Whales, Bergs & Birds

This province-wide, 13-day itinerary takes you from coast to coast to coast. Along ocean and inland drives, through mountains and barrens, inlets, guts, and bays. To large seabird colonies, the largest concentration of humpback whales on the planet, and to the annual parade of massive icebergs.

Day 1 - An Old-New City Surrounded by Nature

The old port city of St. John's has year-round attractions for birdwatchers. A large variety of boreal birds are found here, and seabirds are year-round inhabitants. On the east end of St. John's stroll along the Virginia River and Quidi Vidi Lake or hop on a tour boat to watch whales, seabirds, and the occasional iceberg outside the harbour.

Day 2 - An Ocean Habitat

Depart St. John's for a half-hour drive to Bay Bulls and Witless Bay, where you can take a boat tour to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, summer home to 2.5 million seabirds and the largest Atlantic puffin colony in North America. It's also a great place to spot whales playing and feeding.

If you prefer views from land, head to Ferryland Lighthouse to enjoy a gourmet picnic and a whale watching show like no other.

Continue along the Irish Loop scenic route to St. Mary's Bay. In St. Vincent's, which is about 150 kilometres from Witless Bay, you can view whales swimming in deep water near the beach.

Overnight in the area.

Day 3 - Bird Rock

On the other side of St. Mary's Bay, near St. Bride's, is Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve, the most accessible seabird colony in the province. The colony of gannets here is the third largest in North America.

The reserve is accessed via a 13.4-kilometre paved road from Route 100. The vantage point, a 15-minute walk from the interpretation centre, overlooks Bird Rock, a sea stack only 15 metres from where the gannets nest. You can also spot murres and kittiwakes, along with a few razorbills and other seabird species.

Continue North and overnight in the Placentia area, home to Castle Hill National Historic Site. Here you can explore the remains of French and English fortifications and take in magnificent views of Placentia Bay.

Day 4 - Arnold's Cove to Trinity

Pack up the car and shoot north up Route 100 to rejoin Route 1. Travel to Arnold's Cove where the Big Pond Bird Sanctuary offers the chance to see Canada geese, sandpipers, and the largest concentration of American black ducks in eastern Canada.

Continue to Trinity, famed for its well-preserved outport architecture, several provincial historic sites, and a festival run by Rising Tide Theatre. It's also a great place for whale watching. Several boat tours cruise the coastal waters in search of humpbacks and other whale species, even icebergs. Overnight in the area and take in a show.

Day 5 - Puffin Close Encounters Near Bonavista

Further along the Bonavista Peninsula, at its northeast tip, is the town of Bonavista, which gave the peninsula its name. In spring and early summer, it's a good place to look for icebergs. Puffins can often be sighted from the cape near the lighthouse.

The small town of Elliston, only 10 minutes from Bonavista, bills itself as the Root Cellar Capital of the World because of the hundreds of these pre-electric food preservers in the area. Take Route 238.

Once in Elliston, follow the signs past the beach and the local park to a small parking area. Five minutes' walk along the path brings you to The Neck and a vantage point overlooking a puffin nesting area. Now, just sit and wait. Many people have been rewarded with a visit from these colourful birds that plop down on the grass just a few feet away.

Day 6 - Terra Nova National Park

Drive south on Route 235 and 203 to Route 1, and head west. It's less than two hours from Bonavista to the park entrance.

Terra Nova, Canada's most easterly national park, is a great place for birdwatching. On land, the park's many inland and coastal trails provide opportunities to see boreal birds, eagles, and osprey. You might even see the spectacular sight of a bald eagle swooping down over the ocean to grab an unwary fish.

At nearby Eastport, famed for its sandy beaches, look for shorebirds like plovers. Rarities such as the common redshank have been spotted here as well.

Day 7 - Iceberg Capital of the World

Depart for the 'Road to the Shore' at Gambo, and along Route 320/330 watch for icebergs and whales. Visit the Carmanville Wetlands Interpretation Centre and Nature Trail. The Road to the Shore has several sandy beaches ideal for shore bird and iceberg watching. Try Deadman’s Bay Provincial Park Banting Memorial Municipal Park. Along the 4-kilometre trail view Canada geese, green wing teals, loons, bald and golden eagles, and northern goshawks.

Continue to Twillingate, a favourite spot for spying icebergs. There are several boat tours in the area that will take you out to see the bergs and watch for whales and seabirds. Or you can visit Long Point Lighthouse on a high bluff in nearby Crow Head where you'll have an expansive view of Iceberg Alley.

There's lots to do here at night, from local theatre to traditional music.

Day 8 - Along the Way

It's half a day's drive from Twillingate to today's destination at Rocky Harbour in Gros Morne National Park. Here are some ideas for breaking up the drive.

In Norris Arm on Route 351, drive to Sandy Cove Road and look for osprey fishing at the confluence of the fresh water of the Exploits River and the salt sea of the Bay of Exploits.

At Springdale on Route 390, the community wharf is a good place to spot eagles. Nearby at Springdale Wetlands there are 15,000 acres of coastal estuary where you can see ducks, yellowlegs, Canada geese, and various other bird species.

Finally you will arrive Gros Morne National Park. Famed for its geology, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers nature lovers a cornucopia of delights. Be sure to get a good night's sleep.

Day 9 - Gros Morne National Park

Start the day at the Visitor Centre in Rocky Harbour for an overview of the park.

Birders are used to a bit of walking, and this park has trails galore to all kinds of terrain. Hiking along the coast, or while on a boat tour, look for seabirds - and whales - and for boreal birds in the woods. At higher elevations, you might see ptarmigan, and on the park's several excellent sandy beaches you'll find shorebirds like Ffinthe sandpiper.

Gros Morne National Park is one of those places so overwhelming that it's easy to be lost for words. Don't be surprised if you want to stay longer than you had planned.

Finish the day with a sunset stroll on Shallow Bay Beach in Cow Head and keep an eye out for a variety of shorebirds.

Day 10 - By Boat to Labrador

Leaving Gros Morne, head North on Route 430 to St. Barbe. The ferry from here across the 20-kilometre-wide Strait of Belle Isle to Blanc Sablon on the Quebec-Labrador border is a floating, moving, bird and whale observation platform. Crossing time is 90 minutes; make sure to confirm the schedule.

Fifteen whale species have been spotted here, including the orca, minke, and humpback, along with white-beaked dolphins.

As for the birds, look for gulls, jaegers, cormorants, gannets, shearwaters, storm petrels, murres, puffins, northern fulmar, red-necked phalarope, and even the great skua and Cory's shearwater. Upon arrival in Blanc-Sablon, head to L'Anse-au-Clair and explore the Visitor Centre that is housed in a restored turn-of-the-century church.

Day 11 - The Basques of Red Bay

The European Basque people hunted whales for centuries, and in the 1500s they expanded to the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. The main processing site for whale oil was Red Bay in southeastern Labrador, close to the whales' migration path. Eventually the hunt came to an end, and knowledge of it was lost for centuries. It was rediscovered and excavated on land and sea in the 1970s, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Tomorrow morning you'll be travelling by ferry back to the island of Newfoundland.

Day 12 - St. Barbe to Deer Lake

After crossing back to Newfoundland, you have an excellent opportunity to explore some of the natural attractions on the island's west coast. About an hour south of the ferry terminal, the Port Riche lighthouse in Port au Choix is a good spot for whales and seabirds. In town, Ben's Studio has a great collection of folk art.

Flying creatures of a different sort are on view at the Newfoundland Insectarium in Reidville, just before Deer Lake. There are live and preserved insects, plus a butterfly pavilion.

Day 13 - Grand Codroy Estuary

Some of the best birdwatching on the coast can be found at the mouth of St. George's River in Stephenville Crossing on Route 461. Extensive tidal flats attract terns, sand pipers, gulls, plovers, greater yellowlegs, and other species such as the hunting osprey.

Continue south on Routes 406 and 407 to the Grand Codroy River Estuary, which has two Canada Important Bird Areas and a Wetlands of International Importance. More than 150 species of birds have been spotted here, and the area's mild climate and rich nutrients make it an important stopover for migratory birds. The grasslands also provide cover for nesting resident birds. Enjoy a peaceful walk along the Wetlands Trail with scenic views of the Grand Codroy River.

Cape Anguille, the westernmost point of land on the island, is another spot to see eagles, ospreys, and rare birds.