Published: June 28th 2009June 22nd 2009
Well, I've just spent a week in Newfoundland and, wow, what a great time we had! "We" means John and Fanny, Anita, and Joy and me. John and I joined the three nurses after their week-long convention. We rented an RV and did Newfoundland--I mean, really DID Newfoundland. I'm guessing 2500 km. Anita and Fanny found a set of 10 postcards, showing the highlights of Newfoundland; we'd done all 10!
John wasn't there yet, but the three girls and I traveled south from St. John's, down along the Avalon Penn. First stop was Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America. You could almost see Ireland from there, or so it seemed. A map centred on St. John's showed that it was much closer to Europe than to Abbotsford; in fact the radius going through Abbotsford, also went through northern Africa. At Cape spear, there was, of course, a lighthouse, as at every other headland around the entire island. This one had been turned into an art gallery of lighthouse art, with every Nfld. lighthouse displayed (I think).
Travelling on from there, we went to Bay Bulls for a boat trip to see the puffins (Newfoundland's
provincial bird), icebergs and, hopefully, whales. The boat trip was really good--we used Gatheralls--with a really funny guide ("never let the truth get in the way of a good story.") There was an iceberg grounded right in the middle of the harbour, which we circled, then headed out to the bird sanctuary. No whales, though.
The birds were amazing--millions of them on this small island--puffins, murres, petrils and kittiwakes, and the guide was a fountain of knowledge about them all. Puffins, for example, mate for life--about 20 years. Though the males are gone out to sea about 10 months of the year, they always find their way back to their partner, find the same burrow they made when they connected at age 3 or 4, go under water (up to 200 ft.) for 10 sec. of sex, then spend the next couple of months together before the male heads off to sea until next year. Murres, apparently, go as deep as 400 ft.
We then headed down to Brigus South, a small, typical fishing village on the coast, for a little site-seeing; then on to Ferryland, where Lord Baltimore first attempted to establish a colony, before giving up
and heading over to Maryland. Here we saw another large iceberg, hiked over some beautiful terrain to another lighthouse. The theme of this one was to have lunch at the lighthouse, with food bought from it, of course. But we arrived too late in the day for that. so we took a bunch of nice photos before heading back.
Our day confirmed that Newfoundland truly is "the rock"--rocky, barren, water ponds everywhere, rough, jagged coastline. The day was cool, and we didn't blame Lord Baltimore for moving on. But the people were super friendly.
After taking in the high Anglican mass, we headed up to St. John's major landmark--Signal Hill. Here, not only had the lighthouse protected the harbour for ships, but a sizable battery, with a lot of canons, had protected it from the enemy (mostly the French and the Americans). It was also here that Marconi set up his receiver in the early 1900's to receive his first wireless signal across the Atlantic. And, the hill provided a great view over St. John's and its harbour. We then headed back into St. John's, to catch a few photos of the colourful buildings, then set
out across the island. The brightly painted buildings, a theme of the entire island, arose, apparently, so that the fishermen could spot their house from the water (and make sure they got the right lady for night).
We stopped at the narrow isthmus joining the Avalon Penn. with the main part of the island, for a panoramic view of both bodies of water reaching in from both sides of the isthmus. We took the mandatory picture of Come By Chance, and then headed on to Terra Nova National Park. Incidentally, the many villages of Newfoundland have very interesting names (Hearts' Desire, Cupid, Dildo, Tickle Harbour, Nicky's Nose Cove, etc.)
We stopped at Brigus, too, where one of the doctor's with whom the nurses work, had once spent some time. At Terra Nova Park, we stopped only to see a bird sanctuary. That night we stayed in Gander, where John had first touched down when his Dutch family immigrated to Canada in 1958.
We headed up to Twillingate, the iceberg capital of Newfoundland. It was really beautiful scenery along the way--again rugged sea coasts, rock and water. At Twillingate, there were tons of icebergs, we did
some hiking, then booked another iceberg tour, which took us to a large weirdly-shaped berg, where half of it tilted over just as we got there. It was an excellent tour, and Twillingate was an interesting town.
It's amazing to reflect on the power and independence of icebergs. They go where they will, at whatever speed they like. Typically, we were told, they take 7 years ton get from Greenland down to Newfoundland, because they freeze back in so many times, and their average speed is 0.7 km/hr. But they can suddenly move several km. in an hour. We saw the most amazing iceberg quite far distant, but an hour later, when we took our boat tour, it was nowhere to be found. We speculate that, because of its unique and awkward shape, it tipped over in the meantime.
We drove on, as far as South Pond, a great campsite for the night.
We made it to our main destination, Gros Morne National Park, about noon. This park is famous for its major fjord, Western Brook Pond (most bodies of water are called ponds, not lake, in Nfld.). Since the only daily boat trip is
at 1 pm at this time of year, it was too late for this day, so we booked it for the next. We went up to Arches Provincial Park, where the Gulf of St. Lawrence has eroded four sea arches in this rock, then to Cow Head, for a lobster dinner and dinner theatre, a hilarious Newfie musical experience. We also did a walking tour of "Cow Head," an island joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus.
We spent the first part of the day around Cow Head, doing some hiking around the sand dunes of Shallow Bay, then off to our boat tour on the fjord. That involved hiking in 3 km., but there were hundreds who did it. (It was mostly on boardwalk and flat terrain.) It is an absolutely gorgeous freshwater fjord. Fjords are formed when a glacier carves out a valley emptying into the ocean, and thus is under water. So most of them end in the ocean and appear as long fingers of water into the mainland. But in a few cases, like this one, when the weight of the ice is removed, the ground surface rebounds upwards, and now the
mouth of the fjord is cut off from the sea, leaving the fjord as a freshwater lake. The sheer rock walls rose straight up for 2000 ft., with a number of gorgeous falls coming off of them. The best, and most famous was at the end of the fjord, named, in good Newfie fashion, Pissing Mare Falls.
By the time we did the boat tour, John had already announced that, yes, we were going up to L'Anse aux Meadows, the world heritage site where the Vikings first set foot on North America around 1000 A.D., and set up their headquarters for about 75 years. That's another 300 km. to the northern tip of the island. So that pretty much consumed the rest of the day. Along the way we passed the ferry to Labrador, and checked out the possibility of adding that to our itinerary yet, too. After all, why not set a foot into Labrador, just for bragging rights. But the twice-a-day sailing times just didn't work. So John screeched to a stop when he saw a fisherman pulling up his boat, and asked whether we could hire him for a ride across. It's only 16 miles and
a boat could do that in about an hour. But the fisherman thought the water was too choppy for his small boat. We arrived at L'Anse aux Meadows late in the day, and parked there for the night.
We went to the world heritage site shortly after it 9 a.m. opening. The story of the Viking journeys is amazing! Lief Erickson and his colleagues came from Greenland, and evidently went as far as New Brunswick, there finding wild grapes and naming it Vinland. The group retreated to the northern tip of Newfoundland to winter over, and build their settlement there. Why anyone would winter over here, let alone set up a community, is beyond me. Perhaps it reminded them of Greenland. Or maybe it was because they found plenty of ore pellets, to use for black-smithing. Anyway, we saw the actual archaeological site, the replica of the buildings, and interacted with the people in period costumes.
Then we went to St. Anthony, the only significant town in the vicinity (but it serves a wide area, and has daily scheduled flights to its airport). At St. Anthony, there were three large icebergs in the bay and we
got some great photos. We also went up to the lighthouse, where we saw our first whales of the trip (for Anita, the first whales she's ever seen). After lunch, it was time to start making our way back.
We drove straight through to Cornerbrook, where we had arranged to meet a retired nurse whom Anita had worked with, and Fanny knew somewhat. Gwen invited us to their home at Pinchgut Lake, and we enjoyed a great evening of great Newfie hospitality with Gwen and Dave. They live permanently in a spacious home in a gorgeous setting on the lake.
This day we spent mostly driving, as we were a good six or seven hours from St. John's. Along the way, we stopped at Bishop's Falls, where there actually is a waterfall.
We had a fun surprise when we got back to St. John's. Since we still had some time, we headed for the Quidi Vidi brewing company, a micro brewery in a former fishing plant, in the quaint little seaside town of Quidi Vidi (which may be a part of St. John's, I'm not sure). Unfortunately, we arrived too late for a tour, and
, in fact 15 minutes before the gift shop was to close at 6 pm. We spent a few minutes site-seeing the sailboats at the dock, then realized there was a pub upstairs in the building. We headed up, inquiring whether this was a private party or a public watering hole. They said it was actually a private party (for the employees, every Friday from 5 - 7 pm), but we could gladly join in. So we did, and they even gave us the first drink free. Some of us also indulged in the free burgers coming off the BBQ. In the meantime, we chatted with both the brewmaster and the owner. Again, it was great Newfie hospitality! When we left, we had our own dinner, then headed for the airport, where we parked for the night, since I needed to check-in the next morning at 5:30 a.m.
Newfoundland reminded me a lot of what I perceive Ireland to be like. The accent sounds similar (eh Finbar?), the celtic music is similar, the reverence for brew is similar, and even the scenery seems somewhat similar (though I have never been to Ireland, so this is all perception). But it
makes sense, since the Irish were major settlers of the Avalon Penninsula. Overall, Newfoundland is a delightful place, much cheaper to live in than urban Canada, and a much more relaxed way of life. But the weather is harsh, though it was quite decent for us between June 13 and 20. Even so, the lilacs were just beginning to bloom.
Flying out, it was obvious why Newfoundland is referred to as The Rock. There is water everywhere, since it is all trapped amongst the rock formations. And who could imagine flying home and succumbing to jet-lag within your own country? It's a 4-1/2 hour time difference between Nfld and the west coast! Flying time is nearly as long as to London, England.
There are more photos below