Circumnavigation of Newfoundland

April 20, 2003

Tim Soper, April 2003

The island of Newfoundland lies only a short distance off the North American mainland; this proximity notwithstanding, it remains something of an enigma to travelers. Last May, I was aboard Le Levant for Zegrahm's inaugural Circumnavigation of Newfoundland expedition, and after completing the voyage, I can say that, despite its relative anonymity, Newfoundland shines as an adventure travel destination. In August 2003 I'll be leading another circuit of the island.

Roughly the size of Louisiana, Newfoundland has a landscape both striking and diverse. Her scenic coastline covers more than ten thousand miles, replete with coves, harbors, rugged escarpments, and fjords. Our landing at Gros Morne National Park, one of three World Heritage Sites on our itinerary, allows us to take in Newfoundland's geological array -- alpine plateaus, tundra, landlocked fjords, coastal lowlands, glacier-carved valleys. Our expedition also gives us a glimpse into the earth's past. Gros Morne, 20 times as old as the Rocky Mountains, is home to the Tablelands, an almost alien landscape resulting from the collision of tectonic plates, and Mistaken Point, on the Avalon Peninsula, contains well-preserved fossil impressions of early forms of multi-cellular life.

Newfoundland is situated where the arctic Labrador Current and the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream meet, resulting in a profusion of marine life. In the late spring, enormous numbers of capelin, tiny fish, congregate off the island. These capelin, as well as krill and squid, attract pods of whales for a feeding season that lasts through the summer. Twenty-two species of whale have been spotted here, including a population of humpback approximately five thousand strong. Other species you can expect to see include minke, orca, and possibly even blue whales. On last year's voyage we also spotted sea otters and harp seals.

The birds more than match the cetaceans. Newfoundland is often called the "seabird capital of the world," and it certainly earns that appellation. Our itinerary includes some of the largest seabird colonies on the continent; in total, more than 35 million birds flourish here. The high barrens of Cape St. Mary's feature the southernmost colony of northern gannets in the world, as well as murres and kittiwakes. Baccalieu Island's protected reserve holds more than 3.3 million pairs of Leach's storm-petrels (more than half the world's population), and at night the forest resounds with their song. On local boats we will skirt the coasts of Gull and Green Islands, known for their respective concentrations of Atlantic puffins and common murres.

Newfoundland is also the easternmost point of land in North America, and its location ensured it a prominent role in the human history of the continent. The earliest signs of habitation date back 7,500 years, and the island is usually regarded as the Vinland depicted in Viking epics. It was here, probably at Pistolet Bay, that Leif Ericsson made landfall, 500 years before Columbus. Near the bay, L'Anse aux Meadows, another World Heritage Site, is the only documented Viking settlement in the Americas. Discovered in 1960, the excavated ruins, along with adjacent museum and reconstructed buildings, afford a look at Norse life circa a.d. 1000.

The large number of whales brought Basque whalers to the region in the 1500s, and we land on the Labrador mainland to explore the remants of an old whaling base. A raised boardwalk threads among the buildings, and you can imagine what it must have been like during its heyday. You can almost smell the reek of the living tryworks and hear the tapping of the coopers and the shouts and grunts as the men strained to heave full barrels of rendered fat, or "trane," into boats.

Also on Labrador, we investigate Battle Harbour, a now-abandoned fishing village whose restored structures bear mute witness to the lonely existence of its inhabitants. By contrast, we also meet modern-day Newfoundlanders, some in towns so isolated, they can only be reached from the sea. These are some of the most hospitable people you could hope to meet. Last year, they greeted our Zodiacs on the beach, showed us about, and invited us into their homes for homebrewed beer and wine.

Fantastic vistas, profuse wildlife, a journey into history, and encounters with a vibrant contemporary culture. For these reasons, and many more, I look forward to returning to Newfoundland's shores in August. I hope you will join me.

Rain Forests & Reefs

April 20, 2003

Bill Tuttle, April 2003

Our Rain Forests & Reefs expedition, which departs 04 November 2003, includes six countries and the Panama Canal. Realm of the Macaw, beginning 15 November 2003, further explores Costa Rica and Panama. The two voyages, combined with our pre-extension to the Mayan cities of Tikal and Copan, provide an in-depth look at the history, nature, and culture of Central America. Bill Tuttle was aboard last year's expedition, and these excerpts from his journal give a taste of what participants can expect.

Sunday -- Belize City, Belize

...we took the day to venture deep into the Belizean forest to explore Lamanai, the mysterious Mayan ceremonial site on the banks of the New River Lagoon. Small boats whisked us down canals lined by dense vegetation harboring crocodiles, turtles, and an array of birdlife. The ruins of Lamanai boast several large pre-classical temples in a sprawling complex. We shared the site with a band of howler monkeys...

Monday -- Lighthouse Reef, Belize

...Lighthouse Reef is home to a nesting colony of roughly 4,000 red-footed boobies, and we spotted a great number of these pelagic birds from the vantage of an observation platform. The boobies nest right next to magnificent frigatebirds, and the latter had an almost saurian aspect as they wheeled through the sky.

Scuba divers reported great success, sighting moray eels, sergeant majors, and a manta ray, while some of the snorkelers inspected the famous Blue Hole.

Saturday -- Corn Islands, Nicaragua

We came ashore in Zodiacs to meet the mayor and a delegation from town, including a dance troupe comprising the children of the village. The Zegrahm office reports snow in Seattle, but here it's bright sun, dazzling sand, and inviting waters.

Sunday -- Tortuguero Canals, Costa Rica

We negotiated the series of lagoons, spying among the banks several sloths, howler monkeys, iguanas, and two crocodiles. The area is home to over 400 bird species, and we saw a sampling of these inhabitants, including great egrets, spotted sandpipers, and roseate spoonbills.

Tuesday -- Panama Canal

Our day long passage gave us a firsthand look at the workings of the canal, as well as ample time to reflect on the level of audacity and industry responsible for its construction.

Thursday -- Isla Coiba, Panama

The Pacific waters, while slightly colder than those of the Caribbean, are richer in nutrients... Snorkelers reported moray eels, octopus, sea snakes, and parrotfish, among others. Dolphins provided an impromptu escort for the final dive of the expedition. Divers also spotted a white-tip reef shark and numerous pufferfish.

Friday -- San Josecito, Costa Rica

Passengers opting for a more rugged hike disembarked early to explore Corcovado National Park....the hikers reported two species of monkey, coatimundi, and a number of birds, including a black-cheeked ant tanager, endemic to Corcovado. The rest of us took a shorter river hike through heliconia, orchids, and strangler fig to the R'o Claro....enjoyed great views of howler monkeys, mangrove hawks, and a chesnut-mandibled toucan. Upstream, "Jesus Christ lizards" raced across the river surface. Both groups spotted scarlet macaws, which had become something of a goal during our voyage.

Saturday -- Quepos, Costa Rica

Our wildlife-viewing proved fruitful -- a juvenile crocodile, two- and three-toed sloths, agoutis, a silky anteater, iguanas, green herons... The real standouts, however, were the white-faced capuchin monkeys. These were very active, swinging through trees, scampering down boughs to water level, chattering at us from their perches...

Conrad Field Wins NOAA Award

April 19, 2003 | Tags: Zegrahm Office

Bill Tuttle, April 2003

As Zegrahm passengers who have traveled with him can attest, Conrad Field has a great passion for the natural world, which he imparts on nature walks, during lectures, and through his artwork. When not accompanying expeditions, Conrad lives in Homer, Alaska, where he works as a program consultant and environmental educator for the Kachemak Bay Learning Center.

To further educate people about coastal and marine environments, and the necessity of preserving them, he also volunteers for community and school organizations -- making presentations, directing classes and training, leading field trips, and providing artwork and scrimshaw for fundraising efforts. In honor of Conrad's work, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently named him Volunteer of the Year when it announced its 2003 Excellence Awards for Coastal and Ocean Resource Management. On 19 March, Conrad accepted the award at a ceremony on Capitol Hill.

In nominating Conrad, Glenn Seaman, reserve manager of Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, cited his 14 years of service, his commitment and dedication, and his exhaustive knowledge of marine resources, calling him, "...an unusually inspiring and gifted educator who instills a strong sense of overall responsibility for resource stewardship to all individuals who have the pleasure of participating in his teachings." Several teachers and environmental leaders echoed Seaman in singing Conrad's praises.

We hope you will join all of us at Zegrahm Expeditions in congratulating Conrad for this prestigious award. Those of you aboard with Conrad on our upcoming Fire & Ice, New Zealand, and Stepping Stones of the Atlantic expeditions will be able to extend your personal congratulations.

Circumnavigation of Newfoundland

April 19, 2003 | Tags: Americas

Tim Soper, April 2003

The island of Newfoundland lies only a short distance off the North American mainland; this proximity notwithstanding, it remains something of an enigma to travelers. Last May, I was aboard Le Levant for Zegrahm's inaugural Circumnavigation of Newfoundland expedition, and after completing the voyage, I can say that, despite its relative anonymity, Newfoundland shines as an adventure travel destination. In August 2003 I'll be leading another circuit of the island.

Roughly the size of Louisiana, Newfoundland has a landscape both striking and diverse. Her scenic coastline covers more than ten thousand miles, replete with coves, harbors, rugged escarpments, and fjords. Our landing at Gros Morne National Park, one of three World Heritage Sites on our itinerary, allows us to take in Newfoundland's geological array -- alpine plateaus, tundra, landlocked fjords, coastal lowlands, glacier-carved valleys. Our expedition also gives us a glimpse into the earth's past. Gros Morne, 20 times as old as the Rocky Mountains, is home to the Tablelands, an almost alien landscape resulting from the collision of tectonic plates, and Mistaken Point, on the Avalon Peninsula, contains well-preserved fossil impressions of early forms of multi-cellular life.

Newfoundland is situated where the arctic Labrador Current and the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream meet, resulting in a profusion of marine life. In the late spring, enormous numbers of capelin, tiny fish, congregate off the island. These capelin, as well as krill and squid, attract pods of whales for a feeding season that lasts through the summer. Twenty-two species of whale have been spotted here, including a population of humpback approximately five thousand strong. Other species you can expect to see include minke, orca, and possibly even blue whales. On last year's voyage we also spotted sea otters and harp seals.

The birds more than match the cetaceans. Newfoundland is often called the "seabird capital of the world," and it certainly earns that appellation. Our itinerary includes some of the largest seabird colonies on the continent; in total, more than 35 million birds flourish here. The high barrens of Cape St. Mary's feature the southernmost colony of northern gannets in the world, as well as murres and kittiwakes. Baccalieu Island's protected reserve holds more than 3.3 million pairs of Leach's storm-petrels (more than half the world's population), and at night the forest resounds with their song. On local boats we will skirt the coasts of Gull and Green Islands, known for their respective concentrations of Atlantic puffins and common murres.

Newfoundland is also the easternmost point of land in North America, and its location ensured it a prominent role in the human history of the continent. The earliest signs of habitation date back 7,500 years, and the island is usually regarded as the Vinland depicted in Viking epics. It was here, probably at Pistolet Bay, that Leif Ericsson made landfall, 500 years before Columbus. Near the bay, L'Anse aux Meadows, another World Heritage Site, is the only documented Viking settlement in the Americas. Discovered in 1960, the excavated ruins, along with adjacent museum and reconstructed buildings, afford a look at Norse life circa a.d. 1000.

The large number of whales brought Basque whalers to the region in the 1500s, and we land on the Labrador mainland to explore the remants of an old whaling base. A raised boardwalk threads among the buildings, and you can imagine what it must have been like during its heyday. You can almost smell the reek of the living tryworks and hear the tapping of the coopers and the shouts and grunts as the men strained to heave full barrels of rendered fat, or "trane," into boats.

Also on Labrador, we investigate Battle Harbour, a now-abandoned fishing village whose restored structures bear mute witness to the lonely existence of its inhabitants. By contrast, we also meet modern-day Newfoundlanders, some in towns so isolated, they can only be reached from the sea. These are some of the most hospitable people you could hope to meet. Last year, they greeted our Zodiacs on the beach, showed us about, and invited us into their homes for homebrewed beer and wine.

Fantastic vistas, profuse wildlife, a journey into history, and encounters with a vibrant contemporary culture. For these reasons, and many more, I look forward to returning to Newfoundland's shores in August. I hope you will join me.

Rain Forests & Reefs

April 19, 2003 | Tags: Americas

Bill Tuttle, April 2003

Our Rain Forests & Reefs expedition, which departs 04 November 2003, includes six countries and the Panama Canal. Realm of the Macaw, beginning 15 November 2003, further explores Costa Rica and Panama. The two voyages, combined with our pre-extension to the Mayan cities of Tikal and Copan, provide an in-depth look at the history, nature, and culture of Central America. Bill Tuttle was aboard last year's expedition, and these excerpts from his journal give a taste of what participants can expect.

Sunday -- Belize City, Belize

...we took the day to venture deep into the Belizean forest to explore Lamanai, the mysterious Mayan ceremonial site on the banks of the New River Lagoon. Small boats whisked us down canals lined by dense vegetation harboring crocodiles, turtles, and an array of birdlife. The ruins of Lamanai boast several large pre-classical temples in a sprawling complex. We shared the site with a band of howler monkeys...

Monday -- Lighthouse Reef, Belize

...Lighthouse Reef is home to a nesting colony of roughly 4,000 red-footed boobies, and we spotted a great number of these pelagic birds from the vantage of an observation platform. The boobies nest right next to magnificent frigatebirds, and the latter had an almost saurian aspect as they wheeled through the sky.

Scuba divers reported great success, sighting moray eels, sergeant majors, and a manta ray, while some of the snorkelers inspected the famous Blue Hole.

Saturday -- Corn Islands, Nicaragua

We came ashore in Zodiacs to meet the mayor and a delegation from town, including a dance troupe comprising the children of the village. The Zegrahm office reports snow in Seattle, but here it's bright sun, dazzling sand, and inviting waters.

Sunday -- Tortuguero Canals, Costa Rica

We negotiated the series of lagoons, spying among the banks several sloths, howler monkeys, iguanas, and two crocodiles. The area is home to over 400 bird species, and we saw a sampling of these inhabitants, including great egrets, spotted sandpipers, and roseate spoonbills.

Tuesday -- Panama Canal

Our day long passage gave us a firsthand look at the workings of the canal, as well as ample time to reflect on the level of audacity and industry responsible for its construction.

Thursday -- Isla Coiba, Panama

The Pacific waters, while slightly colder than those of the Caribbean, are richer in nutrients... Snorkelers reported moray eels, octopus, sea snakes, and parrotfish, among others. Dolphins provided an impromptu escort for the final dive of the expedition. Divers also spotted a white-tip reef shark and numerous pufferfish.

Friday -- San Josecito, Costa Rica

Passengers opting for a more rugged hike disembarked early to explore Corcovado National Park....the hikers reported two species of monkey, coatimundi, and a number of birds, including a black-cheeked ant tanager, endemic to Corcovado. The rest of us took a shorter river hike through heliconia, orchids, and strangler fig to the R'o Claro....enjoyed great views of howler monkeys, mangrove hawks, and a chesnut-mandibled toucan. Upstream, "Jesus Christ lizards" raced across the river surface. Both groups spotted scarlet macaws, which had become something of a goal during our voyage.

Saturday -- Quepos, Costa Rica

Our wildlife-viewing proved fruitful -- a juvenile crocodile, two- and three-toed sloths, agoutis, a silky anteater, iguanas, green herons... The real standouts, however, were the white-faced capuchin monkeys. These were very active, swinging through trees, scampering down boughs to water level, chattering at us from their perches...