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Tim Soper: Circumnavigation of Newfoundland

Tim Soper, Expedition Leader

Tim Soper: Circumnavigation of Newfoundland

Tim Soper, Expedition Leader

The island of Newfoundland lies only a short distance off the North American mainland; this proximity notwithstanding, it remains something of an enigma to travelers. Last May, I was aboard Le Levant for the inaugural Circumnavigation of Newfoundland expedition, and after completing the voyage, I can say that, despite its relative anonymity, Newfoundland shines as an adventure travel destination.

Roughly the size of Louisiana, Newfoundland has a landscape both striking and diverse. Her scenic coastline covers more than ten thousand miles, replete with coves, harbors, rugged escarpments, and fjords. Our landing at Gros Morne National Park, one of three World Heritage Sites on our itinerary, allowed us to take in Newfoundland's geological array — alpine plateaus, tundra, landlocked fjords, coastal lowlands, and glacier-carved valleys. Our expedition also gave us a glimpse into the earth's past. Gros Morne, 20 times as old as the Rocky Mountains, is home to the Tablelands, an almost alien landscape resulting from the collision of tectonic plates, and Mistaken Point, on the Avalon Peninsula, contains well-preserved fossil impressions of early forms of multi-cellular life.

Newfoundland is situated where the arctic Labrador Current and the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream meet, resulting in a profusion of marine life. In the late spring, enormous numbers of capelin, tiny fish, congregate off the island. These capelin, as well as krill and squid, attract pods of whales for a feeding season that lasts through the summer. Twenty-two species of whale have been spotted here, including a population of humpback approximately five thousand strong. Other species one can expect to see include Minke, Orca, and possibly even blue whales. On last year's voyage, we also spotted sea otters and harp seals.

The birds more than match the cetaceans. Newfoundland is often called the "seabird capital of the world," and it certainly earns that appellation. This itinerary includes some of the largest seabird colonies on the continent; in total, more than 35 million birds flourish here. The high barrens of Cape St. Mary's feature the southernmost colony of northern gannets in the world, as well as murres and kittiwakes. Baccalieu Island's protected reserve holds more than 3.3 million pairs of Leach's Storm Petrels (more than half the world's population), and at night the forest resounds with their song. On local boats we skirted the coasts of Gull and Green Islands, known for their respective concentrations of Atlantic puffins and common murres.

Newfoundland is also the easternmost point of land in North America, and its location ensured it a prominent role in the human history of the continent. The earliest signs of habitation date back 7,500 years, and the island is usually regarded as the Vinland depicted in Viking epics. It was here, probably at Pistolet Bay, that Leif Ericsson made landfall, 500 years before Columbus. Near the bay, L'Anse aux Meadows, another World Heritage Site, is the only documented Viking settlement in the Americas. Discovered in 1960, the excavated ruins, along with adjacent museum and reconstructed buildings, afford a look at Norse life circa a.d. 1000.

The large number of whales brought Basque whalers to the region in the 1500s, and we landed on the Labrador mainland to explore the remnants of an old whaling base. A raised boardwalk threads among the buildings, and you can imagine what it must have been like during its heyday. We would almost smell the reek of the living try works and hear the tapping of the coopers and the shouts and grunts as the men strained to heave full barrels of rendered fat, or "trane," into boats.

Also on Labrador, we investigated Battle Harbor, a now-abandoned fishing village whose restored structures bear mute witness to the lonely existence of its inhabitants. By contrast, we also met modern-day Newfoundlanders, some in towns so isolated; they can only be reached from the sea. These are some of the most hospitable people you could hope to meet. Last year, they greeted our Zodiacs on the beach, showed us about, and invited us into their homes for homebrewed beer and wine.

Fantastic vistas, profuse wildlife, a journey into history, and encounters with a vibrant contemporary culture. For these reasons, and many more, I look forward to returning to Newfoundland's shores in August. I hope you will join me.

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Tim Soper
Raised on the Devon coast of southwest England, constantly in and around boats, Tim developed a passion for the sea and spends most of his time on the water. Qualified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and the Royal Yachting Association, he has worked both above and below the waves teaching scuba diving, sailing, and powerboating. Pursuing his interest in marine studies, Tim earned an honors degree in ocean science at the University of Wales, Bangor. While at university, Tim worked aboard a Russian research ship in the Arctic, which focused his studies on sea ice and Arctic management. The opportunity to cruise the Indo-Pacific first led Tim into the world of expedition travel, and since graduating, he has worked year-round as expedition leader or dive master. Voyages in the last six years have taken him to every continent and across every ocean.

To find out how you can visit Newfoundland, contact the experts at ExpeditionTrips.com.

Article provided by Zegrahm Expeditions
Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism