Look Down, Look Up

Dramatic coastal scenery, abundant marine life and specacular night skies all form part of Canada’s appeal to travellers. Stuart Forster looks at four attractions, below and above

Ocean Cruises

Of all the world’s nations, Canada has the longest coastline — running more than 125,000 miles — and an archipelago of over 36,000 Arctic islands. That and a rich array of marine wildlife, such as migrating whales and colonies of northern gannets, mean ocean cruises are a great way of accessing aspects of Canadian heritage.

Baffin Island, part of Nunavut, is nearly 2.5 times bigger than Britain. Its fjords, Cumberland Sound, the serene landscape of Auyuittuq National Park and Isabella Bay — the summer and autumn feeding area for bowhead whales — can be viewed during Quark Expedition’s (quarkexpeditions.com) 17-day Northwest Passage: In the Footsteps of Franklin cruise, visiting locations associated with Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. The company runs other cruises to remote regions of the Canadian High Arctic.

The Saint Lawrence Seaway provides a route for ships operated by the likes of Viking Ocean Cruises (vikingcruises.co.uk) and Princess Cruises (princess.com) to navigate between Montréal and the cities of the USA’s eastern seaboard. Ships turn southwards past Forillon National Park on the eastern tip of Québec’s Gaspé Peninsula (quebecmaritime.ca). 

Icebergs

look ice

Canada’s east coast is one of the world’s best locations for iceberg viewing. The Labrador Sea, off Newfoundland and Labrador (newfoundlandlabrador.com), is nicknamed Iceberg Alley because of the many mountainous chunks of ice that float southwards each springtime.

The best time to see icebergs off eastern Canada is from late May into early June. The long, sunny days are ideal for combining iceberg spotting with other sightseeing.

Cape Spear Lighthouse, a National Historic Site at North America’s most easterly point, is one of the best land-based locations for iceberg viewing and makes an interesting day trip from St John’s.

Being on the water offers an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate an iceberg’s scale and beauty. Ocean Quest (oceanquestadventures.com) runs kayak tours throughout May and June. Meanwhile, Iceberg Quest (icebergquest.com) operates boat tours from St John’s, combining iceberg viewing with opportunities to photograph whales, seabirds and the rugged coastline.

Don’t just view icebergs! Quidi Vidi Brewery, the province’s biggest craft brewery, uses meltwater from their ice to brew Iceberg lager.

Dark Skies

look dark

Looking up at the star-speckled night sky from any Royal Astronomical Society of Canada-designated (rasc.ca) dark sky preserve is like viewing a different firmament to the one seen from light-polluted urban areas in the UK.

Wood Buffalo National Park in north-eastern Alberta is the largest National Park of Canada and the second-largest national park in the world. Twice the size of Wales, it is the planet’s largest Dark Sky Preserve.

Also in Alberta, in Jasper National Park a SkyTram ‘flight’ takes visitors nearly one kilometre closer to the stars. Back on terra firma they’ll have the chance to look through the most powerful telescopes in the Canadian Rockies, under one of the world’s darkest skies.

The park claims to be the second-largest dark sky preserve in the world. Definition by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada: an area in which no artificial lighting is visible, and active measures are in place to educate and promote the reduction of light pollution to the public.
Jasper National Park hosts the Jasper Dark Sky Festival in October.

Other prime spots for star-gazing include Point Pelee, at Canada’s most southerly point, and Elk Island National Park, less than 40 minutes’ drive from downtown Edmonton. Stargazers can see twinkling celestial bodies of multiple colours, streaking shooting stars and the cloud-like sprawl of the Milky Way.

At Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia, canoe tours featuring overnight camping bring opportunities to lie back and view the night sky’s beauty. Want to record what you see?
Photographers of all levels are welcomed onto Creative Imagery (creativeimagery.ca) tours, at the Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick, an easy drive from the Fundy National Park Dark Sky Preserve. The 2.5-hour tours provide a crash course in night photography.

Northern Lights

look lights

The Northern Lights frequently dance and swirl in Canada’s night sky. Viewing conditions tend to be optimal from autumn until springtime, when the nights are darker and often clearer than during summertime. The nation’s northern latitude and swathes of light pollution-free countryside mean you don’t necessarily need to head to a Dark Sky Preserve to view the aurora borealis.

Yellowknife, in the sparsely settled Northwest Territories, is widely regarded one of the best bases for viewing the Northern Lights. Aurora Village (auroravillage.com) has heated, swivelling seats for guests to sit back and stare up at the sky before heading to sleep in lakeside tipis.

The Northern Lights Resort and Spa (northernlightsyukon.com), near Whitehorse in the Yukon, is introducing Aurora Glass Chalets with a queen-size bed and reclining chairs for the 2018-19 season.

Pod-like Aurora Domes (auroradomes.ca) provide a heated base for viewing the Northern Lights near Churchill, which is known as the polar bear capital of the world, in Manitoba.

Book it

Canadian Sky 01342 889314
The five-night Northern Lights of the Yukon tour includes a night’s accommodation in Vancouver, either side of flights to and from Whitehorse, for Northern Lights viewing, where a city tour and room-only accommodation is provided for four nights. Prices start from £1,569pp, including international flights.. canadiansky.co.uk