A remote Canadian east coast province delivers a memorable iceberg parade. Chasing icebergs in Newfoundland is an experience to remember.
One of the four corners of the flat earth is a rocky hill in northeast Newfoundland. Well, that’s according to the Flat Earth Society.
To me, it’s a bit of mystery why a corner of the flat earth should be located on a small island with a population of around 2700 people and several thousand gannets.
To get to Fogo Island from Sydney, you fly to Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada, then to either Halifax in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland’s capital, St John’s, on the east coast, and on to Gander, which was once one of the largest airports in the world and a refuelling stop for every transatlantic flight.
You’re likely to see more moose than cars on the one-hour drive along the highway from Gander to the ferry crossing at Farewell. And there’s not a lot to see on the 45-minute ferry ride to Fogo Island, which is followed by another 20 minutes driving, past colourful timber houses, before reaching the foot of Brimstone Head.
As the crow flies, it’s 17,408km from Sydney. It’s a mighty long way to go for a 30-minute hike, especially when it’s cold and windy.
Fortunately for me, the weather gods are in a good mood.
A corner of the flat earth
The sky is big and blue. The sun’s rays dance on the windswept outcrop of mossy rock.
Perspiring, I peel off my layers, chuckling at the sign that says: “You are nearing the edge of the flat earth. One false step could be your last. Number of people lost to date ‘0’”
By the time I reach the board with a map linking Fogo Island and the other three corners of the flat earth – Hydra, Bermuda Triangle and Papua New Guinea – I’ve stripped down to a tank top.
At the top of the hill, I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
Five growlers, islands of white ice against a blue expanse of calm ocean, look lonely and oddly out of place in the summery landscape.
The small icebergs have broken off from a ‘mother ship’, which might have been a bigger iceberg that floated down from Greenland.
Perhaps it was just like the one I’ve spotted in the distant waters – over a barren hill past a cluster of colourful timber houses – about the height of a 15-storey building.
Around 40,000 icebergs calve annually in Greenland, floating southwards from Baffin Bay along the stretch of water known as ‘Iceberg Alley’. Up to 2% (around 800) make it as far as St John’s in southern Newfoundland.
The parade usually lasts between May and August, when these 10,000-year-old ice sculptures of all shapes and sizes – ranging from growlers the size of a grand piano to massive ice shelves as big as a multi-storey building – are swept south by ocean currents.
Aside from iceberg spotting, there’s not a lot to do on Fogo Island except partridgeberry picking or hiking the Turpin’s Trail, an eight kilometre route that starts at a sandy beach and ends at the Irish village of Tilting. Or sampling delicious partridgeberry ice-cream from Growler’s Ice Cream at Joe Batt’s Arm.
June is the time to see Atlantic puffins. In late July, a must-see is the Great Fogo Island Punt Race to There and Back, where local boaters row 16km and back to Change Islands through rough open waters past the spectacular parade of icebergs.
The local ferry is a more comfortable means of getting to Change Islands.
I visit the Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary, where a colt has just been born, the Olde Shoppe Museum, which is stacked to the rafters with old things, and the Change Islands Interpretation Centre, where I can’t resist purchasing a colourful hand-made quilt sewn by a local woman.
From a high point on Squid Jiggers Trail, I spot an ice shelf about the length of the Queen Mary 2 floating towards Twillingate.
The historic fishing village of 3,500 people bills itself as the ‘iceberg capital of the world’ and is well organised for tourists, with boat tours leaving regularly from the town dock.
There’s also an art gallery devoted to icebergs; the Auk Island Winery, where you can sample wines produced with local berries and iceberg water; and a handful of restaurants scattered around town that serve iceberg beer.
The weather has turned wild when I board the MV Cetacean Quest at Twillingate’s Pier 52. It’s pelting with rain; the sky is grey; and waves are white foamy crests in the inky ocean.
The bad weather fails to dampen my enthusiasm, or that of the French film crew aboard filming a documentary about the Titanic.
We cruise past an impressive wind-whipped ice shelf about 300m long and five storeys high before heading for a smaller iceberg, about 10 storeys high and, according to the film crew’s geologist, probably similar in size to the iceberg that sank the Titanic 650km away.
We circle the iceberg, cruising so close I can see the green ice below the water. The skipper reminds us that what we’re seeing above water is only the tip and 7/8ths of its mass is below water.
Icebergs float because the density of ice is lower than that of sea water.
I stare at the white mound of ice in awe, caught by its spell, but the magic of the moment is broken when shards of ice float up to the side of the boat.
Someone shouts and a crew member leans over the edge, netting a sizeable chunk of ice as a souvenir and to drink with the local Screech rum.
Viewed from land, the icebergs are still impressive and the next morning, I drive along the shoreline on the road to the light house, stopping randomly wherever there’s an iceberg in sight.
Close to shore, coffin-sized icebergs are tossed by fierce waves and small jagged growlers swirl dizzily near a rocky beach; a small mountain with twin peaks floats past someone’s jetty; while a white version of the Olgas, with sculpted domed formations, is pounded by waves.
There are icebergs of all sizes and shapes and I feel totally indulgent chasing after these white wonders at the edge of the world.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Canadian Tourism Commission and Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism