BAY BULLS, N.L. — Joe O’Brien’s passengers went quiet as he steered the Kingfisher toward an opening in the ocean cliff, its high archways carved by centuries of pounding waves into a rocky cathedral.
“This is where the whales come and sing to each other. They trumpet loud songs. They bellow and echo here all the time.”
It was a particularly awe-inspiring moment during a 90-minute tour along Newfoundland’s coastline where towering sea stacks have split from ancient rock over time.
O’Brien’s Whale and Bird Tours leave from Bay Bulls, N.L., about 30 minutes south of St. John’s. The family-run company is better known for its large boat trips to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, one of North America’s major colonies for Atlantic puffins and other seabirds.
But more adventurous travellers can pull on a flotation suit and climb aboard the smaller Kingfisher, with room for up to 12 passengers. Ocean conditions permitting, it takes you right inside the echoing refuge of deep sea caves and into the spa-like cove, complete with natural waterfalls, that marks the abandoned village of Freshwater.
A bald eagle with its unmistakable wing span swooped over us for a look. O’Brien pointed out a cluster of trees crowning a sea stack far overhead where the majestic birds nest.
“We won’t get to stay here long,” he said, easing the boat toward an inlet where huge fractures across the stone tell tales of evolution. “It looks nice, but it’s not always friendly in here.”
O’Brien moved in for a closer look at layers of rock that hint at how Earth’s outer crust has shifted over millions of years. It’s a feast for the eyes, especially for anyone with an interest in geology.
He also explained how wave action in a nearby cave creates what looks like regular blasts of cliff-top smoke, a phenomenon known to locals as the Spout. This natural geyser shoots water into the air at intervals and is a popular destination for hikers.
It was an unusually warm day, and passengers rolled their flotation suits down to the waist. They were soon zipped back up, however, when O’Brien opened up the twin engines for the run back toward Bay Bulls. The Kingfisher skipped over swells as North Atlantic spray blew over us.
Although no one seemed affected on this trip, it might not be the best option for those who get queasy on the water.
“if you feel you’re prone to seasickness, you’re probably better off going on a bigger boat,” O’Brien said. The coastal tour is also recommended for ages 12 and up.
Our jaunt wound down as we headed alongside a humpback whale cruising through the water so close we could see the white of a pectoral fin. A mighty “whoosh” from its blow hole as it surfaced drew cheers from the boat.
Passenger Jim Seward of Chattanooga, Tenn., was clearly delighted as he stepped off the Kingfisher.
“It was so much fun. The scenery is just unbelievable,” he said. “The wildlife, the vegetation, just the ability to go out and, in a sense, get close to nature in this beautiful part of the world — it made the trip that much more exciting.”