During late spring to mid-summer (May – July) a spectacular natural event occurs on the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. Arriving from western Greenland, thousands of icebergs travel at a rate of 7 km/year passing through the Davis Strait and then the Labrador current which will take them to Iceberg Alley in Newfoundland and Labrador. Of the thousands that make the journey, only a few hundred or 1-2% will survive the 2-3 year journey to Iceberg Alley. Greenland’s glaciers are approximately 10,000 years old making the ice that has arrived on Newfoundland and Labrador’s shores some of the purest water available. We set out from Ontario with a mission, and it became pretty clear right away that we would be spotting icebergs in St. Anthony, Newfoundland.
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Iceberg Alley in Newfoundland and Labrador can be mapped from north to south with the following cities: Cartwright, Battle Harbour, Point Amour, St. Anthony, La Scie, Twillingate, Bonavista, St. John’s/Cape Spear and all the way down Bay Bulls/Witless Bay. If you are hoping to see icebergs in St. Anthony, it’s good to be aware that earlier on in iceberg season, it is most common to find icebergs further north in the alley.Tip: Depending on which city in Iceberg Alley you want to base yourself, make sure to check on which airport works best for your itinerary.
Resources for visiting Newfoundland
To help in our planning I joined a very helpful Facebook group called Newfoundland Iceberg Reports and followed their twitter account (@NLIcebergReport). The members are invaluable in providing daily updates on icebergs that can be spotted in various areas of Iceberg Alley. Also, I was religiously checking the iceberg map in the weeks and days leading up to our trip. On this map, you will find the icebergs that have been reported by ambassadors (this is a team of berg-spotters) but also those that have been detected by satellite. The hard thing about this adventure though was that at any moment, any given iceberg could calve (break apart) and/or roll-over without warning. Although this would have been a fantastic event to witness, it meant that we could not guarantee any one site we picked would have icebergs when we got there.
The first three cities mentioned above (Cartwright, Battle Harbour, Point Amour) are all in Labrador, which is on Canada’s North-Eastern Mainland, and would have required a ferry ride from our base in on the island of Newfoundland. Since we were only in Newfoundland for a short period of time we opted to try our luck in seeing icebergs in St. Anthony.
Driving the Viking Trail
We started our day early from Rocky Harbour and drove north on Route 430. This section of the highway is also known as the Viking Trail and it takes you through Gros Morne National Park and up through quaint fishing towns on the coast of western Newfoundland. It was a scenic journey of approximately 350 km drive, and we stopped often for photos and to give the children a chance to run around at various spots along the way. The weather was definitely cooperating with the sun shining brightly and blessing us with temperatures in the low 20 degrees Celsius. As we got closer to our destination at the northern tip of Newfoundland, we witnessed amazing views of the coast of Labrador across the Gulf of St. Lawrence. And you guessed it! We saw our first iceberg! And to add to the excitement, a humpback whale also decided to join the party! Kevin and I were ecstatic but chose not stop as the berg was far in the distance near the Labrador coast, and there wasn’t really a good spot to park the car on the highway. Both C and D were having a much-needed nap as well, so we opted to trek on to better views rather than risk breaking up a well-deserved rest.
Fox Point Lighthouse (Fishing Point), St. Anthony
Before long, we had reached the northern tip of western Newfoundland and we were gazing in awe at the rugged coastline off of Fishing Point, in the town of St. Anthony. The weather, though still sunny, had cooled down considerably as we drove north and a strong wind was reminding us of Newfoundland’s unpredictable weather. After putting on sweaters, C and D, refreshed from their nap, jumped out of the rental van and almost immediately noticed the lighthouse in the distance. D, who at this point had become absolutely obsessed with Lighthouses (possibly thanks to Paw Patrol), took off running to explore the site.The Fox Point Lighthouse was originally erected in 1906 and at its inception, it consisted only of a lantern that was hoisted up an open frame. The modern structure dates from 2002. As of 2009, three experienced lighthouse keepers have shared the responsibility of keeping the lighthouse operational.
Icebergs in St. Anthony, Newfoundland
The town of St. Anthony is the self-proclaimed iceberg capital of the world. And the town certainly lived up to its name! Easily viewable from the Fox Point Lighthouse parking lot in Fishing Point was a large tabular iceberg. Kevin wasted little time in breaking out our drone to capture some stunning views of the berg nestled in St. Anthony harbour.
Tip: The weather in Newfoundland and Labrador is notoriously unpredictable. When packing for late spring, plan on temperatures ranging from 5ºC – 25ºC (41ºF – 77ºF). There is also a possibility of snow so make sure to pack accordingly.
Icebergs come in different shapes and sizes, but all of them are incredible in their own way. The shapes have been notoriously catalogued by iceberg hunters and can be broken down into the following categories: tabular, blocky, wedged, dome, pinnacle, and dry dock. A tabular iceberg, like the one we saw in St. Anthony is a flat-topped iceberg with a width that is five times greater than it’s height. Amazingly, almost 90% of an iceberg is hidden underwater!
From Fishing Point, there are four trails that you can follow to walk the coast and watch for icebergs in St. Anthony: The Santana Trail, The Cartier’s View Trail, The Iceberg Alley Trail, and The Whale Watchers Trail. All offer amazing viewpoints and except for the Santana Trail all are rated as easy. Both the Iceberg Alley and the Whale Watchers Trail have boardwalks with the latter being wheelchair accessible. During iceberg season, it is also possible to see whales and puffins alongside the icebergs off the St. Anthony coastline. We may have only seen icebergs in St. Anthony on our walks along the trails, but we certainly didn’t leave disappointed.
Tip: Although 2 of the 4 trails have boardwalks, it is still wise to have proper footwear. The boardwalks can be wet and icy depending on the weather.
Dinner at the Lightkeeper’s Seafood Restaurant
After exploring the area and staring in awe at the sheer size of the icebergs in St. Anthony we settled down for an early dinner at The Lightkeeper’s Seafood Restaurant which is located right in Fishing Point. Fishing Point overlooks the harbour, and we were surprised to be approached by a three-legged fox as we were checking out the view. When we asked the staff at the restaurant about the visitor, they let us know that the fox had been snared in a trap years before, and since then had relied on the charity of restaurant patrons for food. The fox is considered tame, but remember that it’s still a wild animal, so don’t try to approach it.
The Lightkeeper’s Seafood Restaurant is housed in what was originally one of the lighthouse keepers dwellings. I was the only one that opted for an appetizer and I started with the Lightkeepers Seafood Chowder. It was very tasty and had large chunks of shrimp which we did not find anywhere else in western Newfoundland. For my main, I opted for two appetizer plates. The battered and fried calamari was good but was made exceptional by the sweet Thai chili/tartar sauce combination dip! I also had the Bacalao cake which is a pan-fried patty of salt cod, potatoes, and onion. I can understand why it is a classic in both Newfoundland and Portugal. Kevin had the Snowcrab platter which is served which your choice of two sides. As for what he thought of it, the empty plate spoke for itself. The children opted for good old macaroni and cheese. But their favorite part was dessert. The generous staff at Lightkeeper’s Seafood Restaurant allowed them to split one order of sundae which was served in two separate sundae cups and they each got to pick their own flavour. Talk about amazing service! Between the views, the well prepared and tasty dishes, and excellent service we highly recommend this restaurant for families and anybody else that happens to find themselves in St. Anthony.
Originally, we had planned to stay overnight in St. Anthony at the historic Grenfell Heritage Hotel and Suites. However, we found out that the boat tours for spotting icebergs in St. Anthony had not yet started for the season. After some discussion, we decided that, since icebergs were our main mission here in Newfoundland, we would make the journey to another part of Iceberg Alley, the spectacular town of Twillingate, where the boat tours were in full-force for the season. We headed back to Rocky Harbour, the half-way point to Twillingate. We would have loved to spend more time in St. Anthony, as it had so much more to offer, but a mission must be accomplished, so we traveled on! St. Anthony is definitely a place we hope to visit again soon. Part of visiting Newfoundland is getting “Screeched In”. This is a way for visitors to become honorary Newfoundlanders. Our friend and fellow travel writer Christopher Rudder at Rudderless.ca shares his experience with the Screech-In here.
We had gotten our first taste of the Newfoundland icebergs up close and we were craving more. Tomorrow, we would be making the drive from Rocky Harbour to Twillingate to join Captain Dave’s Boat Tours, and get a true, up-close and personal look at some Newfoundland icebergs.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.