Newfoundland and Labrador (my motto: "two names, one great province") are the sorts of places that instantly cue strong sensations in the intrepid -- or even the want-to-be-intrepid -- traveler unfolding his or her first maps of the region. Cue Hollywood images of moose; of remote harbors, pristine, tree-ringed lakes, and towering cliffs; of icebergs floating by, with polar bears sleeping on top of them; salty shanty tales of shipwreck, heartache, and whales that got away; of looting and pillaging Vikings. It doesn't hurt that extraordinary places and names cover those maps: Jerry's Nose and Snook's Arm, Leading Tickles and Heart's Delight, Happy Adventure, Chapel Island, Mistaken Point, Misery Hill, Breakheart Point, Shuffle Board. . . . I could go on, but you get the point.
This is one of the eastern seaboard's last remaining wild places (think of it as a bit of Arctic Circle, floated down our direction), and its inaccessibility is helping to keep it that way. Untamed, windswept, and secluded, the province is also a bit of a paradox. Although the landscape is as rocky and raw as you'd expect -- at times it looks as though the glaciers just finished their grinding and polishing an hour or two ago, instead of a hundred thousand years ago -- residents here display a surprising warmth that amazes many travelers.
Tourists only recently started arriving here in significant numbers, so locals haven't grown weary of them -- yet. People here often take time to chat up the place, offer travel advice, and listen to outsiders' impressions of their home. Even if you're the sort of traveler who's normally reluctant to engage a stranger in random conversation, you might find yourself changing your habits after a few days here. More often than not, people here really are that friendly; it's genuine.
An excursion to "The Rock," as the island of Newfoundland is sometimes called, can be experienced on many levels: not only for its extraordinary landscapes, lovely northern lights, and icebergs, but also for a rich history that catches many first-time visitors off guard. This is where European civilization made landfall in the New World -- twice. First by Vikings, and then later by fishermen and settlers in the wake of Italian explorer John Cabot's arrival in 1497.
As a result, you'll find traces of North America's original history at almost every turn here; they haven't been buried beneath layers of development or neglect. Yes, some parts of North America -- Savannah, Boston, New Orleans, Montréal -- can claim similarly historic lineages, but there are few other places in the New World where one feels so strongly that things are pretty much the same now as they were then, at that historic moment those settlers first sailed their boats into harbor centuries ago.
And Mother Nature, in all her immense glory, is never far off here. The changing weather, huge cliffs, ice floes, whales, and fishing boats braving wind and sea always see to that: Powerfully omnipresent, they shape every visitor's impression of this place.
At the very least, if you come, learn to say the name right: "New-fun-land," like "understand." Got it? Good. Now go get a piece of The Rock.
It's All in a Name -- The official name of this province is "Newfoundland and Labrador." But if I kept writing that out, this guide would be twice as long as it is. And my fingers would be really tired. So I'm going to abbreviate it as "Newfoundland" for almost all purposes. Labradoreans, bear with us. We know you're there.