Many people cruise to Alaska in the hopes of sailing past mystical and mythical icebergs, but in one special place in the world, the icebergs come to you – so many icebergs, in fact, they decided to throw an annual party to welcome them!
Every spring and summer, hundreds of icebergs float down Newfoundland’s ‘iceberg alley.’
Icebergs are travellers, and they journey hundreds, even thousands of miles to arrive at Newfoundland’s shores. About 90% of the icebergs you’ll see in Newfoundland come from the west coast of Greenland, floating across the North Atlantic, while the rest sail down from Canada’s Arctic.
They’re 10,000-year-old chunks of ice in hues from snowy white to surreal aquamarine, that have broken off the edges of seaside glaciers and sailed off into the ocean on their own adventure.
While icebergs occur, of course, in both polar regions of the earth, something special happens in the Canadian east-coast province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Ocean currents propel icebergs along a ‘freeway’ that follows the coast of Labrador on the mainland, all the way to the southeast coast of the island of Newfoundland.
The route along ‘iceberg alley’ brings them right up close to those on shore in a wondrous phenomenon that takes your breath away and reminds you of how tiny humanity is compared to Mother Nature. Especially when you remember that – no matter how immense the iceberg you see, you’re only looking at about 10% of it; the rest is below the surface.
Often gigantic icebergs dwarf fishing villages and homes on the coast as they float by in a slow and stately progression south, providing epic photographs and unforgettable moments of feeling the power of Nature.
That creates an annual spectacle in a chain of islands, coastal towns and villages along what’s been dubbed ‘iceberg alley,’ including popular iceberg-watching places like Twillingate (pictured), Fogo Island, Bonavista, the provincial capital of St. John's, and Witless Bay, on the Avalon peninsula.
So, in true Newfoundland fashion, they decided to celebrate the iceberg season by throwing a party!
Newfoundland’s Iceberg Festival
Newfoundlanders never miss a chance to have a good time. Famous for ‘screech ins’ welcoming newcomers with a shot of local rum and a codfish to kiss, ‘kitchen parties’ with some of the best local folk music anywhere, and a tradition of open-armed hospitality, celebrating their yearly iceberg visitors came quite naturally to Newfoundlanders.
As they say: “It took them 10,000 years to pay us a visit. Luckily, they come back every spring.”
The annual, early-June Iceberg Festival welcomes the icebergs – and the visitors who come to ‘meet’ them.
It’s a celebration of local lifestyle with a schedule of events along Iceberg Alley’s communities that includes opportunities to enjoy harvested ‘Berg water,’ which is also transformed into vodka, gin, rum and Iceberg Beer, as well as sampling wild Partridgeberry drinks and confections, local cod fish & chips, moose sausage, even ‘iceberg chocolates.’ You can participate in screech ins, live music, arts and crafts including even ‘iceberg embroidery’ (figuratively, naturally!).
But of course, the star of the show is the 10,000-year-old chunk of ice floating offshore.
An organized tour will help ensure you maximize your iceberg discovery, and Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism has developed an online ‘Iceberg Finder’ where you can see the up-to-the-minute tally and track the location of icebergs travelling along Iceberg Alley. At the time of writing, in the first week of June, there were 269 icebergs “currently drifting past our shores.”
You can see many icebergs from land, but to get up close and personal, you can take kayak, Zodiac or boat tours.
Icebergs seem to be moving very slowly, but don’t forget that they are a force of Nature. If you want to see icebergs from the water, we recommend expert guides. Icebergs can be unpredictable – and you don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Ever heard of the Titanic? That happened only a few hundred miles off of Newfoundland’s coast.)
Icebergs aren’t the only seasonal visitors in Newfoundland’s waters. As the icebergs sail south, nearly two-dozen species of whales and dolphins are migrating north – and Newfoundland is where their paths cross, with the world’s largest population of feeding humpback whales.
That makes Newfoundland one of the few, magical places in the world to have simultaneous visits from whales and icebergs, making it possible for you to experience both epic icebergs and magnificent whales at the same time!
Start Your Newfoundland Trip!
By: Lynn Elmhirst, cruise/travel journalist and expert