Here I am again, at the corner of Lawrence and Dufferin, waiting for the light to change. Our three-week trip to Newfoundland seems like a distant memory even though we just came back. It feels as if I’ve never left this intersection. I also feel like I’ve been gone for years. Both. At the same time. Long road trips do that to you. They fly by while also stretching time to infinity.
Watching our last sunset in Newfoundland — seems so long ago
Adjustment is a bit tough. How do you get used to six rows of cars after seeing almost no traffic lights for three weeks? How do you wrap your head around meetings and deadlines when the only schedule you had to follow for a while was that of the sun? How do you go back to spending all day in an office after living outdoors 24/7? Even the phone refuses to readjust and keeps showing me the weather in Trout River, the last place where we camped.
At home, I work my way through thousands of photos that I took over the last three weeks and reread my notes that I kept throughout the trip. It will take some time to put together a comprehensive trip report so I decided to jot down some of the highlights while the memories are still fresh.
Newfoundland, or Ktaqmkuk as Mi’kmaq have called it for thousands of years, which means “the far shore over the waves”, has been on our radar for quite a while. All those rumours of breathtaking vistas, icebergs and whales. Then last year we came across some of Newfoundland’s travel commercials that I couldn’t help but drool all over. And with Parks Canada offering free admission we decided it is the year to go.
I went in prepared for incredible views, great hikes and unusual wildlife I wouldn’t normally see in Ontario. Newfoundland delivered all of that and more. I was also prepared for lots of rain, fog and cold weather. Luckily, the island underdelivered on those expectations. Granted the welcome was less than warm. But apart from that first morning plus a couple more half days and a few overnight rainfalls, which didn’t interfere with our activities, the weather was nice and sunny throughout.
Our first morning in Newfoundland — not a very warm welcome
So what made our trip so special?
Views, views and even more spectacular views
Mountains and the ocean are always a winning combination. So in Newfoundland breathtaking views are around every twist of the road, every bend of the trail. Imposing mountain ridges that seem to have come straight out of the Lord of the Rings movies. Waves crashing against rocky ridges. Green flowery meadows. All of it wrapped in the salty smell of the ocean, sun-drenched aroma of wild strawberries with an occasional whiff of wild roses. And ever present, intoxicating pine scent unlike any I’ve smelled before – with sweet, almost flowery undertones.
View of the Tablelands and Lookout Mountains from Jenniex House in Norris Point
Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne — yes, they call it a pond in Newfoundland
It was a challenging hike up the Gros Morne Mountain but look at the view
View of Ten Mile Pond from the Gros Morne Mountain
Tablelands look best in the late afternoon light — view across the Trout River Pond
Old Man Cove in Gros Morne
Another spectacular view, this time from the Tablelands
Mountains and the ocean are always a winning combination
Twillingate didn’t deliver on its “Iceberg Capital of the World” title but look at the view
View from one of our campsites
Terra Nova Park from the Ochre Hill Fire Tower
Green Gardens Trail in Gros Morne
I don’t think we’ve ever hiked as much as we did during this trip. Long trails, short trails. Winding through thick tuckamore forests and tracing steep seaside cliffs. Scrambling over rocks and exposed Earth mantle. Endless climbs and descents. And stairs, lots and lots of stairs.
Up the rocks
Up the stairs
And more stairs
Occasional flat boardwalk
Okay there was only one and it was pretty small but I still believe it deserves its own category. Plus considering 90 per cent of it is underwater, it’s not that small.
The joy of little things
Yes, the views were breathtaking, sometimes quite literally because to get to them we had to climb endless sets of stairs (see above). But there was just as much to see up close. Relentless plants pushing through rocky barrens. Rocks immemorial, keepers of geological time. Patterns etched into stones. And endlessly fascinating discoveries at the bottom of tide pools.
My wildlife list for Newfoundland had two items: whales and puffins. We checked off both of them and had a whale of a time. By the end of the trip seeing spouts of water in the distance was a regular occurrence. Our first encounter with these ocean giants happened in St. Anthony close to the beginning of the trip and became one of its most memorable moments. What started as a quick stroll around the lighthouse turned into two hours of whale watching. Fins, tails, white underbellies — it was quite a performance. And while all this action was happening in the water, right at our feet, the shore was reverberating with gasps of awe and screams of joy from children and adults alike. No Marineland or Seaworld could ever deliver so much happiness.
We showed this picture to the man and his family. His wife’s reaction? Tell the world his name is Brian. So there you go, world. Call him Brian.
Our search for puffins started at Terra Nova. We took a Zodiac tour that promised to take us to a puffin island. Unfortunately, another visitor showed up: a bald eagle circling up above, probably with more than sightseeing on his mind. All we got was a whirlwind of birds all around us. It was beautiful but not exactly a close-up look. So after a bit of research we decided to make a detour on our way to St. John’s and visit Bonavista peninsula, where the town of Elliston promised the best puffin viewing from the shore. We found them at both Elliston and Cape Bonavista, and watching these comical birds was the most joyful experience. My husband was so enamored with them that he grabbed my old camera and started taking pictures. He then proclaimed that we need a telephoto lens so I guess I know what I am getting for Christmas.
And a few pictures taken by my husband because you can never have too many puffins.
It wasn’t just puffins that provided entertainment. There were lots of other seabirds – cormorants, gannets, sand pipers and ubiquitous seagulls – impressive in their multitudes.
Then there were multiple moose sightings. Eight to be exact, which is more than we’ve seen in all our years of camping in Ontario. The funny thing is that moose aren’t even native to Newfoundland. A couple was introduced back in 1904 and now the island boasts three moose per square kilometer.
One of my personal favourites, however, was seeing woodland caribou. So much so that I got a bit of a star-struck moment some people get when they meet celebrities.
And then there were hare (lots of them even though they are another introduced species), frogs, birds. What we didn’t see was raccoons, porcupines, skunks, deer and snakes because none of those live in Newfoundland.
Endless sunsets and a few sunrises
Following the sun is one of my favourite vacation activities. Having enough time to sit and wait for our brightest star to complete its run across the sky is usually a luxury that is hard to afford with work and other everyday responsibilities. And with all the spectacular backdrops courtesy of Newfoundland, I was determined to be there for as many sunsets as possible. Every night we would scout for a new location to watch the red ball drop into the sea and splash paint all across the sky.
Sunrises are a bit more complicated affair and require more commitment. Waking up early is never easy for me, even less so after a full day of hiking. So I only caught three but they were pretty special. I saw my first sunrise of the trip from the Highlander ferry just as we were approaching Newfoundland. Considering it started raining the moment we disembarked, that first glimpse of the island bathed in red was even more special.
And then, of course, there was Cape Spear, North America’s most easterly point. Getting there for the grand spectacle required waking up at 4:30 and driving for almost an hour. But being one of the first people on the continent to witness the sun’s grand entry was worth it.
And that’s where I will leave you with the birth of a new day over Ktaqmkuk and Turtle Island.
Read part II of our Newfoundland adventure, which is all about our more people related activities. And don’t miss these Newfoundland stories:
After two days of driving from Toronto, we spent the night at the Cheticamp campground in Cape Breton Highlands and our trip officially began. When we were planning our road trip, we decided it would be exclusively focused on Newfoundland without any additional stops along the way. Mainly because getting there was a bit more complicated (and more expensive) so we wanted to see as much of it as possible. Plus we already travelled through the Maritimes a few years ago. Still, we couldn’t resist taking some time to drive around the famous Cabot Trail. During our last visit to Nova Scotia, we spent three days at the Ingonish campground, but because of car troubles couldn’t drive around the rest of the Cabot Trail.
To save time on setting up and taking down camp, we booked one of the oTENTiks at the Cheticamp campground. In the morning, after a quick breakfast we were back on the road. We drove around the Cabot Trail, hiked the Skyline Trail and made a few stops on the beaches along the way. By 10 p.m., we arrived at the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal in North Sydney.
There are two ferry services that connect Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. One travels from North Sydney to Port aux Basques and takes about seven hours; the other one goes to Argentia and takes closer to 16. We picked the shorter one to spend less time on water, more on land (it was cheaper too). We also decided to take the overnight option to save daytime hours for seeing and doing stuff.
One more thing about the ferry, book early and spend an extra $100 on a cabin if you are traveling overnight. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in a chair in a huge hall with dozens of other people. In a crowd that size there is bound to be a snorer or two. (According to a woman I met on the deck the next morning while taking pictures of the sunrise, there were nine that night.) Add to that all the comforts of sleeping in a chair, and there isn’t much hope of a good shuteye. Unless, of course, you can sleep through anything. I am sure my husband would have been fine. But even he appreciated having a bed after so much driving. A shower was nice too.
After we disembarked the ferry in Port aux Basques, it took us about four hours to drive to Gros Morne Park. We spent the next four days at the Berry Hill campground. This post provides a detailed account of our stay there.
As much as we hated leaving Gros Morne, two things kept us going: the fact that we would be returning to the park in a couple of weeks and the prospect of exploring new places. We headed up north to visit L’Anse aux Meadows, a famous Viking site. We also got to see an iceberg and whales in St. Anthony.
Our home for two nights was the nearby Pistol Bay Provincial Park. The campground was small with only 30 sites but all we needed was a spot to pitch our tent. There was also a comfort station with showers.
We packed our tent on a very rainy morning and set out on a nine-hour drive to Twillingate. It was the longest day on the road (except for the drive from Toronto to the ferry and then back). We made a stop at Arches Provincial Park to strech our legs and enjoy beautiful views.
Twillingate is advertised as the iceberg capital of the world. It was too late for icebergs by the time we arrived but the town was worth a visit even without the ice giants.
We stayed at another provincial park with a fascinating name – wait for it – Dildo Run. When I first saw that, I felt we had to stay there just so I could put it into my blog (childish, I know). There is also a town in Newfoundland named Dildo and as this article explains, in the past “dildo” was used to refer to any cylindrical object, including nautical pins, which could explain the presence of so many dildos on the island.
Apart from its unusual name, the park is no different from other provincial park campgrounds in Newfoundland. It is not much bigger than Pistolet Bay with only 50 sites and one comfort station. Our neighbours seemed to be too close for my liking but the view from the campsite was gorgeous, definitely the best one of the entire trip.
After we left Dildo Run, we made a stop at the Beothuk Historic Site where we learned about Beothuks, the now extinct indigenous people of Newfoundland.
Our next stop was Terra Nova, a national park on the eastern coast of the island. The park’s terrain is more subdued than the dramatic landscapes of Gros Morne. We didn’t do much during our stay there, apart from hiking a couple of trails both in the park and the nearby village of Salvage and going on a zodiac boat ride on an unsuccessful search of puffins. We stopped at a visitor centre a couple of times with its beautiful marine tank. We also did laundry and made multiple trips to the store to get ice-cream. And even though there was nothing particularly exciting about this visit, I enjoyed the lull in our trip, an opportunity to rest and recharge. Plus the smell in the park was intoxicating, unlike anything I’d smelled before.
We stayed at the Newman Sound campground at Loop D. It was nice and quiet unlike much more happening loops A and B overrun by trailers and kids on bikes. The comfort station was spotless and sparkling, which is not always easy to achieve in public bathrooms. I forgot to take a picture of the campsite but here is a view from a trail in Salvage.
Our next stop was St. Jonhn’s but we made a detour to Cape Bonavista in a search of puffins, this time very successful.
We booked a site at Butter Pot Provincial Park (I wonder who came up with all these park names) about 30 minutes away from St. John’s. Our stay there was big on drama, at least on the first night. When I made a reservation, I booked what I thought would be a beautiful site by the water. And the site was indeed very nice but we were stuck between two large RVs with very loud generators. Even after they turned off the generators after ten, our neighbours to the left continued to play loud music and sing well into the night, most probably to spite us because we asked them to turn off the generator politely explaining that our son had a very bad headache. A confrontation ensued with words not fit for this blog. In the morning, at 7 on the dot, the generator was back on. Well, I guess not all Newfoundlanders live up to their reputation.
After that we moved to a different campsite in a less occupied area. The first loop had fewer trailers, probably because it is hillier. Plus the odd numbered campsites from 1 to 15 require a walk-down from the road and are only suited for tents. I was sad to lose the view but we were very happy to gain some quiet.
Plus we spent the next two days visiting St. John’s and area so the campground view didn’t matter much. Although it is always nice to enjoy a nice vista with your morning coffee.
We returned to Gros Morne, this time to the Trout River campground in its southern part. The last few days of our trip were filled with incredible hikes, geocache searches and bonding with our neighbours. More about it in this post.
We planned to do more hiking before leaving but after days of walking my travel companions refused to tackle any more trails. On our way to the ferry, we made a stop at the J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park to catch one last Newfoundland sunset.
Campsite reservations in Parks Canada, like Cape Breton Highlands, Gross Morne and Terra Nova, open in January. To reserve a site, visit: https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/ParksCanada
Provincial parks in Newfoundland accept reservations starting at the end of April. You can book a site by visiting https://www.nlcamping.ca/NewfoundlandandLabrador?Map
To learn more about the ferry service and reserve a spot, go to http://www.marineatlantic.ca/en/