Treasured Island

It’s far from tropical, but this wild, remote island has plenty to warm your heart.

JOCELYN PRIDE

5 min read

Rust-coloured rocks stretch across the landscape. In the distance, a parched riverbed ribbons through mountains that look like rows of bearded faces peeking through the clouds. It feels like I’ve hiked to another planet, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m staring into the soul of our Earth.

The Tablelands area of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gros Morne National Park, in Canada’s Newfoundland, is home to a geological phenomenon: a chunk of what was once the ocean floor, forced through the crust by a continental shift millions of years ago.

It feels like I’ve hiked to another planet but... I’m staring into the soul of our Earth.

Fort Amherst and Freshwater Bay viewed from the hiking trail around Signal Hill in Newfoundland, Canada.

Rising from the North Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland together with its mainland counterpart Labrador, forms Canada’s easternmost province. It’s the world’s 16th largest island, with a population of around half a million and a remote rugged landscape fringed by pounding seas. Icebergs the size of Manhattan apartment blocks slowly drift down from Greenland on summer tides. Inland, dense boreal forests teem with moose, caribou, lynx, and coyotes. Along the nearly 30,000 kilometres of coastline, hundreds of thousands of cute-as-a-button puffins – the official bird of the province – and other seabirds gather to breed on rocky outcrops every summer. In quiet fishing villages, people knit socks and stitch patchwork quilts, hanging them on clothes lines to sell outside their salt-box cottages.

Icebergs the size of apartment blocks slowly drift past the coast.

Icebergs the size of apartment blocks slowly drift past the coast.

Puffins are a common sight for bird watchers in Newfoundland.

Puffins are a common sight for bird watchers in Newfoundland.

And then there’s St John’s, the capital, famed for its ‘jelly bean row’ streets of brightly painted wooden homes overlooking the pretty harbour. With a 500-year-old history, and a population just over 100,000, it’s like San Francisco got together with an English village to produce the perfect mix of vibe and charm. It’s walkable (if you don’t mind hills), drivable (if you’re great at parking), with fine restaurants, a thriving music and arts scene, museums, hiking trails and an adorable village called Quidi Vidi (pronounced Kiddy Viddy) nearby.

Brightly coloured homes dot the hillsides in and around Newfoundland's capital, St John's.

Can-do attitudes and revered survival skills

Despite all of the extraordinary natural landscapes, it’s the people themselves who keep drawing me back to this fascinating province. These are strong people with open hearts and lilting accents who recite poetry, sing songs and whisper stories that might make you laugh and cry. A can-do society inspired by their ancestors who braved the voyage from Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and France on the promise of fishing in waters so thick with cod you could ‘walk across their backs to reach the shores’.

Fishing permeates every part of life in Newfoundland, even despite the cod industry disaster of the 1960s.

Philanthropist Zita Cobb, an eighth-generation Fogo Islander, grew up listening to the fishing tales of her forefathers. But when the bottom fell out of the cod industry in the 1960s her family, like many, simply left this tiny island off Newfoundland’s northeast coast.

Fast forward 40 years and Zita has returned to her roots to create one of the most dramatic buildings on the planet. Fogo Island Inn clings to rocks surrounded by the swirling ocean. It was set up as a non-profit foundation – 100 per cent of the Inn’s operating surplus goes back to the Fogo Islanders – and every aspect is based on ethical and sustainable values.

Fogo Island Inn.

Fogo Island Inn.

Everyone loves a good Viking story, and you can hear a great one on Newfoundland.

L’Anse aux Meadows at the northernmost tip of Newfoundland is the exact spot of a Norse Viking settlement 1,000 years ago.

Interwoven with Newfoundland and Labrador’s European heritage is the influence of the First Nation peoples and Norse Vikings.

For centuries, the Innu, Inuit (Labrador) and the Mi’kmaq (Newfoundland) people have lived and travelled throughout the province. In an environment that relies on reading the land for survival, their skills are revered. Here, you can learn how to jig cod aboard a traditional Dory, take a hike in one of the National Parks with an Indigenous guide, or brave a dog sled tour.

Everyone loves a good Viking story, and you can hear a great one on Newfoundland. L’Anse aux Meadows is a UNESCO World Heritage site at the northernmost tip of Newfoundland – the exact spot the Norse landed some 1,000 years ago. Throwing the history books into a spin, the site was authenticated by Norwegian archaeologists in the 1960s, proving the Vikings set foot in North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus.

Corner Brook in western Newfoundland.

Kindness at its core

When more than 6,500 passengers and crew on 38 planes landed in Gander, a tiny village in the centre of the island, on September 11, 2001, no-one could have predicted what would follow. With the world in turmoil and no clarity on whether a bomb ticked on the remaining planes, the Ganderites, together with the surrounding villages, opened their hearts to the stranded passengers. Declaring a state of emergency for five days, they fed, housed, clothed and comforted ‘the plane people’ who hailed from 93 countries.

Comforting and nurturing is just what we do. Everyone is welcome here.

Boardwalk leading to the Cape Spear Lighthouse near St John's, Canada.

Join us as we attempt to cross the legendary Northwest Passage, with Newfoundland along the way