With stunning seas and wonderful wildlife, you’ll have a whale of a time on this Canadian island, says Miranda Thompson
The slim silhouettes of gannets plunge 150ft into the white-crested waters as, alongside our boat, the waves are sliced apart by a breaching humpback.
Aboard, I can’t help but jig a leg along to the merry accordion accompaniment.
This is Newfoundland, North America’s most easterly point and Canadian in all but time zone – 322 miles out from the mainland, it operates half an hour ahead. And it’s just a five-hour flight from London.
First port of call
The distinctive Irish-tinged Newfoundland accent might remind you of home, but there’s so much that’s so very different.
I began my stay in the region’s small capital of St John’s, a 500-year-old maritime town home to just 115,000 inhabitants.
Twice razed by fire, the city’s spirit remains indefatigable; fishing boats and freight ships slip in and out of the sheltered port, while vibrant candy-coloured clapboards known collectively by locals as ‘Jellybean Row’ line its hilly downtown streets.
From my base at the Sheraton Hotel, I walked along the port through Battery, the continent’s oldest fishing village, before heading uphill for city views from Signal Hill, where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901, and where you’ll find the area’s military history – the British defeated the French here in 1762 – echoed in such place names like Deadman’s Pond and Gibbet Hill.
Out at sea, there’s even more to see. St John’s is located on ‘Iceberg Alley’, the stretch of water that plays host to gargantuan 12,000-year-old ice slabs that take a leisurely two years to drift south from Greenland.
Indeed, it’s the closest town to the site of the Titanic wreck, which lies some 600km south- east in the Atlantic.
It’s a rare visitor to St John’s who doesn’t sample its fresh seafood; I enjoyed catch of the day at Portobello’s, overlooking the sunset-dappled harbour, served with a side order of scrunchions, which are chewy, deep-fried morsels of pork fat – and are more delicious than they sound!
Toast the ’bergs with a bottle of the island’s Iceberg beer, a clean-tasting pale ale brewed at the town’s Quidi Vidi brewery using water sliced from the slabs themselves.
Downtown, experience the Irish-themed entertainment on George Street, where you’ll find more pubs than on any other street in the country.
Iceberg Boat Tours took me along Newfoundland’s eastern coastline, where local fishermen hauling in their lobster pots are as common a sight as a humpback whale enjoying its own summer break.
You can whale-spot from land, too.
Settle in at Cape Spear, the most easterly point, where the sun first rises and home to the region’s oldest lighthouse.
Or, head 10km down the island’s scenic drive, the Irish Loop, to the old European settlement of Ferryland. A short walk along the spit brings you to an isolated lighthouse overlooking the Graveyard of the Atlantic, where 500 shipwrecks have been recorded.
Sandwiches and homemade cake from the lighthouse kitchen served on the spongy grass make an ideal accompaniment to a leisurely afternoon looking out to the ocean.
All at sea
Much of Newfoundland’s charm is to be found beyond St John’s city limits and along its 18,000 miles of sea-soaked coast, home to dramatic geological structures and must-see native wildlife alike.
Three hours north of St John’s brings you to Bonavista, named for the explorer John Cabot in 1497 who, on seeing it, said ‘O buon vista’ (Oh happy sight!).
I took a break at the Bonavista Social Club, overlooking a fjord, to feast on smoky pizza from the wood-fired oven and fresh salads from its own allotment.
Extend your stay in the rustic comfort of Fisher’s Loft at Port Rexton, where moose gather at dusk and you can watch the sun sink below the trees from wooden patios built into the hillside.
The following day, I hiked the world-renowned Skerwink Trail, where the granite cliffs tumble into the sea, before heading north to the wide open spaces of Dungeon Provincial Park to view the massive rock formations and sea caves that punctuate the surf.
But it was the inhabitants of Elliston, up the coast, that really rounded off this very neighbourly Canadian experience.
Birders and non-birders alike will delight in what is known locally as ‘the Puffin Site’, one of the best places from which to spot the friendly, funny little birds that flop and fly from the spiky rock stacks.
Great for food lovers
Try the constantly changing menu at Mallard Cottage, where the local fare is delicious (I loved the scallops) and the atmosphere, with flickering fires and stripped-back interior, is cosy and welcoming.
Great for spirited adventurers
Get closer to the water on a sea kayaking trip across an inland fjord, where there are whales and seabirds to be spotted.
The expert guides at Stan Cook Sea Kayaking will navigate you under waterfalls and into caves as you traverse the bay.
Canadian Affair offers holidays to Newfoundland year round, with great-value six-night packages from £959 per person, including return flights from London Heathrow, and accommodation (based on two sharing) at a 3-star hotel. For information and reservations, call 020 7616 9933 or 0141 223 7515 or visit canadianaffair.com
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Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer Tour, nine days from £2,249pp.
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