WILDLIFE and WILDERNESS - GETTING TO KNOW NEWFOUNDLAND'S WILD SIDE
Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
Twenty-nine thousand kilometers of coastline wrap Newfoundland, Canada, in plummeting cliffs and crashing waves. Ten thousand-year-old icebergs crowd Iceberg Alley with towering remnants of Greenland. And freezing rain and howling Nor'easters sweep inland on more days than not. This is Newfoundland's wild side. Without it, how would we appreciate those days when the wind whispers and the sun bathes dawn in gold?
Rain or shine, this wild setting is a stunning backdrop to a whole lot of wildlife. Mid-June brings what is known among Newfoundlanders as the Triple Play. Towering icebergs, whales and an estimated 35 million migratory sea birds converge off the islands' north-eastern shore. Three of Canada's iconic animals make for a second Triple Play. Moose and beaver thrive in abundance and many a fog shrouded lake echoes with the eerie call of a loon.
Mum and I are both crazy about photography and with all that wildlife and rugged wilderness, Newfoundland tops both our bucket lists. Mum is also my best travel buddy. She'll get up at 5 am for a beautiful sunrise. She'll tackle a rocky hillside for the stunning view. But best of all, mum laughs at all my jokes and I laugh at hers - the perfect formula for success with endless hours in the car! With cameras in hand we take flight in search of Newfoundland's Triple Play.
It's dawn on a cool June morning and 600 squawking early-risers stir from a night on wind-swept Elliston Point. With a whole colony of puffins parading within a stone's throw I get to see first hand if Newfoundland's provincial bird really deserves its' reputation. Known for its' comical appearance and equally comical behavior my pre-Newfoundland research prepared me to witness crash-landings and Charlie-Chaplin style tottering across the rocks.
Crash-landings aside, what I see instead is a really striking bird, with wings that "take flight" in the water. With the rising sun, puffin thoughts turn to breakfast and tottering birds are swept skyward by the never-ending wind. Comical appearance turns mesmerizing as hundreds fill the sky. Each bird sets their eye on breakfast beneath the waves. They dive, scoop herring, and in moments the sea is bobbing with birds.
Just hours later mum and I brave towering waves on a tiny bobbing fishing boat on the North Atlantic Ocean. Up on the top deck I unsuccessfully try to find my "sea legs." One hand is free to desperately clutch the railing while the other holds my Iceberg Beer. You too would risk a plunge in the icy sea for that beer - it was brewed from water trapped 10 thousand years ago on Greenland's frozen shore. And to make this experience perfect five stories of iceberg looms just meters from my boat.
Far out in the ocean a giant surfaces - a lone whale comes closer then sinks. Long moments pass as we see only the crashing waves. Then the surface breaks, and one enormous humpback breaches in the North Atlantic Ocean, one even more enormous iceberg as the backdrop. Still hampered by sea legs and my precious Iceberg Beer I'm not ready to shoot that perfect picture. But no matter, I will remember this moment forever.
With a day packed with wildlife sightings, Newfoundland's rugged wilderness is now calling. We navigate winding roads as mountains tower higher and close in. We stop in a steep valley bordered on one side by lush Newfoundland wilderness and on the other by barren moonscape. And we are at last hiking the misty mountains of Gros Morne world UNESCO site. Our guide is Kevin Barnes - Western region Vice Chief of the Mi'kmaq First Nation Band. He's a guy who knows a lot about the wilderness, and he loves to share.
"What's the first thing you noticed as you drove down the valley?" he asks.
"On one side the mountains are green and lush, and on the other just barren peaks." The answer was right there in front of me.
So Kevin tells the story of the mountains. Five hundred million years ago a vast ocean began to close. One oceanic plate plunged down and magma flowed up to expose Earth's mantle beneath the waves. With another 25 million years of shifting plates, barren reef and nutrient rich ocean floor rose skyward. And everywhere I saw the evidence of this mostly slow-motion tumult. Barren peaks mirror lush green peaks in lock-step down the valley. And the last 2 million years of repeated glaciation show the classic U-shaped profile dotted with glacial erratics.
We trudge higher. Then pause, and our footsteps echo to silence. The sights and sounds of my world are left behind and the wilderness seems to embrace.
"Now listen to the silence," Kevin says.
And without the passing cars, and my trudging feet the familiar sounds of my world are truly gone. Moments pass. Then my ears attune to the unfamiliar sounds of the wilderness.
I listen and watch as the land changes in nature's slow-motion version of real-time. I hear crashing high in the mountains as an avalanche shifts mountaintop to valley. A snow-fed waterfall throws torrents that carve deep crevices in the rock. And meandering rivers carry eroded mountain to the sea. And so these mountains that were created over millennia continue their endless transformation.
I'm pretty satisfied with my immersion in Newfoundland's wildlife and wilderness by now. Regular folk would stop after puffins, whales, icebergs and earth-moving mountains. But I hear you haven't been to Newfoundland if you haven't seen a moose.
With a population of over 100,000, they are everywhere in Newfoundland. They crowd the roads at dusk and dawn, and cause 600-800 accidents each year. They are the star of wilderness road signs across the island. And yet, we don't see one. Not one! As a wildlife photographer I arrived determined to photograph all those moose. As a sensible person I leave without my moose pictures, but am thankful for my life. We met Mary who has had one too many encounters and gave us some insight. The night before a moose came crashing out of the woods. Her husband was driving and only ensured a happy ending for wife and moose with lighting-fast reflexes. Mary was still visibly shaken.
Mum and I spent a final glorious morning on the shore of Western Brook Pond. Mist swirled and the sun bathed dawn in gold. A loon called and six hundred meter cliffs echoed its' eerie sound. Just perfect! But what about completing that second triple play? No moose, no beaver - but so much more - I know when I'm lucky!
WHERE TO STAY
FISHER'S LOFT INN
Email | Website | TripAdvisor
Mill Road, Port Rexton, Newfoundland and Labrador AOC 2HO, Canada
THE TIDES INN
Email | Website | TripAdvisor
P O Box 10, Norris Point, Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador A0K 3V0, Canada
MONASTERY SPA & SUITES
Email | Website | TripAdvisor
63 Patrick St, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador A1E 2S5, Canada
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