An unspoiled island with much of Iceland's allure

Over the past decade, tourism to Iceland has reached meteoric heights, making it one of the fastest-growing ...

Posted: May 12, 2018 1:17 PM
Updated: May 12, 2018 1:17 PM

Over the past decade, tourism to Iceland has reached meteoric heights, making it one of the fastest-growing destinations in the world. The number of foreign visitors to the Nordic nation topped 2 million in 2017, which is six times greater than its total population. The attention is well-deserved.

But 1,500 miles to the southwest, there exists a similarly sized, ruggedly good-looking and equally remote island that most travelers still overlook, aren't sure who owns and can't even pronounce: Newfoundland.

Spoken as "Noo-fn-land" (rhymes with "understand"), this wind-blown but colorful Virginia-sized island of Canada could easily pass as offspring of Norway and Scotland, in addition to parts of the aforementioned Iceland.

Coupled with mainland Labrador as a single province, Newfoundland is home to the most fantastic fjord in North America, the first Viking settlement on the continent (some 400 years before Columbus reached the New World), remarkable hiking trails, year-round sea encounters and sophisticated cuisine.

What's more, you can comfortably travel the island by road trip on the Trans-Canada highway to get to the best coastal gems. Admittedly, it doesn't have as much fire and ice as Iceland, but if you prefer sharing your next adventure with far fewer people and at a much slower pace, here's why unspoiled Newfoundland is worth the extra flights required to get there.

A Canadian favorite

Of the half million annual tourists that visit the province, 80% are fellow Canadians from the mainland -- only 100,000 visitors are foreign. So while the rest of world has yet to discover the province's Ireland-like charm, Canadians have been coming here for decades and hold it with even higher regard than some of their more renowned provinces, including British Columbia and Alberta.

Newfoundland's distinctive good looks are a big, if not primary, reason for that. That goes for the entire coastline as well as the bigger national parks in the western region.

Although the island is not as volcanic, mountainous or glacier-filled as the titular Iceland comparison, it's just as colorful, enjoys significantly more wildlife and will cause nearly ever visitor to wonder in awe, "Where in the world am I?"

Stunning sights

For the few who venture to Newfoundland, most of them come for one (or all) of the following: the immortal views of Western Brook Fjord (which is ironically called a "pond" but looks like a slightly shorter Yosemite flooded by navy blue water), year-round whale sightings (both humpback and minke), and blue arctic icebergs that migrate every summer by the thousands down from Greenland to Newfoundland's northern and eastern shores.

The fjord itself can be boated in three hours, hiked via the eastern gulch in a day to the picturesque top, or included as part of a multiday backpacking trip along the Long Range Traverse through greater Gros Morne National Park, the highest-rated attraction on the island.

Not far from there, travelers can watch the sun set over the Atlantic at the arch-filled and aptly named Arches Provincial Park.

Wildlife encounters

In the popular town of Bonavista, visitors stand the greatest chance of whale sightings. An hour away, they can also hike the island's second best hike -- the jagged and emerald covered sedimentary rock of the Skerwink Trail, which overlooks the ocean.

In the town of Cape St. Mary's, tourists can maximize their puffin and bird sightings. For two weeks every summer, officials lift the annual cod moratorium so visitors can freely fish without a permit (check with guides for exact dates).

But the most moving "animal" isn't even an animal. When encountered, 10,000-year-old icebergs can hiss, crackle and pop while glowing a luminescent and lively blue.

World heritage

Contrary to what you remember from grade school, the first-known European presence in North America happened on the appropriately named Newfoundland.

Located on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site displays 1,000-year-old Norse or Viking archaeological settlements.

In the outpost communities of Fogo Island and Change Islands, visitors can wonder just how isolated and difficult life can sometimes be in the farthest corners of Earth.

But Newfoundland heritage also lives in the present. You can find it among the colorful coastal houses in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador's capital and home to close to 200,000 people.

You can find it at relaxing Cape Spear, where an 1836 lighthouse marks the most easterly point of North America. You can find it along the East Coast Trail, which serves as the spiritual if unofficial "last section" of the Appalachian Trail. And you can certainly find it in the delectable and colloquial bakeapple (aka "cloudberry") jam, the world-class seafood and the independent but welcoming residents.

Earth's four corners

In a word, Newfoundland is otherworldly, even if it's far less familiar than Iceland. Furthermore, Newfoundland has that "corner of the world" feeling.

Is Newfoundland the next Iceland? Probably not.

But it doesn't have to be for you to enjoy its isolated and alluring scenery, landscapes that time forgot and scenic sea encounters. For now, Newfoundland remains a well-kept and sleepy secret.

Best time to visit: May-June for icebergs; June-August for heavenly hiking weather; May-September for whales. Getting there: From the United States. one or two connecting flights are required to get to St. John's.

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