Many of the best things in Newfoundland only appear for a few weeks a year each. And they only overlap in late spring and early summer
At its best, Newfoundland and Labrador can be just about as gob-stoppingly magical as it looks in the commercials. Even in St. John’s, the capital and major population centre, you can ascend a hill to watch whales and icebergs and then visit a traditional fishing village – and you haven’t even left city limits. These sights are within a 10-minute drive from downtown. Or you could walk.
Canada’s ruggedly beautiful easternmost province is a total mystery to most of the planet’s people, and an enigma even to Canadians who come from away: Many say they would like to visit someday, yet when these would-be travellers realize how much further away (and expensive to reach) Newfoundland can be compared to the rest of Atlantic Canada, they often settle on Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia as the terminus of any eastern explorations.
As a former resident of St. John’s (briefly), I say this is a shame. Newfoundland is as culturally distinct from the Canadian Maritimes as Louisiana is from the rest of the Southern United States, and therefore merits its own, separate trip.
If you do go, the question is: when?
Late spring and early summer is the ideal window. If you time a visit just right, you can tick a quartet of Newfoundlandy boxes off your list all at once: icebergs, whales, puffins and lobster. The seasons for encountering these phenomena are all short, lasting a few weeks each. In eastern Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, where St. John’s is located, they only really overlap between late May and early July. Thanks to the province’s tourism board, there’s even a chart!
Courtesy Stephen Bruneau / Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
Witless Bay is about half an hourâs drive south of St. Johnâs; the other points on the map are much further away.
Regarding icebergs, a cold and massive reminder of their annual return recently bobbed into the ocean next to the cutesy town of Ferryland. (About an hour south of St. John’s, Ferryland is known for its adorable lighthouse picnics, a way to make the iceberg-watching experience even more special.)
The Ferryland ’berg was kooky-looking enough to become a news item, but icebergs are a common sight in Newfoundland in springtime. The frigid behemoths float past the east coast of the island of Newfoundland, down so-called Iceberg Alley, pretty reliably each year. The season for watching them starts to roll in late April and lasts into summer. You don’t necessarily have to go too far out of your way to spot them: You’ll sometimes even catch one out of the corner of your eye when when on higher ground in St. John’s.
Courtesy Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
An ordinary, non-famous iceberg
As for mammals and birds: Thanks to cruise ship tourism, the Avalon Peninsula is blessed with countless whale- and/or puffin-watching day tours by boat. The friendly staff at O’Briens out of Bay Bulls, on the outskirts of the St. John’s area, led me to a seabird bonanza on a visit about six years ago. If you’re there, opt for the tour in the smaller Kingfisher boat. A smaller vessel can squeeze into tighter nooks in the search for puffins and terns and such, and a bouncier ride can be more fun anyway, provided you don’t get seasick.
Whenever taking a trip down Highway 10 to the southerly sights on the Avalon Peninsula, it’s mandatory to make a pit stop for traditional Newfoundland delicacies at Bidgood’s Supermarket – in any season. Bring a bottle of moose back to Toronto, will you?
Courtesy Flickr user Megan Cole
The lighthouse in Ferryland. Note: Don’t forget the cutlery for your picnic; it can be a bit of a hike back up if you forget it the first time
Finally, the official “Triple Play” chart doesn’t include the delicious bugs of the sea, but their season lands smack in the middle of all of the above – from about April 20 to mid-July, depending on the year. That’s the case whether you’re eating lobster in the province or ordering them online from away.
Courtesy Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
The lighthouse at Cape Spear is an OK-looking spot for whale and ‘berg-watching quite near St. John’s
In St. John’s, your best bets for restaurants featuring in-season lobster specials include Chinched Bistro, Blue on Water and of course the widely acclaimed Raymond’s – where, if your table is in just the right spot, you might catch some interesting sights passing by St. John’s harbour.
The main dining room at Raymond’s, with a harbour view