A Bucket List Experience 15,000 Years In The Making
There is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when you can cross something off your bucket list. This happened to me at the Iceberg Festival in St. Anthony, Newfoundland where I came within six feet of an iceberg. As someone who has been born and raised in Toronto, icebergs were something that I only saw in commercials for Alaskan boat cruises. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I did not know it was even possible to see an iceberg in Canada without going to Nunavut.
The reality is, you do not have to go that far. All you have to do is get to St. Anthony, which is approximately a 4 hour drive north of Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, along the Northern Peninsula known worldwide as iceberg alley. This is the home of the Iceberg Festival, which is held annually in early June to mark the start of iceberg season. Once you are in St. Anthony, I recommend taking the Northland Boat Tour, a two hour tour that takes you to see icebergs. You may even see some whales and sea birds along the way. The company is run by the Alcock family who are very passionate about the sea. As an added bonus, they are extremely knowledgeable and full of Newfoundland hospitality and charm.
It was a beautiful clear day when I went on the tour and the clouds only dusted the pale blue sky as the sun shone down. The ocean was a deep royal blue and was as calm and smooth as glass. As we were heading out to the icebergs, the guide shared with us his commitment to marine conservation, whale research and preserving Newfoundland heritage. He told us that the coastal waters of St. Anthony are known for having the longest whale season in Newfoundland. In these waters you can find Humpback, Killer, Minke, and Fin whales as well as White-beaked dolphins. It is also very common to see a variety of different sea birds such as: Northern Gannet, Puffins, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Eider ducks.
I was listening intently as my guide spoke with such passion about the allure of the wildlife and wilderness of the area. This is also when I learned where the saying “It is just the tip of the iceberg” came from, as approximately 88% of it is under the water, leaving us to see only the tip of the iceberg. It was at this moment that he smiled at me and asked as he pointed behind me, “Can you see it?”
We could see the iceberg in the distance and I started snapping pictures straight away. As the boat pulled up beside the iceberg, I brought the camera down and stood frozen in awe of what I was seeing. Floating six feet from me was a massive 15,000 year old piece of beauty. It was a shimmering mountain of white. No man-made piece of art comes close to the elegance of this natural masterpiece. I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if choir music had started to play at that very moment, it was that beautiful. I pulled my jacket a little tighter as I could feel the chill blowing off of the iceberg. It was June and I was bundled in a jacket, hat, mitts and a scarf, but I didn't care. What I was experiencing was too amazing to worry about the cold. As I admired the beauty, I relished in the fact that no two icebergs are ever the same. No one who has ever seen an iceberg and no one who ever will see an iceberg, is ever going to see one that is identical to the one I was observing.
One of my favourite parts of traveling around the world is the history, feeling like you are a part of time. Touching the tower of London, walking along the Great Wall of China, sitting in the amphitheatre in Ephesus. However, floating alongside a 15,000 year old iceberg was definitely the oldest piece of history I was ever a part of; I was truly grateful for the experience.
I found it interesting to learn that it takes an iceberg two to three years to travel the 1,800 nautical miles from Greenland to the island of Newfoundland. As the icebergs float down from the north, they melt and bits of them fall off and float to shore. These are called “berg bits” and since iceberg ice is the purest in the world, people collect it for their drinks. There is also a vodka company and beer company that use the water from the ice to make their products; both are appropriately named “Iceberg”.
That night, as I sipped on my cocktail chilled with berg bits, I smiled to myself; not only did I get to cross seeing an iceberg off my bucket list, but it completely surpassed my expectations. Thank you Iceberg Festival for a truly epic experience.
St. Anthony hosts many interesting things to do during the iceberg festival such as: wine tasting, fused glass art class, rock art class, iceberg hunting on ATV's (a 6 hour program that includes ATV training and a guided wilderness tour) and the Great Viking festival (a theatrical dining experience with the Vikings in the only sod-covered restaurant in North America).