If you’re looking for the trip of a lifetime, I can safely say I’ve found a top contender.
It may not be your typical serene sandy beach or spectacular safari but, for me, Newfoundland in Canada has an offering like no other.
In just six days, I saw striking icebergs up close in the Atlantic sea, hiked over rugged coastal terrain, witnessed whales swimming, watched the sunset from a peak in Terra Nova National Park, ate the freshest fish money can buy, had dinner on the beach, visited one of the ‘four corners of the world’, was ferried across to neighbouring Fogo Island, went kayaking for sea life, dropped by an accordion festival, and learned about the province’s Irish and 9/11 history.
Not to mention the fact that describing Newfoundland (pronounced new-fin-land) as stunning is a shameful understatement.
But I’ll be the first to admit that I’d never actually heard of this part of Canada before – having previously only put Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal on my travel bucket list.
Tragically, I was one of the majority – on my connecting flight from Toronto, a Canadian exclaimed: ‘You went to Newfoundland?! Nobody ever goes there!’
And blimey, they really should. Even some friends who recently packed up their bags for a new life in Toronto told me Newfoundland was low on their list of places to see before I went (I’ve since told them they need to revise that).
Travel doesn’t get better than this if you love an active holiday – and yet hardly anyone makes it to this province.
Our journey began in Gander, the city known for its airport and aviation history. On 9/11, Gander became the emergency landing destination over five days for some 7,000 people on planes headed for the US.
Gander, at the time, had a population of around 10,000 – so the sudden swell in people required the entire city to lend a helping hand.
That kind community spirit still runs through all of Newfoundland today – never have I experienced such generosity and warmth from people as a tourist. If you were to find yourself lost somewhere, I’m confident a local would not only help, but feed you too before sending you on your way.
We visited the home of Derm and Diane Flynn, in Appleton, who told us about how people came together during 9/11 in Gander and how they single-handedly hosted six people, while others dropped by for food and showers. Having lunch in their home while they recounted their stories is something many tourists passing through Newfoundland book onto (for £35).
These two even inspired characters in the musical Come From Away, which is set in Gander on 9/12 (the following day) and currently is playing there, making it an extra special theatre experience. We witnessed a number of people who had travelled over for this very reason.
Our next stop was Twillingate, which is about a two-hour drive further north of the island. Hands down, this was my favourite location on the trip.
Not only is it full of pretty streets and houses, it’s one of the stops along Iceberg Alley – a corridor in which icebergs from Greenland slowly travel down, sometimes taking several years to reach Newfoundland and Labardor.
We saw around 18 of them (which is unheard of at this time of year, as iceberg season tends to finish around June and we travelled in July) from lookout spots like Long Point Lighthouse, and then up close on a boat with Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours (£59).
A breathtaking sight it was, seeing the blue veins in ice and all their different shapes and sizes. Even our tour guide was taken aback, explaining how rare it is to see so many in one go.
I’ll never forget it – and you won’t either if you venture to this northern corner of the earth.
To make the day even better, we then indulged in a scallop, mussel and lobster cook-up by chefs on a quiet beach with Wild Island Kitchen (£102). I’ve never eaten lobster so tasty that doesn’t need to be drowned in garlic butter – no doubt because everything was locally sourced.
As the sun began to set, it was time to head onwards to Fogo Island.
The Newfoundland accent is Canadian with an Irish twang, and it’s here that you’ll hear the Irish part most profoundly – ‘thing’ becomes ‘ting’ among the locals.
Fogo Island is full of beautiful fishing stages, and an area within the island called Tilting, is known for its architecture.
After hiking on Al’s Walking Tour (£12), while Al explained more about the island’s Irish history and took us past notable spots like Devil’s Rocking Chair, we walked up Brimstone Head, one of the alleged four corners of the earth. Looking out to the sea at the top, you do feel at the edge of something.
The final leg of the trip saw us arrive in Eastport Peninsula, which is home to Terra Nova National Park.
Here we went to Beaches Accordion Festival (pay what you can), where fisherman-musicians played songs in the fish stages (which are like huts where fishermen work). It was peaceful, relaxed, and set against the backdrop of colourful houses along the water. It also provided a unique opportunity to go inside a stage.
Speaking of fish, I was still thinking about my dinner from the previous night. It was the most flavourful-yet-simple, piece of cod that’ll likely ever pass my lips – thanks for ruining all fish in the UK for me, Newfoundland.
After the festival, we embarked on a sunset hike to Mill Cove Lookout (an easy 30-minute climb), which offers a view of forest, sea, and the life in between. Sitting up on a rock at the top, I thought about how I wasn’t ready to go home. If I didn’t have my 9am-5pm to get back to, I’d have stayed another week, touring my way around.
There was still kayaking with Happy Adventure (£44) to experience though – my Canadian dream wasn’t over just yet.
Not normally a fan of water sports (I get scared far out in the ocean), I was shocked by how much I loved it.
The water was calm (thank goodness), and we made our way over to an area with mini crabs, starfish, sea urchins, schools of fish, and jellyfish. Watching this all beneath us through clear water was wonderful, and I even held a non-stinging moon jellyfish. It was goopy and left slime on my hand, which is only fair as I plucked it out of its home for a moment.
With a heavy heart, I made my way back to shore.
The last thing I should mention is the tradition of ‘screeching’ there – it’s an old-school initiation process, involving necking back rum and kissing a cod, that sees you become an ‘honourary Newfoundlander’.
Though it’s mostly just a bit of authentic small-town fun for tourists, I will in fact now consider myself a Newfoundlander in spirit – and I will come again.
Flights from London via Toronto, Montreal or Halifax to Gander start from £560, and from these cities, connecting flights are typically around two to three hours long.
Find out more at Destination Canada
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
For even more unmissable travel news, features and inspiration in your inbox each week, sign up to Metro's The Getaway newsletter2023-09-15T06:36:32Z dg43tfdfdgfd