My Paradise: Exploring Newfoundland with my Dad
My Dad has a bucket list to end all bucket lists. “See icebergs” was one of them, which is how a trip home to Calgary ended up with us on a 6-hour flight across Canada to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
As with most of my Dad’s well researched travel plans, we went at peak iceberg sighting time and were not at all disappointed. Icebergs are unicorn level magical while looking like they were placed in the ocean by aliens. While icebergs were the star of the trip, I discovered Newfoundland has SO MUCH more to offer than just big chunks of ice. Here are some of my favorite experiences from my weeklong daughter/dad trip:
Most likely the place where you will fly in and out of Newfoundland and very much worth a wander around. We learned about rocks at The Johnston Geo Center (my Dad’s a geologist so there was no way we weren’t going there), ate a delicious dinner at Clinched, had beers made from ICEBERG WATER and listened to local music at the Quidi Vidi brewery. No matter where you go in St. John’s, you will be greeted with colorfully painted houses, known as named Jellybean row (which is misleading because it’s not a row -there are houses everywhere, and there are no jellybeans).
Being an island, it should come as no surprise that Newfoundland is full of lighthouses. Built along the rugged coastline, they provide spectacular views and were a great place for spotting icebergs. I couldn’t choose just one lighthouse so here are my top three:
Cape Spear Lighthouse – short drive from St. John’s and where you can stand on the most eastern tip of North America. There are World War II artifacts, such as bunkers and canons, that are left over from when Cape Spear served as the counter-bombardment for St. John’s harbor.
Bonavista Lighthouse – This wonderful lighthouse is open to the public and restored to look like it was in 1870. Most impressive were the parabolic mirrors which are made of polished silver and reflect the light from argand oil lamps. There is an intricate pulley system that allows the reflectors to turn but needed to be reset every two hours throughout the night by the lighthouse keeper.
Ferryland Lighthouse – It’s a short hike to get out to this lighthouse and we were rewarded with sunny weather, beautiful views and icebergs all around. During the summer months you can order a homemade picnic complete with sandwiches, a blanket and mint lemonade.
Canadians are known for their friendliness but Newfies take it to the next level. They are SO welcoming and nice. Every interaction we had was beyond pleasant and it felt like people had time to have a little chat and genuinely wanted to get to know you. Best of all, they loved sharing all sorts of fun tidbits about Newfoundland. Our Airbnb host made us an amazing breakfast where we first learned what a touton was (and how to properly pronounce it- ‘tow-tonne’). It’s delicious deep-fried bread that will leave you full and happy for the day. I learned about “mummers” from a local artist in Twillingate that had mannequins of them displayed outside his shop. Mummers used to come out at Christmas time and were locals who would dress up, covering their faces, and go from house to house singing. People would invite them in, offer them a drink, and after a lot of singing try and guess who they were. On one of our boat tours, I learned what the ceremony of being “screeched in” entails. A short recitation, kissing a cod, and taking a shot of “screech rum” (cheap and 40% alcohol) will earn you a screech certificate at any bar. Wondering how throat burning moonshine rum ended up in Newfoundland? Back in the day, Newfoundland used to sell their worst cod to Jamaica which in turn would sell them their worst rum.
The star of the trip!
Ten -thousand-year-old blocks of ice the size of buildings that took three years to get to where you are now staring at them in awe is worth going to Newfoundland in itself. Our first boat tour to get an up-close look at the icebergs had my mouth permanently wide open and gaping. I was completely blown away. They are quite a sight to see from the shore but up close these beautiful towering blocks of ice are absolutely breathtaking. Most of the icebergs floating past Newfoundland and Labrador hail from Western Greenland where they have broken off of glaciers and get carried down the coast on ocean currents and ultimately end up melting. It’s extremely hard to predict exactly where icebergs will float because there are so many variables (wind, ocean currents and temperature, number of bergs, amount of sea ice and many more). We ran into a local who used to work on the software used to predict iceberg movement and he said they still haven’t figured it out.
Nature and hiking
With 13,000 acres of protected land and only 1.4 people per square km, Newfoundland and Labrador have plenty of uncrowded wilderness to explore. We visited sea caves at Dungeon Provincial Park, saw a fin whale off the coast of Bonavista, hiked the striking and dramatic 5 km coastal Skerwink trail, and had 100’s of Atlantic puffin’s fly over us at the Witless Bay Islands Park Reserve. It was my first time seeing a puffin and I had no idea they were so small, standing tall at only 18cm, making them one of the smallest out of the four puffin species. I also had no idea how terrible they were at flying. We saw multiple less-than graceful landings while they were attempting to land on the grassy slopes where they make their burrows for the breeding season.
Wine and beer made from icebergs
We didn’t know that our iceberg tour getting canceled would be a blessing in disguise and lead us straight to the delightful Auk Island Winery. Shockingly yes, there is a winery in a place that has snow 70% of the year and definitely doesn’t grow grapes. Not that they let that stop them. Auk Island Winery uses iceberg water adding local berries, dandelions, and even a splash of rum to make a combination of delicious and unique tasting wines. Berries I had never heard of like the bakeapple berry, a yellow/orange raspberry- looking thing that grows in the arctic tundra and tastes like honey and apricot. The winery is located in an old high school and produces 22,000 cases of wine every year. For five dollars, we got to tour the facility and sample five of the many hilariously named wines like “Moose Joose”, “Krooked Cod”, and “Funky Puffin.” You better believe I maxed out my baggage weight getting as many bottles as I could back to Japan.
I couldn’t visit a place surrounded by water and not attempt to see what the underwater world was like. Like with everything else, Newfoundland did not disappoint. There are flooded mines, shipwrecks, old whale bone graveyards, and if you’re brave enough, you can see what an iceberg looks like underwater. I could have easily spent the entire week diving (and may or may not be planning another trip back to do just that) but opted to do a local shore dive at Main Harbor just outside St. John’s. Scuba diving in Newfoundland is not for the faint-hearted and I think I may have regretted my decision for a minute when my face first hit 35-degree F (2-degree C) water. If you visit in the summer, water temperatures are more manageable hovering around 15-16-degree C.
Once I pushed past the crushing cold and was able to fully take in my surroundings, I was blown away. The water was crystal clear, the seabed covered with huge anemones and massive purple sea stars, and all around me comb jellies shimmered like the rainbow. We spotted lobsters, a large wolf eel (picture the ugliest fish you’ve ever seen and put the tail of an eel on it), and a fish they call the Mick Jagger because of its massive lips. I couldn’t feel my face or hands after the dive, but thankfully hot coffee and Tim Horton’s donuts were waiting at the surface.
In summary, go to Newfoundland. I dare you to be disappointed.
By Corinne Klein
Exploring a foreign country is one of the most exhilarating and eye-opening experiences you can have. People are traveling more than ever before, and today the tourism industry provides millions of jobs worldwide and even more in revenue. Unfortunately, tourism can also lead to environmental damage, commercialization of culture, and cultural clashes when tourists refuse to follow rules or behave inappropriately. I am by no means a perfect tourist but the more I see people “doing it for the ‘gram’” with a general lack of awareness, and often times with total disrespect, has made me strive to be a more thoughtful traveler.
1. Book local
Booking guides, tours, and accommodation run by local organizations means your money is going straight back into the community. It usually takes a bit more research but booking tours and hotels run by locals will give you a richer experience of the country. Usually the cheapest and easiest way to do something will not be in support of anything local.
2. Shop and eat local
Buy from local artisans, eat at mom-and-pop restaurants, and drink at the local bars. The worst food poisoning I ever got was at a waterfront restaurant that was full of tourists in Cay Caulker, Belize. After recovering I realized all the Belizeans were eating at places 2-3 blocks away from the water where the food was delicious and about three times cheaper.
3. Seek out cultural experiences
Take a cooking class, participate in a homestay, or visit a local festival. Airbnb Experiences is a great way to find these in any city. We did the Namba Night Walking Tour in Osaka and our local guide, Yuji, spent two hours showing us off-the-beaten path places to eat. Some spots were tucked away down tiny alleyways that we would have never found on our own. He even brought us to a building were the whole second floor was comprised of mini theme bars, much like those you find at Golden Gai in Shinjuku.
4. Give back to the community
Seeing beaches full of plastic while visiting Bali? Participate in a beach clean-up! Always wanted to be a marine biologist? Sign up for a scientific expedition! Booking tours that help non-profits or contribute to scientific research are a great way to use your dollars for good. Many environmental organizations have trips allowing you to spend a day or more helping scientists collect data. You get to learn something new and give back to the community, all while having a unique experience.
5. Opt to pay for carbon off-setting
Many airlines allow you to pay to off-set the carbon impact you will be making by taking a plane ride. While this isn’t ideal, it does help and the money is donated to environmental organizations. When you land, think about taking public transportation, renting bikes, or exploring places on foot. You can also skip flying all together and instead of an international trip, explore places that are closer to home.
6. Reduce plastic waste
Anything you can do to cut down on plastic, while traveling and in your day to day life, is helpful. Type “zero waste products” into google and you’ll find a plethora of stainless-steel straws, bamboo cutlery and more water bottle/coffee mug options that you know what to do with (personally I love Hydro Flask and mine goes with me everywhere).
7. Research customs, laws, etiquette
Every country has different ideas of what constitutes appropriate dress and body language. One action or clothing item may be perfectly acceptable in your own country, but completely disrespectful in another. Researching a country beforehand and knowing want is and isn’t appropriate will show respect to that country’s traditions and people.
8. Follow local customs and laws
Does the sign say “No pictures”? Don’t take any pictures! Is it inappropriate to do yoga poses while at a Buddhist temple? Probably! If you’re trying to sneak a picture while posing, why not do the respectful thing and just skip it all together. Always remember that you are in someone else’s home and act accordingly.
9. Learn basic greetings and phrases
Simple things like “hello” and “thank you” will bring smiles to anyone who can see that you’re trying and took some time to learn a bit about their country.
10. Avoid wildlife encounters
As a general rule, if a wildlife encounter advertises touching animals you normally wouldn’t be allowed to and if you are handing someone money to do it, you should avoid it. I think this is the hardest one for people to avoid. We deeply want to connect with animals and nature. The draw to visit any place that will give us this interaction, be it sanctuaries, animal cafes, or others, is extremely tempting. Unfortunately, there is a sinister side to wildlife tourism where animals are often drugged or chained, with many being psychologically and physically harmed. Sadly, even places claiming to be sanctuaries that allow you to interact with the animals are usually doing more harm than good. Do as much research as possible and speak up or share your experiences if you see animals being mistreated or being really well cared for.
11. Avoid buying certain souvenirs
Your best bet is to steer clear of all animal products, including shells (hermit crabs will thank you). Animals should be left in the wild and shells should be left in the ocean. Why not send a postcard instead! It’s thoughtful and you can find them almost anywhere. There is even an app called TouchNote that allows you to use your own pictures and sends them off for you.
12. Use reef-safe sunscreen
Beach vacations are awesome. Protecting coral reefs while on your beach vacation is extra awesome. The two ingredients found in most sunscreens are oxybenzone and butylparaben, both of which have been shown to cause harm to corals leading to coral bleaching and disruption to their reproduction. Hawaii and Palau have completely banned sunscreen that isn’t reef-safe. When buying sunscreen, make sure it is zinc-based which is naturally occurring in the ocean.
13. Ask before taking a person’s picture
Intrigued by a person’s dress, mannerisms, or look and want to snap a picture? Ask nicely. Even better, if you speak the same language, introduce yourself first and get to know that person a bit better before asking. If you don’t speak the same language and someone indicates no with hand gestures or looks uncomfortable, don’t take the picture.
14. Be mindful about what you post
Social media is a fantastic way to share your travel with other people. It allows people to get a glimpse into a different area of the world that may be new to them. That being said, if you wouldn’t post something from your home, don’t post it from someone else’s country. That especially applies to minors that are not part of your family. If you haven’t gotten explicit permission from their parents to post their faces on your social media platform, don’t do it.
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