Here’s a trivia question for you: Where in the world would you have to go to in order to get up close (safely) to an iceberg? Greenland? Spitzbergen? Iceland? Antarctica? What if I was to tell you that icebergs inhabit a stretch of coastal water that is located just over four hours flight away — roughly equivalent to a flight to the Canaries — and that you can get a direct flight there almost any day of the week, subject to availability?
OK. Let me put you out of your misery because if you’re like me, you’d probably never guess that it was the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, that large island off the east coast of Canada (the Labrador bit is on the ‘mainland’ separated from the Island of Newfoundland by the Gulf of St. Lawrence.) How do I know this? Well, it’s because last week, I had the privilege of enjoying a direct flight from Dublin to St. Johns (Newfoundlands’ capital) which took just 4 hours and 12 minutes to complete — actually shorter (albeit in minutes) than a typical flight to Lanzarote, Tenerife or Gran Canaria. I was there as a guest of Westjet, Destination St. Johns’ and Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism. Westjet are Canada’s equivalent of Ryanair insofar as they pride themselves on their ability to consistently deliver the most competitive air fares to anyone who wishes to use their comprehensive network throughout Canada, the USA, Caribbean and Hawaii. The difference though is in the service! Whilst not a full service carrier, it feels like one — imagine if Aer Lingus and Ryanair had a baby together, then you get the idea! Westjet recently launched a direct service between Dublin and ST John’s which is already almost full, such has been the demand for seats.
What’s even more interesting is what Newfoundland itself has to offer which is something else altogether. The island’s population is more than 50% descended from Irish immigrants, the majority of whom originated from the areas of Waterford, Wexford and South Kilkenny during the 19th century and who have retained not only their attachment to the motherland and its traditions and culture but most surreally — it’s accents! I had heard of accounts of people in Newfoundland who spoke with Irish accents but to actually witness it for real was something else! Although I didn’t catch any sounds of my home county, I did hear variations on Dublin, Wicklow and Offaly/Laois accents that would have been perfectly at home in Balbriggan, Arklow or Tullamore.
The other thing that really blew me away about Newfoundland besides its retained Irish heritage and unspoilt beauty was the sheer size of the place. The island is so large that it would take you something like 10 hours to drive across it from East to West. Given that size, it naturally encompasses a diverse range of landscapes, some fo which wouldn’t look out of place in Greenland or Iceland, and although they do admittedly drive on the wrong side of the road, traffic is so sparse (the island boasts a population of just 500,000), driving around it is just like driving in rural Ireland.
But let’s get back to those icebergs for a moment: Apparently they break off from glaciers up in Greenland and are carried south towards the eastern coast of Newfoundland by the Labrador current. Icebergs are formed of freshwater and are extremely dense — that’s why the proverbial nine tenths of their mass is not visible above the water line. Most of them contain ice that is up to 25,000 years old and is up to -15 or -20 degrees below zero deep inside their mass. That’s probably why the large iceberg that you see floating just outside St Johns’ harbour, less than a half mile off shore in the photo that accompanies this article, is still very much alive even though its already late June!
I could go on and on but hopefully I’ve alluded to enough already to capture your attention. So, if you’re looking for something completely different yet refreshingly familiar; If you want to experience something that one only usually sees in documentaries narrated by David Attenborough but don’t want to travel to the ends of the earth to experience it or perhaps most importantly of all — if you want to have a whale of a time (yes, you can go whale watching there as well and I did!) with your transatlantic first cousins, then start counting them pennies, check your calendar and get booking through your local Travel Centres-affiliated agent straight away!