Point Lighthouse, 300 feet above the bay, where we saw nearly a dozen icebergs before having lunch at a waterfront restaurant.
Two of the more charming villages were Trinity, with its historic buildings open to the public, and Brigus, a prosperous village near St. John’s filled with well-kept private residences and stores.
Our final two nights were in St. John’s, the province’s capital and cultural and commercial center, where 40 percent of the province’s population lives. Its two main downtown thoroughfares — Water Street and Duckworth Street — are lined with restaurants, pubs, shops, boutiques and art galleries in colorful, historic buildings. George Street, a two-block-long side street, is the hub of nightlife.
The city’s cross streets rise steeply from the harbor; St. John’s has been compared to San Francisco in that regard. The streets are lined for blocks with multihued row houses, called jellybeans, in varying shades of red, blue, green, brown and yellow.
Signal Hill, which towers above St. John’s, provides sweeping views of the town and harbor spread out on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Atop the hill is Victorian Cabot Tower, built in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland and Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
Newfoundland’s natural side is never far away. On our final day, we drove to the fishing community of Bay Bulls for a boat tour with Gatherall’s to Gull Island, part of the Witless Bay bird sanctuary, home in the summer breeding season to 1.5 million birds, including 600,000 of the small, colorful orange-beaked Atlantic puffins.
“The only reason they come here is to lay eggs,” said Hillary, a guide on the boat. “The rest of the year they spend at sea.”
In addition to the puffins, there were hundreds of thousands of Leach’s storm petrels, black-legged kittiwakes and common murres on the island, providing a cacophony of sounds.
From there we headed to Cape Spear National Historic Site to wind up our tour at the easternmost point in North America, the first place on the continent to receive the morning sun.
“If you can see land beyond that, it’s Ireland,” said Calder.
Besides large waves crashing against the rocky shore, the site includes the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland, with the original 1839 lighthouse building and light keeper’s residence restored to that period, and concrete bunkers and gun barrels from World War II, when a gun battery was installed to defend the entrance to St. John’s harbor.
There is no defense against the charms of Newfoundland and Labrador, which provide visitors with majestic natural wonders and beauty with a touch of cosmopolitan spice.