Planes, Puffins and Pines

Published: September 13th 2022
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Twillingate WaterfrontTwillingate WaterfrontTwillingate Waterfront

So very Newfoundland
Newfoundland gives one a sense of calmness and serenity. The easternmost Canadian province has soft winding roads with one stunning vista after another. Even though we had studied what we might find once we arrived, we were surprised by the number of lakes, streams and rivers. We’d call it "the land of 10,000 lakes" but Minnesota already has taken that name. Acres of trees landscape your drive, so many in fact that we decided to look up the abundant varieties in these dense green forested areas. They include many birch trees along with black spruce, white spruce, junipers, white pine and balsam firs. Seems the white pines were heavily harvested for use as sawlogs and ship masts at the turn of the 20th century. This and an infestation wreaked havoc with the species, but they are making a comeback. It seemed like there were trees everywhere and it made for amazing views, especially on some of the roads with elevation. The area was so amazing we’d also like to call this “big sky country” which you will see in our photos, but that is already taken by Montana. Those pesky U.S. states!

Newfoundland and Labrador are technically one province and about 97 percent of the total population of a little over a half million live in Newfoundland. From that total, the capital of St. John’s makes up about 40 percent of the population. Looking back, Newfoundland makes Nova Scotia look crowded and busy. St. John’s is the only real city and it felt more like a town. The rest of the province is rural and chock full of beauty.

St. John's

We had hopped a flight from Halifax to St. John’s and were fortunate to be able to rent a car as we mentioned in our previous blog. It is worthy of note that you cannot drive to Newfoundland and technically cannot even take a ferry from Labrador to Newfoundland. The ferry service is actually located in the province of Quebec. We did not visit Labrador on this trip and will save it for a future voyage. There are also other ferries from Nova Scotia, but Newfoundland is really an island....and an amazing one at that.

Our first day in St. John’s was spent wandering the waterfront area and enjoying some fine weather. It usually rains quite a bit, but this summer has been unusually warm and
We love puffins!We love puffins!We love puffins!

Elliston, Newfoundland
dry. After sharing a hearty moose burger at the Celtic Hearth, we retired for the evening, keen to explore more. Moose Burgers are not uncommon items on the menu. We’re told that four moose were “imported” to Newfoundland in 1904 as a government initiative with the hope of providing a good source of meat and to attract sport hunters to visit. This did not work out for two reasons: moose is not the greatest meat going and they have no natural predators. The result is that now you’ve got about 120,000 of the beasts that weigh about 1200 pounds and no plan to stop them from overtaking the place. The moose burgers tasted okay, but we can’t recommend them. They are gamey and the one we ate was a bit dry. In our opinion the moose tastes similar to venison or bison.... although we like venison much better.

Ok-- so now we must address screech. In Nova Scotia, several people told us to give the screech a try once we got to Newfoundland. We figured the Celtic Hearth was the perfect place for this adventure. We asked the bar keeper what it was and why we should try it? Remember in our last blog when we talked about all the bootlegging of liquor in the old days. Well some of these Caribbean smugglers stopped in Newfoundland with their rum and the beginnings of their love of screech began. Today it is a colloquial term to refer to cheap, high alcohol spirits, including moonshine. Newfoundland screech is rum with 40 percent alcohol by volume. Not for the faint of heart. So, yes, we tried it but we are not big on shots of rum so we won't make this a staple of our diet.

The next morning, we got our rental car and set out to explore the local sites. Signal Hill is a centerpiece of St. John's and well known because Guglielimo Marconi received the world's first transatlantic wireless signal at the Cabot Tower in 1901. High above St. John's, Signal Hill was the site of St. John's harbour defenses from the 17th century to the Second World War. We enjoyed the view and a hike at Signal Hill and if you have the time there is some wonderful hiking. We recommend you save several hours to enjoy this area and the views.

We headed south to
Mr. MooseMr. MooseMr. Moose

We were so excited to see him since we were told they have an abundance of these creatures.
take in the views from high on the hill of the Cape Sable lighthouse. It was a foggy day and it was lovely and eerie watching the lighthouse and the coastline fade in and out with the blowing winds. From there we headed to a wonderful place called the Colony of Avalon in Ferryland. The colony was established in 1621 by Sir George Calvert, the First Lord of Baltimore. The ruins of this town were rediscovered in the 1980s and it is exciting that archaeologists are currently excavating the site. We were happy to see a couple of them at work during our visit. The visitors center has a nice video explaining the area and the museum presents the history in a way that it holds your interest. This colony really tried to make a go of it under some very harsh conditions.

Once we returned to St. John's after a full day of touring and hiking we found ourselves at the Celtic Hearth once again for dinner, indulging in some serious meat and carbs along with a pint. The staff at the Cape Sable lighthouse told us to return and try the hot turkey sandwich pie--- they said it was the best and we agreed. It is a Thanksgiving meal in one bowl.

In our last blog we mentioned we headed to the French islands of Saint Pierre & Miquelon. Welcome to France....say what?

Gander & Twillingate

Once returning from the French isles, we headed straight for Gander, Newfoundland. Over the decades Gander has played an important role in the aeronautical world. Before the age of jet travel, Gander was the refueling stop for transatlantic flights from Europe. We learned that although planes could carry enough fuel to make it from Europe to say, New York, it would mean fewer passengers would be able to fly on the planes. As a result, Gander was transformed almost overnight into the grand stop on the way to North America. At the aviation museum, we saw pictures of many famous people who stopped in Gander, like Fidel Castro, Muhammed Ali and Frank Sinatra.

Jet travel saw the decline of Gander as a travel hub, but it played an incredibly important role on September 11th 2001. Many of you have seen the documentary or play Come from Away. The people of this town opened their homes, hearts and community to assist
Scenic Coastal TownsScenic Coastal TownsScenic Coastal Towns

Endless Beauty in Newfoundland
passengers of 37 airliners that landed in Gander that horrible day. After seeing the documentary we wanted to go to this town. It is a small community with a lovely museum identifying their role in history. We drove out to the airport to see where all the planes landed on September 11th. We understand they have a flight school now and it is attracting talented pilots who need experience with harsh winds and climate.

On our drive to Gander we passed the Traverse Brook Estuary and Gambo Wetlands Bog so we stopped to check it out. Large numbers of Canadian geese stop to dine on these rich beds of eel grass on their migration to the arctic breeding grounds. This is a rare bird species for Newfoundland but they love this area. An abundance of double-crested cormorants make Gambo their home.

Twillingate was like driving in a postcard. Our journey from Gander took us through some of the best scenery of our time in eastern Canada. We stopped many times just to admire the beauty of the surroundings as we traversed the smallish peninsula to see yet another lighthouse, the Long Point Lighthouse. Frankly, we've lost count of
Puffin & GullPuffin & GullPuffin & Gull

Elliston Puffin Viewpoint
the number of lighthouses we've seen on this trip, but that only means we've enjoyed looking at them. Along the way we had brunch on the water in Twillingate and after the lighthouse stop found a brewery to sample the local beer. The pictures are great, but do not do the area justice.

Bonavista & Elliston: PUFFINS!

Our next stop had us quite excited as we were going to get a chance to see puffins! On our way, we drove through the Terra Nova National Park which was simply stunning, making this one of the more scenic drives in Newfoundland. And frankly, that is saying something! Bonavista and the surrounding area including Elliston are perhaps best known for the puffin aviaries set on coastal rock cliffs. Short hikes enabled us to get fairly close and observe these exquisite birds, who had to share their space on one cliff with gulls, who apparently were not that fond of the puffins, but somehow co-existed. The gulls would seem to attack the puffins at times, who would wisely dive into their nest holes in the ground to escape punishment. We saw one puffin get picked to pieces by a group of gulls. We spent the better part of a couple hours at one location and about an hour at another, just watching the orange billed birds live their daily lives of swooping down the sides of the cliffs on their way out to the water searching for food. It never gets boring watching them.

You walk out on a small peninsula, then take an interesting small footbridge over the water and rocky cliffs connecting to the next small island where you can sit, stand or lounge on rocks while watching the flight of the gulls and PUFFINS! The birds are on the third small island which is very close to the one you have access to. We were not as close as when we were in the Faroe islands but we enjoyed viewing the hundreds of gulls and puffins flying along the cliff edges and above our heads. We came back the next day to watch again. When we were in The Faroe Islands we fell deeply in love with puffins. Actually, our love occured long before that visit but our feelings were cemented in the Faroes.

When you drive the Bonavista Peninsula you will see many cute doors
Gander MuseumGander MuseumGander Museum

An amazing Aviation History.... even before 9/11.
in mounds of ground. It took us a while to figure out what they were. OK, we confess until we saw a big sign that said, Elliston- Root Cellar Capital of the World... did things click into place. With all the potatoes and carrots grown in this area it is no wonder they use these traditional food storage systems.

Dildo…. Sorry the town is really called Dildo

From Bonavista, we made a jaunt south to the town of.....Dildo. Why? Well, why not? Any town that is bold enough to have this for a name deserves some investigation. We booked a room at an historic bed and breakfast that was just up the hill guessed it...the Dildo brewery.

Now while you are sitting there still chuckling at the name, a little investigation revealed that the origin of the name "dildo" is somewhat obscure. At one time it was the term for a pin stuck in the edging of a row boat to act as the pivot for an oar. It has had other meanings throughout the centuries, including the most obvious one. There have been several attempts to change the name of the town over time, but
Get in the CockpitGet in the CockpitGet in the Cockpit

Gander Aviation Museum
alas, they failed and the name remains. It gained further notoriety when Jimmy Kimmel, an American late night talk show host ran segments on his show about the town and ran for mayor with the brewery as his headquarters. The YouTube videos are fun.

Our BnB provided a pleasant vista of the bay waters and we had arguably the best meal of the province at the Barn Cafe a few miles south of the town. After a lovely breakfast the following morning, it was time to press the Irish Loop.

Driving the Irish Loop

The Avalon Peninsula looks very different from the rest of what we saw in Newfoundland in that it is devoid of forest for the most part, has rolling green and golden hills, and a few boulders in the expansive fields. The lakes and streams continue as well as a few marshes and bogs. It was lovely and reminded us of Ireland. It is no surprise to find that many Irish people are located in this southern part of Newfoundland. The coastal road is referred to as the Irish Loop. We were fortunate to drive the entire loop and enjoy its beauty.

Newfoundland has roadside stops called Interpretative Sites. They are magnificently done in that they have several photos and picture boards describing the historical significance of the area. They often pay tribute to fallen soldiers, sailors and fisherman or tell the story of a well known resident of a town. For example, in Port Kirwan we learned of Mother Bernard Kirwan and four other sisters who did good works to tirelessly educate poor girls. They also established the first English speaking female religious order in the country.

On our drive from where we were staying in Portugal Cove South toward the Cape Race lighthouse we drove past some amazing scenery. At one point as we went around a sharp curve the sign gave warning on an 18% grade down the next hill. 18% is steeper than you would think and yes it made for an interesting view. We could see Trepassey Bay on one side of the road and a house with a large lake on the other side of the road. The lake was filled with boats. It was lovely. We were concentrating on the drive down the hill but as we got closer we realized they were toy
The planes lined up after landing. The planes lined up after landing. The planes lined up after landing.

Gander Newfoundland on September 11, 2001. History was made and a town nurtured the weary.
boats, really amazing toy boats. This was creative and a great deal of skill was required. Several people were pulled over to take photos. We can only imagine this creativity comes from those long Canadian nights.

On to the Cape Race lighthouse which is an active lighthouse on one of Canada's busiest shipping lanes and is 95 feet tall! This is historically important because in 1904 Marconi set up a wireless station near the lighthouse. This station received the first distress call from the Titanic. Marconi was able to assist in coordinating the rescue and communication of the tragedy. At this site they have a Heritage Museum that features the history of communications at Cape Race and a tribute to the Titanic. This sort of closed the circle for us as we had stopped at the Titanic Belfast Museum.

All over Newfoundland you will find brightly colored houses. We are told they used the colors so the sailors and fisherman could find their way home through the fog and inclement weather.

St. John’s return

We enjoyed two days in St. John's after our driving around Newfoundland. If you've seen photos of St. John's it is likely
Cape Race LighthouseCape Race LighthouseCape Race Lighthouse

95 feet tall. One of Canada's busiest shipping lanes.
you've seen the pop of color this quaint city offers. The highest concentration of these lovely colorful buildings is in "Old Town". They refer to these houses and store fronts as jellybean row. St. John's has a couple of nice churches- cathedrals, the waterfront is cute and they have a couple of nice parks.

The last thing we needed to do before leaving Newfoundland was try the recommended cod tongue. What, we asked? Fish don't have tongues. Everyone smiles and explains it is actually a little muscle from the neck of the fish. They were pretty good. They come pan fried. We don't generally eat a lot of fried foods but these were pretty good. They have a sweet and mild fish flavor. We also learned some people like the small ones and some people like the large ones. One restaurant we were in told us they took them off the menu because they were tired of people complaining that they served the wrong ones. Oh my they are passionate about cod tongue.


At the end of our trip we had one last day in Halifax, Nova Scotia before flying home.

We stayed downtown with easy access to the city where we walked the streets exploring. We opted to visit the Halifax Citadel high upon the hill as it is a National Historic Site and it was well worth the visit. When Queen Victoria reigned Canada in 1869, Canada was two years old. Wow, think about that. A walk through the Citadel provides a glimpse of life for the British Troops who were here to defend. The structure is well maintained and we were able to see the changing of the guard and we arrived just in time to see them shoot off the big cannon which they do daily at noon.

Some history of Newfoundland

Nearly 4,000 years ago the Paleo-Eskimo people inhabited these lands evidenced by archeology. They were descendants of the Dorset culture who traveled from the high arctic crossing from Siberia. The Dorset people died off or abandoned the area with the arrival of the Norse. Later the Beothuk settled Newfoundland migrating from Labrador. In modern day about 20%!o(MISSING)f the residents of Newfoundland claim Irish ancestry and about 35%!B(MISSING)ritish ancestry.

Puffin Trivia: Our attempt to provide education on one of our favorite birds

The name
Cod TongueCod TongueCod Tongue

It's really the fatty part of the cheek.
"puffin" is thought to derive from the pudgy chicks or the aggressive territorial behavior displayed when a male puffs up his body. The bird's scientific name is Fratercula Arctica.

In the air, puffins can reach speeds of up to 50 mph (88km/h) flapping their wings 400 times a minute. Under-water they swim much the same way, flapping their wings and using their feet like rudders. They've been known to dive as far down as 200 feet or 60 meters!

Puffins produce one egg per year. Both parents take turns incubating it under their wings. When the chick matures, the parents lure it out of the burrow at night. If it gets to the water before sunrise, it's left on its own and will not return to land again for five years.

Puffins are solitary birds that congregate in small numbers at sea. They only return to land when they are ready to mate, returning to the same mate and nest every year.

Atlantic puffins are camouflaged from predators both above and below. When a whale looks up at a puffin floating on the ocean, the bird's white breast blends in with the sky. From above, its
Mother Nature ShinesMother Nature ShinesMother Nature Shines

Exploring Newfoundland
black head and back blends in with the surface of the water.

The Atlantic Puffin is very colorful with its multi-hued beak, orange feet and red eye markings. But in winter, its beak turns dark and the feathers around the eyes become grey. The colour and shape of its bill changes annually, and brightens again each mating season.

Finally, forgive us for all the puffin photos. LOL.

Where we stayed:

Comfort Inn, Gander

Airbnb in Bonavista

George House Heritage B&B., Dildo

Blue Cabin @ The Stages airbnb in Portugal Cove

Airbnb St. John's

The Barrington Hotel, Halifax

Restaurants recommended:

****Fantastic! The Barn Cafe, Dildo

The Dildo Brewery was fun but very basic pub grub

Celtic Hearth, St. John's

Annie's Harbour Restaurant, Twillingate

Recommended Car Rental Agency:

Centsible Car Rental. 909 Topsail Rd, Mt. Pearl, NF. 709-753-2277

We highly recommend this rental agency. We were given the best customer experience we've ever had renting a car.

Our other recent blogs from Canada in case you missed them.

PE Island: Marvelous, Mellow, Manicured

The Cape, the Cove and The Tides

Welcome to France....say what?

Additional photos below
Photos: 77, Displayed: 35


Root CellarsRoot Cellars
Root Cellars

Bonavista and Elliston

13th September 2022

More history of Newfoundland...
My 3rd great grandfather immigrated from Devon to Newfoundland in 1813. He was a fisherman,owning two boats that fished the Grand Banks, as were his descendants until my grandfather. My grandfather got sea sick so became a lumberman, one of those who you mention as having cut down a lot of trees in the early 20th century. He was almost killed by a forest fire. He then moved to Toronto and became a machinist. My sister and a cousin are visiting Newfoundland next summer. I have enjoyed following your adventures in Newfoundland and the Maritime Provinces!
13th September 2022

More history of Newfoundland
Your roots take you around the world. What a man who reinvented himself 3 times. Wow, amazing. On our next trip to that part of the world we hope to go to Labrador and also visit the Viking village in Northern Newfoundland. The Maritimes are so lovely and the people are the kindest and most polite.
15th September 2022

What a great trip you had. I have enjoyed following along. Such great scenery, and animals, and food. There is no such thing as too many puffin photos. They are so sweet.
18th September 2022

We did have a wonderful trip. Thank you for reading and commenting. The puffins are so adorable and colorful.!
18th September 2022
Colorful Puffin

What's to forgive?
"Finally, forgive us for all the puffin photos." What's to forgive? They are adorable. I wouldn't mind an entire blog entry with them. /Ake
18th September 2022
Colorful Puffin

What's to forgive?
I agree. Maybe some day I will do an all puffin blog.
18th September 2022
Dave at the Brewery

Of course you have to visit a place called Dildo
I just love funny place names so I understand why you would want to visit a place with that name. We have visited "Hej" in Sweden (means "Hi" in Swedish), Hell in Norway and Hel in Poland mainly for the funny names. I would have loved to visit "F**king" (it was spelt exactly like the dirty word) in Austria, but they have sadly changed their name. Some day I just have to visit Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. It's named after an athlete, winner of two Olympic gold medals in 1912, who never even visited the town while alive. /Ake
18th September 2022
Dave at the Brewery

A place called Dildo
We visited Hell while on Grand Cayman Island. It is fun to visit these quirky places.
25th September 2022

Well that's it, I'm convinced! I think I need to visit the maritime states of Canada, the places look amazing! I've really enjoyed reading about your travels around this relatively unknown corner of Canada. The landscape looks amazing, and the driving must have been very enjoyable. And puffins!! What else could a traveller ask for!! Thank you for taking me along with you on your amazing journey, MJ and Dave 😊👍
26th September 2022

The driving was easy and enjoyable. It is a beautiful province and we are glad we had time to explore. At some point we hope to go back to Labrador and see the northern most tip of Newfoundland but I imagine that will be some time from now. The puffins are always a joy for us! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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