The gaudy postcard in the gift shop reads like an old proverb, but after spending just a few days in Newfoundland, in Canada’s far east, you’ll find the best embrace actually comes from its people as well as its breathtaking landscape.
The scenery here – the 16th largest island on the planet – is both dramatic and spectacular at the same time. Glacial carved fjords on the west coast explode upwards like giant gates to an afterlife, while in the east, jagged granite cliffs force back the brutality of an angry Atlantic.
But in all this natural chaos, colourful fishing villages also sit perched amongst pristine coves, like games of rainbow jacks which have been tossed down and settled in lush green hills. And once you start exploring in these modest timber villages, scratch the surface just a little and you’ll find a refreshing dose of kindness, resilience and humanity amongst its natives.
Locals here are well known for their friendliness, heartiness and toe-tapping hospitality, but unlike anywhere else in the world, it’s the experiences you share with them – on what they call “The Rock” – which will ultimately define how much you enjoy your time here.
Here are five reasons why everyone needs to meet a local when they’re in Newfoundland.
1. They’ll give you the shirt off their back
On a night out in St John’s, don’t be surprised if you’re invited for breakfast at least twice. But not before a local has bought dinner and you’ve shared a few pints that you’ve also not paid for. The generosity of the locals is well known. In fact, the story of their support to stranded passengers and the some 130 international flights which landed here during the tragic events of 9/11 cemented their generosity into legend. So much so that now it’s now become a globally acclaimed musical, Come From Away. In a culture that for many years has depended on the sea and the community during harsh times, empathy for your neighbour here is expected. It just seems to be ramped into overdrive if you’re a tourist from Australia.
2. They love fish
Fishing and fresh seafood permeates culture here as much as a notorious cold fog whips its way through a Newfoundland village. An abundance of cod is what first brought European settlers to Newfoundland, and history books claim the fish were once so thick here you could jump from your boat and run across their backs. Sadly these historic cod fisheries – which were plentiful for almost five centuries – had dwindled to such a state that the Canadian government shut the industry down indefinitely in 1992. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find yourself a local fisherman willing to take you out onto the water.
A short drive from St John’s, if you meander the ‘stages’ (a local name for docks) of nearby fishing village Quidi Vidi, a local will find you before you find them. During the summer season – only on weekends – recreational fisherman are limited to catching five cod per day. But be careful: they also have an initiation tradition which involves tourists coming mouth-to-mouth with one of their favourite fish. It’s called a ‘Screech-In’, and we’ll leave the details for you to experience yourself.
3. They could be related to a Viking
Newfoundland is an ancient land where, in the spectacular Gros Morne National Park, you can literally find spots that the Earth’s mantle has forced itself to the surface of the planet. Gros Morne is a land before time and you can’t help but imagine what once roamed its forests. To put its more recent white history into perspective, a short drive away is the historical site of L’Anse aux Meadows; this is the site of the first European settlement in North America. While many think John Cabot was the first to discover the island back in 1497, it was in fact the Vikings who first set foot in the New World some 500 years earlier. On your trip to L’Anse aux Meadows, you’ll find artefacts discovered during its archaeological history along with replicas of their homes.
4. They are as colourful as their houses
You can spend an entire day wandering the historical streets of St John’s, North America’s oldest city. Its Jellybean Terraces are like an adult colouring book and, in the summertime, each meticulously crafted timber home looks like it’s been photoshopped against a blue sky. We’re told during our tour that the houses are painted this way so that when sailors came back from the fishing grounds, all they had to do was look up to find their home – a beacon for eyes blurred by the grey tones of the sea. While probably untrue, the locals are perennial storytellers and these homes, which snake their way through the city, make for spectacular photography.
5. They get up close and personal with giants
In Newfoundland, locals can virtually summon pods of humpback and minke whales to breach by the side of your boat with the click of their finger. Watch in awe as their tails explode from the sea in unison like giant black fingers reaching for the sky. The world’s largest population of humpback – about 10,000 of them – return to these shores each year to feed on capelin, krill and squid.
There’s only one thing in these seas that can dwarf the largest mammal on the planet and that is a five-storey iceberg drifting off in the distance. In 2017, about 600 of these broke off the Arctic shelf and floated past the notorious ‘Iceberg Alley’. Iceberg hunters from Quidi Vidi Brewery now head offshore to seek out these fresh water giants in order to produce their award-winning Iceberg Lager.
Ready to explore this incredible part of Canada and experience the world-famous friendliness of the locals? Check out our 15-day Nova Scotia & Newfoundland Expedition now.
All photos by Jeremy Drake.