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Adventures on the Irish Loop

Sea Kayaking is just one of the many things to do along the Irish Loop

Every day I come across dozens of inspiring photos and videos of travellers making their way across the province, happily ticking items off their bucket list one by one. From kayaking with whales, to eating chunks of glacial ice, to seeing the odd moose or two, in Newfoundland & Labrador, it’s pretty easy to check off a multitude of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

But seeing all this fun isn’t easy. Sure, it’s heartening to read travellers’ accounts of their encounters with the people of the province and the friendships they’ve made. True, it’s amazing to hear the shouts of excitement when a person comes face to face with a gentle giant as it takes flight. And yes, it’s humbling to see visiting hikers stand on what looks like the edge of the earth. But from here, from behind this screen, it’s easy to lose yourself in the experiences of others. That’s why, every so often, I find myself having to come up for a breath of fresh air and take part in what these kind people have been reminding us of all along – to get out there, and to lose yourself.

So that’s exactly what I decided to do, and two weeks ago my partner and I made our way down the Irish Loop, just a short drive outside of the capital city of St. John’s.

Traveller’s Tip – Make Time for Pit Stops

The Irish Loop is not unchartered territory for my partner Shawn. Each and every day he drives up and down “the shore” plotting new power lines and meeting with customers. But on our adventure, everything seemed new and exciting. As we travelled through the twists and turns, the windows down to take in the warm salt breeze, we stopped at almost every community. Around every corner, as it seemed, was a lookout, and at each stopping point was a cove filled with tiny islands dotting the ocean. Shawn, my personal tour guide for the day, was telling me the history of the communities and the various stories he had learned from locals, making sure to point out his favourite spots to eat along the way. He even stopped to show me the beautiful white house that sits on the edge of a craggily cliff in Tors Cove that he’d like to own someday.

When you visit, and I hope you do, make sure you budget a few hours for detours, because you never know where you might find yourself. Hey, you may even come across the odd tourism snapshot.

Traveller’s Tip – Bring an Extra Camera Battery, or Two

After a morning of adventuring off the beaten track, we finally made our way to Cape Broyle for what was probably the most exciting afternoon of my life. After meeting with Stan Cook Jr. and his knowledgeable crew of kayaking guides, we ventured off for an afternoon of paddling. If you have some time, I highly recommend the “go-and-tow” tour, as you get to go out a little further and explore some very worthwhile cliffs, waterfalls, and sea caves.

Stunning waterfalls in Cape Broyle

The breadth of knowledge that Stan possesses after years of personalized tours is outstanding. There isn’t a question he can’t answer or a fact he doesn’t know. For example, do you know what 90s extraterrestrial movie used Newfoundland & Labrador as its backdrop for alien planets? You’ll have to take the tour to find out.

After what seemed like minutes but was actually a few hours, we had sampled shellfish, paddled under waterfalls, heard stories of mysterious rum runners, got sucked into dark and misty sea caves, gazed up in marvel at 100 foot cliffs, and even saw a Minke whale float by. And while we didn’t think the tour could possibly get any better, what happened next was truly extraordinary.

While we were waiting for our boat to come and tow our kayaks back through the picturesque cove, two Humpback whales full of capelin were spotted sunbathing in a tiny inlet. Yes, sunbathing. Like any normal mammal, I guess, they were so full from their early summer feast that they just wanted to relax and catch some rays. So as I carefully went to reach inside my waterproof baggie to take out my camera, the unthinkable happened.

My camera died.

And at that moment, the curious whales spotting our colourful kayaks in the distance, I began to feverously shake my camera battery, hoping to squeeze out any bit of life it had left. Thankfully it cooperated.

Two Humpback whales sunbathing after a feed of capelin

The whales began to swim up a little closer, and we could spot their white shadows beneath the surface of the ocean just before they popped up to say hello. The silence of cove echoed the sound of the whales’ breath as they gracefully came up for air, and their tails, like unique fingerprints, waved goodbye as they disappeared into the distance. Meeting such gentle beasts was a truly spiritual experience, and one that will stay with me forever.

Kayaking with whales

Traveller’s Tip – Stay for a Night, or Two, or Three

All of the activities we did in just one day could have easily filled a week. The Irish Loop, besides being a beautiful scenic drive, really has a wide range of attractions and activities to suit any traveller’s preference. A little further down the shore you come to Ferryland, where the popular Lighthouse Picnics is located. If the freshly made bread paired with freshly squeezed lemonade isn’t enough, imagine yourself sitting cozily atop a hillside watching whales and birds take flight. (For the record, I highly recommend the ham and brie sandwich).

There are also plenty of hiking trails in the area, with a large portion of the East Coast Trail stretching along the coast. If you choose to venture down to the southernmost tip, you will find yourself at Cape Race Lighthouse, the site where the Titanic distress signal was first received, and Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, the site of the oldest and largest known fossils of complex multicellular organisms from 579-560 million years ago.

Traveller’s Tip – Be a Traveller, Not an Observer

I’ve lived in St. John’s my whole life, and it amazes me still how I can travel just a short distance away and feel like I’ve arrived in a completely different place. Every part of this province is unique in its own way, and should be explored as such. And while you should look all the pictures and watch all the videos of Newfoundland & Labrador for inspiration, to truly gain perspective, you have to come and experience it yourself.