Photo: Aboard the ferry to Newfoundland, the M.V. Caribou, at 5:00 am.
Even as the ferry approached the dock in Port Aux Basques, we knew we were going to love Newfoundland. Janice described the scene as, “Just like pulling into a postcard.”
Photo: Our first glimpse of Newfoundland, from the ferry, pulling into Port Aux Basques.
By the way, it’s 6:30 in Newfoundland, four-and-a-half hours ahead of any of you Left Coasters.
Photo: Port Aux Basques lighthouse.
The 180 mile round trip ferry ride was worth every penny of the $677. (The ferry charges per lineal foot and our unit is forty-seven feet).
Photo: We entered Newfoundland at Port Aux Basques, driving east towards St. John’s.
The scenery, as we drove the highway north from Port Aux Basques, is just as we’d seen on TV, only better. The sea is pure and powerful, pounding white foam against The Rock at every turn. Massive granite cliffs, thousands of feet high, tower a kilometer or so away to the starboard side of the road.
As usual, we hadn’t booked any RV sites ahead of time so we ended up with the last overflow site at Kippen’s RV Park, near Stephensville. It was still early afternoon when we’d finished setting up so we took the two-hour loop around the Port Au Port Peninsula. The peninsula hadn’t been on our radar at all because we had not even heard of it. The scenery was supremely captivating and we discovered that the scarcely populated peninsula is made up mostly of Acadian/Basques Newfies.
Photo: Ships Cove at Port Au Port Peninsula, NF.
I almost missed a poorly marked, handwritten sign that pointed to Sheaves Cove. The area looked most intriguing from the road though so I turned around and took the steep, winding dirt road down to one of the most unbelievable spots we’d ever encountered. A waterfall fell fifty feet or so to the large grassy meadow behind us. A crystal clear brook meandered from the falls through the meadow before spilling over massive smoothed-over boulders into the equally clear ocean. Other enormous, weirdly shaped, silky boulders were stacked everywhere, as if by a giant child.
Photo: Sheaves Cove at Port Au Port Peninsula.
Photo: A brook, yes brook, they don’t call them creeks in Newfoundland, runs into Sheaves Cove.
Photo: Janice rearranges the topography at Sheaves Cove.
We took a short hike and discovered, to our utter amazement, that part of this world-heritage-type geography was privately owned! A sign back by where we’d parked stated that the public part of the cove was maintained by the community. We decided then and there that all Canadians, should see, and feel, Newfoundland.
Photo: Three Rocks Point at Port Au Port Peninsula.
We were back at camp by 7:00 pm, much inspired by the rugged scenery and relieved at the lack of humidity on The Rock.
We can hardly wait to visit Gros Morne National Park tomorrow.
The morning was sunny and cool as we took a quick tour of Stephensville before hitting the road north, for Deer Lake, where we pulled into Funland RV Park. From there we took the relatively short drive to Gros Morne.
“Try not to project ahead to what things are going to be like because they rarely turn out like you might imagine them to be so, often, you‘ll be disappointed.” People that know me well will recognize those words; now I have to eat them because Gros Morne National Parkwas far from what I expected. It was undoubtedly beautiful, but I was naïve enough to believe the travel brochures and travel shows that depict the most incredible natural spectacles, always portrayed from a perspective of looking down from 2,000 foot shear-faced cliffs to the sea. Forget that. The real draw is not Gros Morne itself, which is a big, bald granite mountain, but The Western Brook Pond. In Newfie-speak ‘pond’ is the name for any enormous body of fresh water.
Photo: A lighthouse at Lobster Cove, Gros Morne.
Photo: A little fishing outpost at Green Bay, Gros Morne.
Unless you’re prepared to hire a helicopter; and I don’t know if that’s even possible, or to take a week-long hike into the wilderness, you’re not going to get much of a feel for Western Brook Pond, the jewel of Gros Morne. The boat tour must be booked in advance but people we talked to confirmed it to be one of their “trips of a lifetime”. Of course, from the boat, you’d be looking up at the cliffs, not down. The pictures we normally see in brochures or on TV are from the top and are looking down to fresh water, not, as I had imagined the ocean. There’s nothing wrong with looking up of course, it’s just not what I had expected. Apparently the Western Brook Pond is made up of some of the most pure fresh water on the planet.
Photo: Tim rides his fold-up bike along the path to Western Brook Pond.
Photo: Western Brook Pond from the boat launch. Wear good footwear because it‘s a three kilometer walk in to the launch. We rode our bikes.
Photo: Tiring of her recent “mundane” antics, after a sip of Western Brook water, Janice attempts to take flight. Yes, it’s almost always windy there.
The drive along the seashore at Gros Morne provides lots of interesting viewing. The coastline is dotted with tiny picturesque fishing villages which, in a few cases that we saw, are joined together by ancient foot paths.
I had the feeling that there might still be something we were missing about Gros Morne so, on the way back home, after a long day of driving, I convinced Janice to take the fifty-five kilometer trip into Trout River.
I was hoping to get there at dusk, just in time to get some photos with that most desirable of lights, but we got there just as the sun went behind the clouds. Again, without taking a boat tour, there’s not much to see of the unique topography that the area is famed for. We came home a little deflated after our lofty expectations of Gros Morne, but very happy that we’d stopped the day before at Port au Port Peninsula because it had actually provided us with much more visual stimuli. Lesson: Book the boat tour of The Western Brook Pond in advance.
We left Funland in the morning, headed for Springbrook, about halfway to one of our destinations, Campbellton, where we’re hoping to hook up with Louise, one of Janice’s co-workers from the Hot House Bistro. Louise’s husband, Dave, also happens to be the brother of an old friend of ours from Barriere, where we’d lived for twenty years – go figure.
We got a beautiful campsite at the municipal campground at Springbrook, overlooking the falls atIndian River. After setting up, we took a tour of the town, and then took the winding secondary road north, headed for a little place called Beachside on Green Bay. About halfway there though, because the road was so rough and winding, we turned back.
Photo: Tim at Indian River Falls.
We stopped at Davey’s Pond and found what looked like a free campsite. We asked a local if the camping was free and he confirmed that, indeed, it was free, but suggested that we should turn around and make the journey to Beachside because it was well worth it — we did and it was. A couple of very friendly old guyswho were there to watch the killer whale feed on the catlin (little fish that somewhat resemble sardines), directed us to an incredible little ‘secret’ cove at the end of a steep, narrow road. We would never have found it on our own. Not only did we get to see one of the most beautiful places either of us had ever encountered, we got to see the whales and the hundreds of gulls and sea hawks that were there for the exceptional feeding. We couldn’t believe our luck.
The old guys followed us up to the cove and it became pretty obvious that the older of the two, the one with no shirt under his overalls, was taking a shine to Janice. She played him along a little before she and I ventured down the steep steps to the beach. We were absolutely blown away by the discovery of such a wonderful, awe-inspiring little corner of the universe. Anybody interested in finding this ‘secret’ cove will need to go up Hill Road, past the big grass field, where you’ll arrive at the lookout over Green Bay.
Photo: A killer whale surfaces while feeding at Beachside.
Photo: Janice heads down the stairs to ‘secret’ cove for closer inspection. The stairs were built by the locals.
Photo: The beach at ‘secret’ cove, Beachside.
Photo: Some of the thousands of gulls feeding on the caitlin at ‘secret cove’.
Since the death of the cod fishing industry, all of these remote little fishing outposts have been abandoned by the government. All of their infrastructure, including roads, wharves and schools are in disrepair. Most people are now forced to go out of province to work in mining or forestry, the majority of them in the oil patches of Alberta.
On the way back to camp we made note of the free campsite at Davey’s Pond, in case we wanted to utilize it on our return trip from St. Johns.
In the evening we took a stroll around the campground trails that followed the river to the falls. In the lower campground we encountered a family fromLabrador. It was interesting and eye-opening to talk to these outlanders. Later we Skyped with our moms.
In the morning, before hitting the road for Campbellton, we took a quick trip to Rattling Brook to check out the 800 foot waterfall. We got a good morning workout climbing the 205 stairs to the top for the best view of the falls.
Photo: Some of the 205 stairs at Rattling Brook Falls.
Photo: The 800 foot Rattling Brook Falls.
Upon arriving in Lewisporte we discovered that our friends, Louise and Dave, were detained at the island where Louise’s mom lives, just off the coast.
Newfoundland residents are permitted to ‘squat’ on the many small islands surrounding the province. If they have the will, the time and the money, they can build on the islands where they pay no taxes but neither do they ever receive titles to the properties. In Louise’s mom’s case, she had been living on one of these islands for thirty years, but recently someone decided to build right in front of her, obstructing much of her view.
Finding ourselves with a couple of hours on our hands, we decided to try and find the home that Louise and Dave still owned in Campbellton. We stopped along the way at a waterfront fish market so that Janice could pick up some fresh lobster. The fishmonger inquired of our travels, “Where ya’ to By?” (Where are you from?) in Newfie-speak. We told her we were from BC and I teased her that her oceanfront parking lot would be an ideal place for us to set up. Without hesitation she said, “Aye By, (Boy) you’re welcome to park yer rig dere for as long as ya’ like By – fer free By.” She was typical of the kind of genuinely warm and friendly spirit that seems to be inherent in most Newfies we met.
Photo: Near Campbellton.
Photo: Near Campbellton.
Back at camp we took a walk around the three kilometer long boardwalk that surrounds the pond.
Later we got a call from Dave and Louise. While staying at Louise’s mother’s island just off Lewisporte, they were also doing some care-giving for ailing elderly relatives in town so we knew beforehand that we were only going to be able to spend one evening with them.
They met us at our campsite and then we took a drive, looking to find a little smoke. Louise has Krohn’s Disease and ‘the herb’ is the only thing that offers her relief from the misery that the disease inflicts. Of course this turn of events worked out perfectly for me because I’d been without since the people from Orangeville, Ontario, had laid a little on me. We felt like teenagers, cruising the strip, looking for the guy who Dave knew to be the local connection. When we found him he was, of course, driving the flashiest new pick-up truck in town.
Besides showing us around their old haunts, Dave and Louise took us to some places we would never have come across on our own. Trouble was, I forgot my camera, so the only picture we have is of Louise and Janice immediately following the brief rain storm.
The next day, August 11, we awoke to a sky filled with high clouds. After taking another walk around the pond on the boardwalk, we were packed up by 11:00 and on the road to Twillingate. We encountered quite a number of spots along the way where we had to back the rig up due to some not-so-up-to-date directions related to us by Dave, who hadn’t been to the area in a number of years. It’s times like these that the GPS becomes invaluable.
For me, the name Twillingate conjures up storybook images and I love the way the word rolls off the tongue. The reality of the place didn’t disappoint when we arrived, despite the flat light of the grey mid-day. Twillingate is as charming as any little town could possibly be, nestled perfectly into the ideal setting for one of North America’s earliest fishing communities. Each and every dwelling is packed with character, appearing to hold the secrets of hundreds of years of fishing lore.
Following Dave and Louise’s advice we stopped at a local restaurant for Fisherman’s Brewis, (sounds like brews). Invented by a fisherman as a means to ward off colds, Hard Bread is soaked in water overnight and then removed after the water is brought almost to a boil. Codfish is then cooked in the water left behind from the bread before the bread is re-introduced, mixed with the fish and served hot. Scruncheons, (salted pork fat) is cut small, rendered down and poured over the bread/fish mixture. Neither the description nor the appearance of Brewis appealed to me but it was really delicious, and very filling.
Photo: Fisherman’s Brewis.
Photo: Across the bay at Twillingate.
Photo: Fish shacks near Twillingate.
As directed by Dave and Louise, we headed for Musgrove Harbour on scenic Highway 330. There were several places along the way where we could have over-nighted for free but some foul weather had cooked up and the units that were parked in some of these free oceanfront places looked as though they were taking a pretty good battering.
We asked at a gas station whether or not there were good camp sites in the area but, due to the attendant’s Newfie-Speak, I could barely understand his directions to what I eventually figured out was Banting Memorial Campsite, about ten kilometers down the road.
If the weather had cooperated it would have been an outstanding place to hang out, with the Atlantic Ocean just over the dunes from our campsite and Banting Pond (lake) behind us. As it was though, we caught the tail end of tropical storm Colin or Clyde or whatever it was which turned conditions decidedly miserable and cold.
It being Friday, normally a good day to find locals having an end-of-week drink, we decided to drive back into town, both for a tour around, and to see if we could engage some locals. As we drove along the beach at Musgrove Harbour, shrouded under foggy, dreary weather, it was hard to imagine why Dave had recommended this as his favourite place in Newfoundland. We were forced to watch a movie while our laundry went ‘round.
The only bar we could find was a non-descript Quonset hut affair with three cars in the parking lot. Inside the cavernous space an elderly female bartender served three guys on stools at the bar. We sidled up alongside. They were all very congenial but, aside from the bartender, the three guys didn’t really reflect the local flavour we were hoping to encounter; all were well travelled and, to a man, worked in the oil fields in Alberta. Westerners weren’t all that unique to them but, still, we really had to focus in order interpret their accents.
Back at the trailer, we had some of Janice’s delectable seafood chowder, and then hunkered down to watch a movie, pausing it once in a while so we could brave the howling weather and tend to the laundry going ‘round in the clubhouse.
Banting is so named because it’s where Dr. Frederick Banting (the discoverer of insulin) was killed when the plane he was in went down there. A replica of the plane, located next to the actual wreckage, is featured in the provincially funded campground and was visible from our campsite.
We were up early the next day, on the road towards St. John’s, North America’s oldest city. Following the coastline we were keening for a restaurant that served Toutons, a breakfast item unique to Newfoundland. It was still slightly foggy as we pulled into the fishing village of Wesleyville where we entered an authentically decorated, seafaring themed restaurant. Alas, they didn’t serve Toutons but we did have fried bologna and eggs. Janice liked it better than I did.
Later in the day, after navigating the bumpy, narrow, winding coastal roads, our GPS (Susan) recommended a short cut. She ended up taking us on quite a few miles of gravel road. By the time we were ten or so kilometers in we figured it had to turn to pavement sometime soon. Fifteen kilometers after that we flagged down a van driven by a woman, with a bunch of kids in the back. Typical of the selfless Newfoundlander, she went a good deal out of her way, leading us back to the highway.
Later we stopped at Terra Nova National Park where we went for a long walk. We detoured from Highway 1, to Musgravetown, where we thought we’d discovered a good campground the night before while doing some research. When we got there though, we discovered it provided nothing but outhouses for the $15 fee. We decided to keep going, taking some back roads to Clarenville, where we stopped for the night at the local Walmart.
The next day’s drive, as we headed for St. John’s on Highway 1, was a welcome relief from the bumpy, narrow and winding coastal roads we’d been fighting for the past few days. We wanted to be inSt. John’sin time for the weekend so we might take in some local music and perhaps get “George-faced on Shit Street.” George Street is renowned, incidentally, for its wall-to-wall bars, filled with live music.
We set up camp at Pippy Park, which had come recommended to us on a couple of occasions because it’s only a few blocks from downtown. After getting settled we took a drive around downtown, Signal Hill, and later, Quidi Vidi. The historic settlement of Quidi Vidi consists of a tiny, narrow channel lined with colourful fish shacks on stilts. Also on stilts, the sight of the Quidi Vidi Brewery enticed us to stop for a beer on the deck.
Photo: Quidi Vidi.
Photo: Quidi Vidi.
Downtown St. John’s is old and very charming. Steep streets lined with very old, brightly painted wooden buildings, all joined at the hip, cause the view to be as though looking through a telescope to the well-sheltered harbour below.
Photo: The entrance to St. John’s Harbour, from Signal Hill, with a Coast Guard Cutter heading out to sea.
Photo: Saint John’s Harbour.
Photo: St. John’s Harbour.
Photo: Downtown Saint John’s.
Photo: Some of the many brightly coloured houses in downtown St. John’s – there aren’t just a few painted in this manner - almost the entire downtown is very aged with brightly painted houses like these.
Following dinner back at the trailer, we took a taxi to George Street, a bustling hub of activity on a Friday night. The first bar we were in had great local entertainment with a lot of hand clapping and foot stomping accompanying the performers. Between sets, as one would hope for in Newfoundland, different groups of locals would just break into raucous song.
We walked down George Street until we found another packed Newfie bar, O’Reilly’s, where a very talented Newfie band had us dancing, stomping and drinking along with everybody else. We got home about 2:00 am and, seeing as it would be four-and-a-half hours earlier in BC, decided to Skype our friends, the Gilmours. It wasn’t such a good idea as we were much too drunk. All they got from me was a “Hi” before I disappeared and passed out.
To our surprise, our MLA in Kamloops, Kevin Krueger, and his wife walked through the door of that first bar we were in. I handed him my business card on the way out and, being the politician he is, I already had an email from him the next morning saying it was so nice to see me. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know who I am.
Feeling a little under the weather from our night out in George Street, we took it easy on the sightseeing the next day, save for Cape Spear, the easternmost point of land in North America. It’s a spectacular setting with steep cliffs, a tundra-like landscape which is common all over Newfoundland, and flanked by the crystal clear Atlantic Ocean.
Photo: Tim and Janice at Cape Spear.
Photo: The clear water of the Atlantic at Cape Spear.
Photo: Cape Spear lighthouse, the eaternmost point in North America.
We took a drive around the area, discovering quaint little places like Maddox, before returning home where Janice cleaned the truck and trailer while I did my blogging. What a woman! Later we hooked the computer up to the TV and downloaded a documentary called Carts of Darkness and then watched Austin City Limits by the same means.
In the morning we drove back to downtown St. John’s, still determined to try Toutons. We stopped at one of St. John’soldest continuously running restaurants, Velma’s, right on the main drag, and sure enough, we were able to order Toutons with our eggs. The locals eat them for breakfast with molasses poured on top. Basically they’re fried bread dough and taste like Bannock. As we ate breakfast, the TV show, The Republic of Doyle, was being filmed across the street, so we had free entertainment too.
We knew beforehand, when we left Kamloops, that it was 7,200 kilometers to St. John’s, Newfoundland. When we got there however our speedometer reading showed we had already amassed 15,000 kms. This might lead you to think there are no budget constraints involved with this adventure. The truth is we’re tracking everything we spend and lately we’ve been slightly overindulging, what with having to sample the local delicacies, and music, and so on…
By 1:00pm we had hit the road, destination Gander. We stopped at the tourist info booth at Gander and asked for a good place to swim, and maybe camp. The young guy directed us to the marina. Following his instructions to go down a narrow dirt road, we eventually found the ‘marina’, a smallish dock with two boats moored there.
Photo: The ‘marina’ at Gander and the young guys that starting drinking and acting up.
Photo: Towels dry off after our swim at the Gander ‘marina’.
A swim and dinner there were very enjoyable but, while we had considered staying the night (it was free after all), a bunch of young males who were drinking heavily, started breaking beer bottles and making a lot of noise, so we departed. What the young man at the tourist info booth hadn’t mentioned was the steep grade of the gravel hill that exits the marina. It was a good thing we had the F-350 and low range four wheel drive because, otherwise, we would have faced an expensive tow bill. As it was, even in low range, it was everything the truck could do to pull the trailer up that hill as it spun wheels and kicked gravel, all four wheels chattering.
We found the Walmart in Gander where a couple of groups of Canadian RVers were sitting around on lawn furniture, having a few drinks and singing goofy songs like I Wish I Were a Walmart Greeter. We joined them briefly before retreating to the trailer to do our budgeting. There we discovered for sure what we already pretty well knew, that we were over budget by quite a bit.
Our sleep in the Walmart parking lot was punctuated with a number of heavy military aircraft rumbling overhead doing whatever they do in the night. The morning was sunny as we took a bike ride to, and around, Cobbs Pond, a Rotary park where a five-kilometer boardwalk surrounds the water.
When we left in the morning we knew we had just two nights’ camping left before we had to catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia. It would be about an eight-hour drive so we decided to break it up into two, four-hour legs.
We already knew that Davey’s Pond near Springdale was a good spot, where the camping was free, so we stopped there again the next day. The free camping is on a long spit that almost separates Davey’s Pond into two separate bodies, making it a very pretty place to kick back. We set up camp, swam and were enjoying the day when a grandmother, her daughter and grand-daughter stopped for a swim. Before long we were exchanging pleasantries and, when they found out what we were doing, said that, “As nice as this place is and, even though you’re all set up, we really think if you went back ten kilometers, the way you came, there’s a place called Goodyear’s Cove, right next to Springbrook, where you can also camp for free. We’re sure you’ll like it even better because it’s on the ocean, with a pond behind.”
When locals impart knowledge, we decided, it would be wise to pull up and follow their advice. On the way we saw a couple of moose beside the highway. That was a good omen, suggesting that we’d made the right decision, and we did.
Almost as soon as we set up we were rewarded when an obviously local couple in a somewhat battered, older model Toyota pulled up, asking if we were on holidays in Newfoundland. I replied in the affirmative and the fifty-ish, shirtless guy said, “Here, I have something for you, a piece of The Rock.” He held up two fingernail-sized pieces of black rock, individually wrapped in soldering wire, and attached to leather thong necklaces. “Pendants, with a piece of the rock,” he said. Slightly guarded, I replied, “How much?” He said, “Nothing, they’re a gift, from Newfoundland.” Softening, I asked if we could buy them a drink. He said, “No thanks, we don’t drink.” And with that, they pulled away. Nice touch!
Later we had seafood chowder and baked potatoes, (they can’t be taken out of Newfoundland) at a roaring campfire as we watched the locals from Springbrook (we presumed) as they cruised leisurely into the cove, parking close to neighbouring vehicles, windows down, mostly eating ice cream cones and chatting amiably. The scene seemed as though it was from some by-gone era.
Photo: Our free spot at Goodyear’s Cove seen from the lookout at top of the hiking trail.
The next morning, as Janice sat having her coffee on the beach, embracing the peaceful, violet-hued scene in front of her, she was thinking, “Boy, the only thing that could top this is if a whale breached right now.” And one did!
Photo: A whale breaches at Goodyear’s Cove.
We went for a hike up to the lookout before departing that most wonderful of free campsites. On the road early, we drove to Corner Brook where we had lunch at the Tourist Info Booth because they couldn’t recommend any beach close by.
An hour down the road we stopped at Barachois Pond Provincial Park where we swam and hung out for the afternoon. Later, we continued heading south, setting up camp at a free spot we’d heard about, just north of Port Aux Basques: Wreck House, basically an abandoned commercial enterprise with a big flat parking lot. We had been informed of the spot because it’s just ten minutes from the ferry but we were also warned that winds there can be of biblical proportions as they explode at up to 120 miles per hour from between the granite cliffs to the east. There were thunderstorms in the forecast for the area and the spot where we camped was the exact spot where a train was blown off the tracks many years ago. Yes, a train, thus the name Wreck House.
There was a large motor home from California already at the spot so we parked to the leeward side of them. The Californians didn’t seem to mind. Actually, I think we were of some comfort to them because they were quite an elderly couple, accompanied by their granddaughter.
While I was whiling away time taking some pictures as Janice made dinner, the owner of the property showed up on an ATV. He was on his way to help his brother clean up some brush around their granddad’s hunting cabin, which he pointed out to me through the binoculars. Newfies are so engaging, seemingly living in a whole different time and space than the rest of us Canadians, speaking a language that’s almost, but not quite, foreign. Somehow, it’s like being transported back in time fifty years or more.
A couple of semis rolled in after the last ferry landed but the night passed without incident apart from a few bolts of lightning and some howling winds.
We left The Rock the next day, very reluctantly. Departure dates must be pre-booked on the ferry to and from Newfoundland during the summer; otherwise one can wait three or four days for a spot to become available. We had only booked eleven days on The Rock – three weeks would have been much better.
For all those who don’t make it to Newfoundland because they’re either looking to save the price of the ferry or because they don’t want to undertake the somewhat lengthy ferry ride, it’s a big mistake. Janice thinks Newfoundland should change their license plates to read: ‘Newfoundland, Worth the Price of Admission.’ Good idea.
Until next time Newfoundland…
Photo: The M.V. Caribou, which we took to and from Newfoundland. On the sailing back we had a tail wind and made it in five hours flat.