The Irish Loop refers to an area that encircles the shores of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. The area is named after the Irish immigrants that first inhabited this part of Newfoundland, and for the geography which resembles their homeland. This tour around the Irish Loop can be done in a day at a leisurely pace or is best done over a couple of days to truly enjoy the scenery, history and the people.

This scenic and historic drive starts at St. John's and heads south on Route 10 into the heart of Irish Newfoundland and the magical world of whales, seabirds and caribou, then loops back to St. John’s.

Take Route 10 to Kilbride and its neighbour, Goulds, both now part of St. John's. This is some of the most fertile land in the province where you will see herds of dairy cattle and fields of vegetables as you drive by. The rolling green hills of the area are still being farmed by the descendants of the Irish families who settled there in the 19th century.

Continue on to Bay Bulls, another old settlement and one of several communities where you can hop a tour boat to see the marine delights of the Witless Bay Seabird Ecological Reserve. The town, 30 kilometres south of St. John's, derives its name from the French "Baie Boules," a reference to the bull bird or dovekie, which winters in Newfoundland. The town was first fortified in 1638, when Sir David Kirke governed the colony of Newfoundland from Ferryland. Despite its fortifications, the community was captured and burned by the French on several occasions, the last in 1796.

In the deep waters of Bay Bulls lies the wreck of HMS Sapphire which was sunk in action against the French in 1696. The site was excavated during the 1970s by the Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society. Bay Bulls played an important role in the Second World War as a strategic port for the relief and repair of Allied warships and merchantmen. The German submarine U-190 surrendered here during the last days of World War II. Today, Bay Bulls along with Witless Bay and other Southern Shore communities are embarkation points for the boat tours that bring thousands of visitors every year to the Witless Bay Seabird Ecological Reserve.

The reserve, four islands and the waters around them between Witless Bay and Bauline, is home to phenomenal numbers of seabirds that nest here to raise their young. When you see them, you'll swear someone missed a few hundred thousand. About 530,000 Leach's Storm Petrels nest of Gull Island, with another 250,000 on Great Island. Green Island has 74,000 Murres. And there are tens of thousands of Atlantic Puffins, the provincial bird.

As your boat tour cruises near the Witless Bay Seabird Ecological Reserve - they are protected areas off limits to people - you'll see puffins running and skipping along the top of the water trying to get airborne. Like many seabirds, they spend most of the year on the open ocean hundreds of kilometres southeast of Newfoundland and come to shore to breed and raise their young. They are so well adapted to their marine environment that flying becomes a chore, especially with a belly full of capelin for the squawking chicks.

The chicks are in thousands of burrows on the steep sides of the islands. Below, hoping for a meal, sit greedy grey gulls while other scavengers keep watch from aloft. The burrows provide protection against marauding gulls. Safety in numbers is the watchword for survival for the puffins and other nesting birds. Here you'll also find Razorbills, Great Black-Backed Gulls, Northern Fulmars, Black Guillemots and Black-Legged Kittiwakes. There's a blizzard of birds in the air throughout the day, and they are all looking for something to eat.

That something is the capelin. And it's not only the birds that eat them. Whales come near shore in late spring and summer on their annual migration from wintering grounds in the south to summer havens in the Arctic. More than a dozen species of whales frequent the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador, but the humpback and the minke are the two most commonly seen in this reserve. In fact, you’ll find the world’s greatest concentration of feeding humpbacks along Newfoundland’s east coast, numbering in the thousands each year.

Weighing in about 30 tonnes for an adult, the humpbacks are nevertheless extremely graceful. Quite often a tour boat skipper will discretely follow a pair or a pod of whales as they cruise the water looking for food. They'll dip below the waves for minutes at a time and then surface with a whoosh from the blowhole. Sometimes a whale, especially a younger one, will come close to a tour boat and cock an eye at all on board. Or one will breach - jump completely out of the water and land with a mighty splash.

When the capelin are running, whales will execute amazingly deft manoeuvres while chasing their favourite snack. They actually herd the caplin into tight schools with sound and movement, surround them with streams of bubbles, and then force them to the surface with sounds where the tiny, silvery fish quickly become dinner.

Iceberg off Bay Bulls, some icebergs can weight hundreds of thousands of tonnes.While all this is going on, there might be icebergs off in the distance. Some bergs weigh hundreds of thousands of tonnes and can be thousands of years old. They break off from the leading edge of glaciers on islands in the Arctic and drift slowly south, eventually melting in the warmer Gulf Stream waters southeast of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Continue On The Irish Loop

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