Whales, bergs, and birds

This province-wide, 12-day itinerary takes you from coast to coast to coast. Along ocean and inland drives, through mountains and barrens, inlets, guts, and bays. To large seabird colonies, the largest concentration of humpback whales on the planet and to the annual parade of massive icebergs.

Day 1 – An old-new city surrounded by nature

Tour St. John's, one of the oldest cities in North America and the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. Some highlights include Signal Hill National Historic Site of Canada, Quidi Vidi Village, Commissariat House Provincial Historic Site, The Rooms, and the Johnson Geo Centre.

If you enjoy hiking and the outdoors, explore the East Coast Trail, a breathtaking coastal hike on the easternmost edge of Canada. Recommended trails stretch from Pouch Cove in the north, to Cappahayden in the south, along 320 km of coast. Take a refreshing walk on one of the many two- to three-hour paths along this spectacular trail.

Day 2 – An ocean habitat

Depart St. John's for Cape Spear National Historic Site of Canada, the most easterly point in North America. Have your picture taken at the edge of a continent. Visit nearby Petty Harbour, a traditional Irish Newfoundland fishing community. Continue down the Irish Loop Drive to the Bay Bulls/Witless Bay area where you can take a boat tour out to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve Witless Bay Ecological Reserve - home to 2.5 million seabirds and the largest Atlantic puffin colony in North America. With all the fish darting beneath the waves, it’s also a great place to spot hungry whales, playing and feeding in the surf.

The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, four islands and the waters around them between Witless Bay and Bauline, is home to phenomenal numbers of seabirds that nest here to raise their young. About 530,000 Leach's storm petrels nest off Gull Island, with another 250,000 on Great Island. Green Island has 74,000 murres. And there are tens of thousands of Atlantic puffins – the provincial bird.

As your tour boat cruises near the islands – they are protected areas off limits to people – you'll see puffins running and skipping along the top of the water trying to get airborne. The chicks are tucked away in thousands of burrows on the steep sides of the islands. The burrows provide protection against marauding gulls. Here you'll also find razorbills, great black-backed gulls, northern fulmars, black guillemots and black-legged kittiwakes.

As for the whales, you’ll find mainly humpbacks and fin whales. About 5,000 humpbacks migrate to Newfoundland every summer and hang around to gorge on the plentiful fish.

If you’re feeling adventurous, explore the Southern Shore by kayak. Experienced sea-kayak guides will introduce you to paddling or customize a more challenging trip, depending on your comfort level. Imagine kayaking next to a 30-tonne humpback!

After lunch, depart for Ferryland, which was founded by Lord Baltimore in the early 1600's. The founders later moved to Maryland and its warmer climate. Visit the Colony of Avalon and discover the many artifacts found on the site of the original colony.

Near Trepassey and St. Shott's, keep an eye out for the most southerly woodland caribou herd in the world. Trepassey was a stopover point for Amelia Earhart when she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic.

The return drive will take you along the eastern shore of St. Mary's Bay. In St. Vincent's, you can view whales from the beach.

Day 3 – Bird Rock and Trinity

Located near St. Bride's is the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve, the most accessible seabird colony in the province with the largest colony of gannets in Newfoundland and the third largest in North America.

The Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve is one of the great natural wonders in Newfoundland and Labrador. The 13.4 km paved road from Route 100 leads to a view immortalized in the Newfoundland folk song ‘Let Me Fish off Cape St. Mary's.’ The vantage point, a 15-minute walk from the interpretation centre, overlooks Bird Rock, the third largest nesting site for gannets in North America, and it offers a spectacular opportunity to photograph these gorgeous, golden-headed birds with the 2-metre wing span from a mere 15 metres (50 feet) away. This is also a nursery for thousands of murres and kittiwakes. During the summer months the cliffs are alive with birds. The waters here are also a great place to see whales. The sanctuary at Cape St. Mary's may be visited year round and no permit is necessary. The Interpretation Centre is open from spring until fall and there are guides to answer your questions and show you around. You can see Bird Rock through a huge window, through telescopes, or right up close, in person - and there are displays on the ecology and wildlife of the Cape. The centre also hosts an annual summer concert series.

Next, visit Trinity. Most of the old town is a national heritage community, and there are several provincial historic sites including the Trinity Arts Centre and Trinity Museum and Archives, as well as the Trinity Interpretation Centre. The main attraction here is not the architecture, however, it's the theatre festival Season’s in the Bight, run by Rising Tide Theatre. Rising Tide also performs the popular Trinity Pageant, a comedic walking tour of the town, which runs several times a week. In addition to its history, Trinity is also a great place for whale watching and several boat tour cruise the coastal waters in search of humpbacks and other species.

Day 4 – A voyage to remember

Journey back into history to the voyage of John Cabot. A Genoese adventurer known in his home town as Giovanni Caboto, he sailed from England to Newfoundland landing at Cape Bonavista in 1497. One of the must-sees here is the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site which has been restored to its original 1843 condition. Other stops on your tour should include the monument to John Cabot located near Bonavista Museum and Mockbeggar Plantation Provincial Historic Site, The Ryan Premises National Historic Site of Canada Ryan Premises National Historic Site of Canada which tells the five-century story of the fishery, the replica ship The Matthew and the Matthew Interpretation Centre, as well as the Dungeon Provincial Park.

Terra Nova National Park is a great place to stop for a stroll near Newman Sound, or visit the Interpretation Centre to take a boat tour or to learn about the marine habitat of the area. The park's 400 square kilometres protects a typical Newfoundland habitat of sheltered bays, rugged shores along the ocean and rolling, forested hills with numerous ponds and bogs. Keep an eye out for ospreys, eagles, lynx and moose.

Day 5 – Iceberg capital of the world

Depart for the ‘Road to the Shore’ at Gambo, the birthplace of Joseph R. Smallwood, the first premier and one of the original Fathers of Confederation. Visit the Smallwood Interpretation Centre. Along Route 320/330, watch for icebergs as well as whales. Don't miss historic Greenspond Courthouse the architectural gem of the region, and The Barbour Living Heritage Village in Newtown.

This afternoon we reach the Road to the Isles’ at Gander Bay, visit the Boyd's Cove Beothuk Interpretation Centre at Boyd's Cove. At Twillingate you can visit the Twillingate Museum, craft shops, and the Long Point Lighthouse and avail of boat tours that will take you whale and iceberg watching at the centre of Iceberg Alley.

For many years, Twillingate was the centre of the Labrador and inshore fisheries in the area. The town's most famous resident was opera singer Georgina Stirling. In the late 1800s, Miss Stirling, who was known professionally as Marie Toulinguet, won acclaim for her performances at the Paris Opera and La Scala, in Milan. Unfortunately her concert career was cut tragically short by voice failure and she returned to Newfoundland to live out her days in her home town. Her story and that of the town is told in the Twillingate Museum in the former Anglican Rectory.

Twillingate and New World Island host the Fish, Fun and Folk Festival which highlights some of the best West Country English dance, song, recitation and music. Held every July, the festival also features crafts, baked goods, picnics and a lively party spirit.

The nearby Long Point Lighthouse, built in 1876, is one of the best places in Newfoundland to see icebergs. Built on a bluff, it overlooks the outer reaches of Notre Dame Bay. You may also catch a glimpse of the huge whales that spend their summers feeding along the coast.

Day 6 – Adventure off the beaten path

Our next destination is Grand Falls-Windsor. Highlights are the Mary March Regional Museum, Logger's Exhibit and the Salmonid Interpretation Centre, a fabulous place to watch Atlantic salmon as they migrate to their spawning grounds.

For a unique Islands Experience, plan for at least another day or two to explore both Fogo and Change Islands. Anglers might want to consider hiring a local guide in Indian Bay, Musgrave Harbour, Gander Bay, Glenwood, Appleton, or any other community that has easy access to rivers, lakes, ponds and hundreds of miles of forestry, for a chance to go salmon or trout fishing.

Day 7 – Gros Morne National Park

Next, our journey takes us north along the Viking Trail and Gros Morne National Park , a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marvel at the spectacular ocean scenery and mountains. Hike the hills and trails. Choose from quiet paths to shifting elevations that overlook spectacular inland fjords, or hike over rocks that were once on ocean bed.

The Tablelands is a 600-metre high plateau of mantle rock, one of the world's best examples of rock from the earth's interior. Visit the Discovery Centre at Woody Point and at Trout River Pond, take a boat tour and learn more about the geological history of the park and perhaps see a moose graze on the shore.

Next, stop off at the Gros Morne National Park Visitor Centre in Rocky Harbour. Here, you can view several videos on the history of the park. Staff are available to answer any questions. Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, only 10 minutes from the interpretation centre, is a great spot for a picnic lunch, and don't forget to see the museum inside the lighthouse.

If sailing on a freshwater fjord sounds romantic, be sure to take the boat tour at Western Brook Pond before leaving the park.

As you travel north you will notice the landscape changing as you pass through the communities along the Viking Trail. In Port au Choix visit the Port au Choix National Historic Site of Canada with its ongoing archaeological dig and view the artifacts of the Maritime Archaic and Dorset peoples who occupied the area thousands of years ago.

Day 8 – Travelling back in Labrador time

Sail Iceberg Alley aboard the Apollo. Stroll the ship's deck and enjoy the refreshing sea air. You will likely have an opportunity to marvel at the sight of majestic icebergs and breaching whales. Arrival in Blanc Sablon marks the beginning of your Labrador experience. While in Labrador, enjoy pastries made with berries, such as partridge berries, bakeapples, and blueberries which grow wild on the Labrador barrens.

Arrive at Red Bay National Historic Site of Canada, World Whaling Capital, AD 1550-1600. At the Visitor Centre, experienced guides will interpret the Basque whaling activity in the area during the 16th century, highlighted by over 15 years of archaeological research. The whale oil refinery at Red Bay is considered to be the first industrial site in the New World.

For Adventurers: Take the short boat ride from Mary’s Harbour for an overnight stay in the restored historic fishing community of Battle Harbour. Once the unofficial capital of Labrador, this community was virtually abandoned before the mid-20th century wave of modernization washed over the province. Its traditional buildings are the best preserved example of a traditional fishing outport in the province.

Day 9 – To the lighthouse

Why not try a traditional Labrador Breakfast of ‘flummies,’ fish cakes and more. Arrive at the Labrador Straits Museum, located on the main highway near Point Amour. The exhibit covers the last 150 years. Discover the artifacts of a past century, the tools, weapons and household goods with which ancestors made a life for themselves in the Labrador Straits.

If you’re up to the challenge at Point Amour Lighthouse Provincial Historic Site, climb the 122 steps to the top of the castle-like structure, which is the tallest lighthouse in Atlantic Canada. On a clear day, the island of Newfoundland may be seen across the Strait of Belle Isle.

Day 10 – The Vikings

Today we head back to Newfoundland and drive to L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site of Canada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the Visitor Centre, chat with the interpretative staff, see the short video which explains how the site was discovered and, as a highlight, tour the reconstructed sod huts as animators recreate daily life from a 1,000 years ago. Explore the replica Viking village of Norstead and sail aboard a replica of an 11th-century Viking boat.

As you drive to St. Anthony, stop by one of the local craft stores to pick up specialty jams and jellies. In St. Anthony visit the Grenfell Properties, including Grenfell House and Grenfell Interpretation Centre, which also houses Grenfell Handicrafts.

Day 11 – Exploring sea caves

Today travel to Corner Brook. On your way back, why not stop into the community of St. Pauls and take a boat tour to see seals or any scenery missed during your stay in Gros Morne National Park.

For Adventurers: Kayak or canoe the Humber River, which winds its way into Corner Brook or sea kayak the Bay of Islands, explore towering cliffs and sea caves etched in 500 million year old pillow lava.

Leave the world of light and venture into the unknown. Let a local outdoor adventure operator take you caving or spelunking. Explore one of the spectacular caves just outside Corner Brook. Fascinating geology awaits you.

Day 12 – Natural beauty

If shorebirds are your interest, travel down Route 1 towards Port aux Basques and stop in the Codroy Valley where the Grand Codroy Wetlands Ramsar Site is recognized by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The 925-hectare area at the mouth of the Grand Codroy River consists of a large coastal estuary containing flats, sandbars exposed at low tide and sandspits covered by dune grass. Portions of the wetlands are covered by thick eel grass. There are also four small islands in the wetlands. The estuary provides habitat for large flocks of Canada goose and black duck, and smaller numbers of pintail, green-winged teal, American wigeon, and greater scaup. Newfoundland's west coast is a north-south flyway for many migrating birds, and the wetlands provide food and a resting stop in spring for northbound birds that have just crossed the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, in fall, a stopover for the return flight south. It's also a good place to see rare species blown off course during migration.

There is an interpretation centre directly on the estuary and an interpretation trail running along the banks of the Grand Codroy River, an easy restful walk from the interpretation centre to Grand Codroy Park. Interpretation panels enhance the understanding of estuaries, ecosystems, species adaptation, and models for environmental stewardship.

Just a 10-minute drive from Port aux Basques takes you to J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, where the shoreline offers a stretch of sheltered beach with soft, powdery sand. The park is a good place to see the piping plover, an endangered bird species with only 500 or so in Atlantic Canada and fewer than 5,000 in total worldwide. Cheeseman Park, Grand Bay West, Searston and Sandy Point (further north near St. George's) all have sandy beaches that the plovers favour, and these are recommended viewing areas (but please don't disturb the birds). Look here also for the common loon, murre, Canada goose and pine grosbeak. You'll also find the white admiral and Atlantis fritillary butterflies.