If you are, you’re probably looking forward to rare seabirds like Common Murres, Atlantic Puffins, Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Auks, Razorbills, Black-Legged Kittiwakes, Great Black-Backed Gulls, Falcons, Black Guillemots, Eagles, Northern Fulmars, Thick-billed Murres, and Herring Gulls that make the four islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve their home and nesting grounds. Each spring also marks the arrival of hundreds of whales that come here to feed on the krill and capelin rich waters the Witless Bay area is famous for. The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is a whale watching hot spot and a great place to see Orca Whales, Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, and Right Whales. If you like nature, whales, and wildlife coupled with the best whale watching on the planet, the area in and around the four islands that make up the Witless Bay Marine Park is the best place to stay during your visit.
The town of Witless Bay can be found just 30 km from the capital city of St. John’s on the southern Avalon Peninsula. According to folklore legend, the town was named after the British explorer Captain Whittle, with the original name of the town being Wittle’s Bay.
Boat Tours and More
The town of Witless Bay is on the edge of the Witless Bay Marine Ecological Reserve, with the industrial port of Bay Bulls located just to the north. Most of the larger whale watching and puffin tours like The Gatheralls Boat Tours and O’Briens Boat Tours depart from the big port of Bay Bulls purely because of their deeper harbor and large marina. Smaller group boat tour operators have the benefit of positioning themselves strategically by choosing embarkment points nearer to all the whales and birds since they don’t require a deep harbor to operate. Choosing departures points closer to the ecological reserve like the fast watercraft Zodiac Speed Boat Tours in Witless Bay and the famous Molly Bawn (as seen in National Geographic) in Mobile Bay mean groups are often small and boats can go places larger boat tour operators can’t.
Witless Bay has a small Needs Convenience store near their beach at the Ocean Premises complex along with a laundry mat that offers self service reasonably priced coin operated washing and drying. The beach in Witless Bay is popular with swimmers during low tide when the water is shallow. The beach itself is rocky up to the high-tide mark, but after that it’s all sand. Show up at low tide and you’ll have a massive sandy beach to enjoy along with shallow water that stretches quite far out before it starts to get deep. If you come at high-tide the beach is still great but you’ll have to make peace with a pebble beach instead of sand and the water will be deeper when you swim. You’ll notice most locals, especially families with children, time their beach days with low tide. From time to time, when the conditions are just so, you might spot a surfer or two enjoying waves on the north side of the beach because of the sand break. If you’re wondering when low tide is, check out the real-time swell and wave forecast below to time your swimming and beach day perfectly.
The Irish Loop
Witless Bay is part of the scenic Irish Loop coastal drive. The Irish Loop stretches south from St. John’s to Chance Cove, Biscay Bay, and Trepassey in the south before looping back north along the western side of the Avalon Penninsula through St. Mary’s all the way back to the Trans Canada Highway.
This area of coastline was the first part of North America to be explored by European settlers in 1497. Once they discovered just how great the fishing was in Newfoundland, the Basques, Portuguese, Atlantic French, Bretons, and Normans would come all the way to this biodiverse marine area to fish for cod each summer. The area remained a seasonal fishing grounds for these nations until 1630 when the British started to settle the area and consequently started to displace the other continental Europeans along the coast. The first year-round settlement here was called Ferryland, which is still a community today and a must stop along the Irish Loop, located just 40km south of the town of Witless Bay. Over the next hundred years, tides shifted again with the Irish progressively settling this area and eventually outnumbering the British. Today the descendants along the Irish Loop have a strong Irish culture and heritage. Often times when locals from the Irish loop travel abroad, they’re mistaken for people from Ireland since their local dialect and accent is strikingly similar.
The town of Witless Bay is small, with just 1619 inhabitants according to the 2016 census. To the North, the town of Bay Bulls is roughly the same size with a population of 1500. The largest city in Newfoundland, the capital city of St. John’s, has just over 100,000 inhabitants. The population density in Newfoundland is low, but then again Canada is the least populated country on earth, which is part of the reason why the water is so fresh and the air is so clean. From its inception, the town of Witless Bay has primarily been a fishing hub community. Today the town still has a fish processing plant which mainly focuses on snow crab, and if you come here during crab season between April and July, you can buy crab straight from the fisherman’s wharf.
East Coast Trail
On the outskirts of Witless Bay you can connect with the East Coast Trail‘s Mickeleens Path and link with Bay Bulls via a 7km hike that takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete if you’re hiking at an easy pace. The hike is a mix of wooded trail and boardwalk starting 1 km north of the town of Witless Bay’s information center. If you’re looking for whale watching from land, travel a few minutes south to the next community called Mobile on the edge of Mobile Bay and explore the Tinker’s Point trail connecting the town of Mobile with the Mobile Bay coastline and Tor’s Cove village for the best chance to see marine mammals and breaching whales from shore.
If you’re looking for paddling it is possible to paddle in Witless Bay but the coastline is quite exposed and prone to wind and swells. For more sheltered options check out the longer and narrower bay of Mobile, especially if you’re looking for whales, or visit the inland lake of Tors Cove Pond just a few mins away for the ultimate in warm freshwater paddling.