Witless Bay Ecological Reserve Boat Tour

The top 3 things I wanted to see in Newfoundland were icebergs, puffins, and whales. With that in mind, we did a little research and found O'Brien's Boat Tours. We booked their Award Winning Boat Tour which they say was voted the best boat tour by Newfoundlanders. 

This tour leaves from the O'Brien's base in Bay Bulls (which is a 30 minute drive south of St. John's) and heads out to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve by boat. The reserve consists of four islands and is known for being where thousands of seabirds return to every year to breed and have their babies. According to the Newfoundland Fisheries and Land Resources site, it is home to the largest Atlantic puffin colony in North America!

The boat tour first passes by some beautiful rock formations, so we marvelled at them while our captain sang some Newfoundland folk songs (which I've really come to love)! The day we went, there was initially a thin layer of fog which made everything look a little mysterious!

As we got deeper into the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, we started spotting some familiar looking birds in the water. The puffins were in the water! This was the first time I saw puffins in person so I was ecstatic! 

As our boat approached the islands, our eyes widened in surprise. What had seemed like dots on the rock in the distance turned out to be hundreds of birds!

Amongst the hundreds and many even thousands of birds, we spotted more puffins, kittiwakes, and common murres. I won't pretend to be an expert on birds. Aside from puffins, I didn't know what the other birds were, but the captains on the boat tour did a fabulous job of pointing out the different birds to us, while also telling us interesting facts about them. Did you know that a common murre's egg is pointy because they lay their eggs on bare cliffs and the pointy shape prevents them from falling into the sea?

At one point while heading from one island to the next, hundreds of birds were flying above us. I'm not going to lie, it reminded me a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, but it was pretty surreal to see as well!

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On the way back towards Bay Bulls, we circled around an iceberg! It was amazing to see up close. And there goes a check off my Newfoundland bucket list!

So who should book this tour?

I think it's perfect for bird enthusiasts - you'll see hundreds of them! Whales and icebergs might be seen, but of course that can't be guaranteed since part of that is based on luck. If your main goal is to see icebergs and you're heading out further northeast in Newfoundland, you'll see more and likely bigger ones out there. But if you're only going to be in St. John's this is a great tour to increase your chances of seeing an iceberg.

Tips to make your tour more enjoyable

If you do decide to book this tour, here are some tips for you:
- Sit on the left side of the boat facing the front as that's the side closest to the birds.
- Bring binoculars if you want to get a clearer view of the birds.
- It got really cold when I went (I went in mid-June) so bundle up!
- The boat is equipped with a bar (where you can get some iceberg beer while you're viewing icebergs!) and washrooms.
- For a fee, you can get a screech-in on board. You'll be an honorary Newfoundlander if you screech in!
- There's a restaurant (Sailor's Galley Restaurant) upstairs of O'Brien's base in Bay Bulls, above their giftshop. The food was pretty good there, but tables are limited so you might want to reserve a table in advance.
- Washrooms can be found in the gift shop as well as in the waiting area by the dock.
- If you're interested in a tour, it's recommended that you book it in advance!

Quick disclaimer: I was not paid to advertise or write about O'Brien's Award Winning tour. I just wanted to share my experiences!

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