The Trans-Canada Highway cuts a long and lonely course across central Newfoundland on its way from Clarenville, at the base of the Bonavista Peninsula, to Deer Lake, a distance of 450km. There’s little to see amid this vast forested wilderness beyond the Terra Nova National Park, and to make the most of this region you need to get off the highway and head to the isolated outports along the coast. Some 100km north lie the old fishing port of Twillingate and the wonderfully preserved Fogo Island, each on a craggy broken coastline that attracts icebergs by the score from April to June.
In 2006 Canadian millionaire Zita Cobb decided that she wanted to return to her childhood home on Fogo Island, an isolated place devastated by the cod moratorium, and help to revive the economy. Locals reacted cautiously at first, but since then the island has become the envy of many an outport community: grants and loans have improved infrastructure, and an innovative arts programme (see w fogoislandarts.ca) has boosted tourism. Yet all of this has simply highlighted what the locals knew all along – that the air here is cleaner, the ocean saltier, the people friendlier and the scenery more enchanting than anywhere else on the planet.
The town of FOGO was the first part of the island to be settled, around 1720 by Poole-based merchant John Slade. It’s an extremely picturesque place, surrounded by rocky hills and containing several historic churches, notably St Andrews, dating from 1841. Nearby is craggy Brimstone Head, renowned locally for the dubious distinction of being proclaimed one of the “four corners of the world” by the now defunct Flat Earth Society – it’s a chilling, nerve-tingling spot regardless, with an easy trail to the 90m summit for the best views on the island.
Visit in the early morning, or just before the sun goes down, and you may not want to leave the bewitching village of TILTING. Gorgeous clapboard cottages, saltboxes, creaky wharves and boathouses cling to the rocks around the placid harbour. The village is proud of its Irish heritage, and the best way to soak it up is to just wander the streets, though if the sun is out, you should also make a trip to Sandy Cove Beach, one of Canada’s best stretches of sand.
The outport of TWILLINGATE is one of the largest towns in northern Newfoundland, with over three thousand inhabitants and a rich history that goes back to the 1700s. Twillingate Island became the year-round headquarters of Poole-based merchant John Slade in 1750, after several decades of use by itinerant French fishermen, who gave the place its original name, “Toulinguet”, from an island back home in Brittany. Though it remains an old fishing village at heart, it’s far more developed than Fogo Island – several boat operators compete for tours of frolicking whales in summer and parades of towering icebergs in the spring. If you visit the town in September, you’ll be able to go berry-picking; thousands of bakeapples (cloudberries), partridgeberries and blueberries smother the slopes around the town.
Between April and July, the myriad inlets near Twillingate can ensnare dozens of icebergs as they float down from the Arctic, though in these days of climate change it can be hard to predict their appearance. You won’t forget the experience if you do encounter one: tinted in shades of aquamarine and white by reflections from the sea and sun, they seem like otherworldly cathedrals of ice, which stand out brilliantly from the blue-green ocean and, if you’re particularly lucky, you might witness the moment when one of them rolls over and breaks apart, accompanied by a tremendous grating and wheezing and then an ear-ringing bang. You should also check out w icebergfinder.com for a heads-up on the latest berg activity. Several local companies offer iceberg-watching boat tours:
Iceberg Quest Pier 52 t 709 884 1888, w icebergquest.com. Daily departures at 9.30am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm ($50).
Twillingate Adventure Tourst 709 884 5999, w twillingateadventuretours.com. Mid-May to mid-Sept 3–4 daily; 2hr; $50.
Twillingate Island Boat Tourst 709 884 2242, w icebergtours.ca. Mid-May to Sept 3 daily; 2hr; $50.