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The name Wildland Tours has long been associated with learning holidays. All our leaders are knowledgeable and fun individuals with a broad general knowledge of the province. Guests have called Mark Tsang the “ultimate Renaissance man” while guest Geordie Miller suggests “Dan Hickey is a king!” Jean Knowles is famous for finding beluga whales and her knowledge of local lore while Dave Snow wears the hats of scientist, educator, and tour guide.
All our holidays can be considered “learning vacations,” but folks should feel free to contact us for particulars if they are interested in travelling with an outside-of-Newfoundland organization like International Wildlife Adventures, the Smithsonian Institution, or an Audubon group. In addition to our biological and cultural wonders, we also boast an amazing geological history. Newfoundland and Labrador has so many geological wonders that it’s often referred to as the “Galapagos of Geology.” North America’s ‘eastern edge’ is a treasure trove of minerals. The story of Newfoundland and Labrador’s geology includes some of the planet’s oldest rocks, ancient volcanoes, rocks from the ocean floor, gold rushes, soapstone outcrops, recent glaciers and visiting icebergs. The Viking Trail features the remnents of the primordial ooze that gave rise to life on earth. The province’s most spectacular rock is the mineral known as Labradorite. Rock with labradorite crystals formed many kilometres below the earth’s surface over a billion years ago, but now outcrops occur along the islands and fjords of Northern Labrador. The iridescent nature of this beautiful semi-precious mineral calls to mind the magnificent displays of the “Northern Lights” which can be seen in Labrador’s evening skies. Labradorite’s brilliant blues and greens are so similar to the “Aurora Borealis” that it gave rise to an ancient Inuit legend of a great hunter who freed the lights from the stone so they could dance in the northern skies. Fossil beds, mineral deposits, the northern extreme of the Appalachians, and spectacular mountains are all part of the story of Newfoundland and Labrador…a story we share on all of our holidays. Some folks consider all of our tours to be learning vacations because the depth of local knowledge possessed by our leaders is so impressive.
All parents can rest assured that our Family Vacation program is modelled after popular learning vacations which we have provided to some of the world’s leading academic institutions. (Kids can rest assured that we are always interested in fun.) The following article was published in Canada’s national tourism monthly newspaper in 2000 by the Canadian Tourism Commission.
After summers of tagging puffins, counting seabirds, and helping with whale entrapment research, Dave Snow, a field biologist interested in sharing his working experiences with others, formed Wildland Tours in 1984 and started offering holiday packages to Newfoundland. “I found folks were most interested in the up-close and personal stuff—how a puffin reacts while you’re tagging it or how you manipulate a humpback caught in a cod trap so that you untangle the whale and save the fisherman’s gear.” says Snow.
Over the years, Wildland Tours grew and started offering regularly scheduled holiday packages with a strong local-knowledge content. In 1995, Wildland Tours met a representative of the Smithsonian Institution at the MC&IT show in Chicago. According to Snow: “Wildland Tours’ corporate philosophy meshed well with the Smithsonian’s study tour program, and we put together an exclusive program for them. Our programs always had a strong local flavour and knowledge content, but our ongoing work with the Smithsonian really provided some focus.”
Wildland Tours uses local and world leaders in the field of natural history as guest participants and combines them with Newfoundland’s local sites and resources to offer a unique learning experience. For example, the Smithsonian has spent millions of dollars in—so far—unsuccessful expeditions to find giant squid. Snow had helped with dissecting the last giant squid to wash ashore in Newfoundland; and working with the local museum, he was able to give the study tour participants a hands-on introductions to this amazing creature, which happens to be the world’s largest and most mysterious invertebrate. Says Snow, “To my knowledge, no other holiday product in the world has included a hands-on encounter with a real, ten-metre-long giant squid.”
This commitment to hands-on life experiences is also reflected in Wildland Tours’ own Whale Study Weeks. The company coordinates the census of the world’s largest gathering of humpback whales, which is found off Newfoundland and Labrador. Anyone can participate in a Whale Study Week, but an essential part of the holiday is photographing whale tails and making other observations as part of this world-wide census effort. Over the years the company’s study holiday leaders have worked with some of the world’s most famous whale scientists, so guests not only see whales and photograph them, they also learn about the most current thought in whale science around the world.
The Whale Study Weeks are a dramatic alternative to traditional tours where folks watch whales for forty minutes out of a two-hour boat trip. Superior trip leadership and an appreciation of local resources is key to the learning holiday concept. Dr. Sean Todd, currently the director of Allied Whale in Maine, has led several Whale Study Weeks. “With these Whale Study Weeks guests don’t just “tour” around whales—they have the option of working with a researcher.”
When cruise ships visit Newfoundland, they often carry members of a particular learning society. Over the summer of 1999, a group of astronomers interested in eclipse watching and several Audubon groups discovered Newfoundland that way. For the astronomers, Wildland Tours arranged a special meteor-watching night excursion away from the St. John’s city lights. The Audubon groups were treated to bird lists, hands-on exposure to specimens, and brief field trips to areas of special biological interest. As Snow puts it, “You seldom get much time when a cruise ship gets into port, so you’re called upon to pack a miniature learning holiday into a few hours.”
Newfoundland is a great fit for the learning holiday market. It was the gateway to the New World for Vikings and many early European explorers. And it is home to some of the planet’s largest gatherings of marine wildlife. This Canadian province also boasts some of the world’s most interesting geological and archaeological sites. Newfoundland offers a unique combination of opportunities for hands-on learning.
Learning holidays and excursions require in-depth knowledge of client interests and local resources. Wildland Tours’ products are sold through specialized organizations like the various Audubon Societies, but they are also sought after by alumni groups and learning holiday organizations. Wildland Tours puts together customized programs for these groups plus the company offers its own learning holidays. As Snow puts it, “Once people talk to us, we have no trouble convincing them that we do indeed have the knowledge and experience to provide enriching, exciting learning holidays. And of course, these educational programs are also great fun. Some guests even come back to repeat their favourite holiday!”