Photo-Blog: First Visit to Newfoundland

I bought a new bike to replace my older, heavier one. That was in March: when the weather and roads were still not compatible for a test run, but I needed a carrot to shore up motivation and spirit that my hip and back would be better. I would cycle this summer and specifically in mind was my first-ever visit to Newfoundland, a plan ‘in the works’ for many months, with friends I’ve adventured with before.

That pretty blue bike sitting in the shed and a hope-filled turnaround in May (plus comfortably enduring a 5000km trip sitting in the car in June!) all nudged me to go-ahead. Hurrah, I did go to Newfoundland!

July 16, 2022. Gros Morne National Park – (photo credits: Shaun Dale)

Every adventure I’ve shared with this group of friends has been a production: this time rivalled a three-ring circus; what with bikes, camping gear, duffle bags and coolers for thirteen people. All safely secured onto three trucks. Thank you Art and Shelley, the experienced couple who organized another great event – and capable, willing helpers who made the puzzle pieces fit every time we moved locations.

Our group, hailing from eastern Canada and Ontario, rendezvoused at North Sydney, Nova Scotia: where we – and a parking lot full of transport trucks, RV’s, cars and trucks – embarked on the MV Blue Puttees. Destination: Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.

Watching from the deck, waiting for our turn to depart for NFLD.
Once en route, time to mark out the itinerary: maps compliments of NFLD-Labrador Tourism.
Channel-Port Aux Basque – this first view of Newfoundland fit my quintessential expectation.

After our post-noon departure, six-hour voyage, disembarking, and short drive to J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park it was early evening by the the time we set up camp. The fact this was all in warm weather with clear skies was a blessing especially appreciated by us first-timers to Newfoundland, forewarned about the joys of its changeable and challenging weather.

The next day was hot and dry – perfect. We dismantled our camp; heading north to Deer Lake where we stopped for groceries, ice, drinks, lunch-to-go; before turning northwest onto Highway #430. Destination: Rocky Harbour.

Stops can take longer than anticipated- rest when you can.

Some of the gang opted for the long-haul cycle from Deer Lake to our campground destination near Bonne Bay – several others (including yours truly) chose to drive part way and cycle a shorter distance, beginning at the boundary of Gros Morne National Park. There, clicking into our pedals, a small sign warned us of significant elevation changes in the next six kilometres. Not totally correct: the next 35-plus kilometres were a series of significant ups and downs! Thankfully we had the wind at our backs: the descents were a mix of exhilaration and hanging on for dear life while saving some momentum for the next climb.

A ‘must-stop’ break. (photo credits-Shaun Dale)
Awesome views: safe spot at Birchy Head for us to pull over and enjoy. (photo credits- Shelley M)

Happy to finish (survive) this first ride on ‘the rock ‘ our group set up camp at Gros Morne Berry Hill campground . With a cook house/shelter (and plug-ins to charge our phones), showers and bathrooms, a fire pit surrounded with circular-seating, we were set to pitch our ‘tent city’, make and eat supper – and for some: a short walk around Gull Pond. A perfect spot to end a tiring day.

The view across Gull Pond: Gros Morne Mountain, the mound under the cloud.
Berry Hill campground was home for 4 nights.

More sunshine the next morning! Perfect for plans to tour Bonne Bay: stopped on the way at the Lobster Cove Lighthouse to climb and clamber around this Newfoundland shoreline. Awesome.

Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse (Rocky Harbour)

A short drive through Rocky Harbour (too early for Sweet Rock Ice Cream but tagged it for later), and another 10KM to Norris Point, where our group rendezvoused for the short water-taxi-ride across Bonne Bay to Woody Point (population, 281).

Exploring Canada’s beauty and culture is amazing; meeting other travellers is equally fascinating, i.e. Kaisa and Christoffer in the line-up at the ferry. I had seen them pumping up the mountains the day before and judging from their gear it was clear they were long-haulers. They began this adventure (one of many) from their home in Finland and were gunning eventually for New York city, an ambitious goal for any cyclists. Their website shows a fascinating story of teamwork, courage and grit. The end of August Kaisa posted this Instagram photo from the Big Apple: they made it! More fuel for my fire: never stop dreaming and aiming for big adventures.

The ferry ride to Woody Point was barely 15 minutes: yet enough time for live entertainment! Yes – Newfoundlanders’ music and hospitality is a real thing!

Woody Point boasts shops with great coffee, ice cream, chocolate, pottery, yarn and souvenirs. A couple kilometres further is the Gros Morne Discovery Centre: the uphill walk along the road getting there is worth the effort: so much to see and learn about the Park’s surroundings and history.

The Centre is also a trailhead for hiking: I chose the Lookout Trail, a doable distance to finish before catching the last ferry of the day back to Norris Point and campground. A friend joined me part-way; then on to the windy summit where a fantastic view rewarded my uphill efforts.

At the summit a couple from Vermont, USA, kindly took my photo. In a brief chat we discovered my husband and I share with them some unfinished hiking business: to complete the northern half of The Vermont Long Trail. Now wouldn’t it be crazy-fun to meet sometime on that trail?!!

On my descent I met Frances from Quebec. I had observed her earlier at the trailhead; about my age and stature, an ambitious, confident, no-nonsense hiker – and now we hustled and talked our way down the trail to the parking lot where I also met her waiting husband. Fantastic fun. (The next evening the two of them stopped by our campsite fire-circle to say hello; initially not recognizing this kindred soul without her cap, walking shorts and poles! )

A view of the Tablelands on my descent.

The next morning brought another beautiful day. Excited for the highlight of my trip – hiking Gros Morne – I joined the early-bird shuttle to the parking lot for the approach trail; a scenic 5 kilometre warm-up for the Summit Trail.

Hiking companions Dan and Joanne: headed to the Gully (Summit Trail) on the other side.
Scrabbling my way up the Gully: that small dark-ish spot beyond the top, right corner of huge boulder.
Gros Morne summit: flat, rocky, with 360º views.
Perfect conditions: no wind or bugs, treated to glimpse of a moose in valley below.

Joanne, Dan and I descended Gros Morne on the ‘easier’ section of the Summit Trail – challenging but not scrabbling over rocks and around boulders. On the approach trail back to the parking lot I was excited to see Jolie and her family from Quebec. We had met briefly the day before at the Woody Point ferry-taxi dock, where we did what hikers do – exchange hiking plans! After a brief ‘hello and have fun’ our threesome and a couple other friends were anxious to finish up our Gros Morne hike (18Km) and celebrate with a Sweet Rock ice cream treat. And get back to camp for a shower, supper and sleep.

An easy 3KM hike took us from the parking lot to the dock.

The next day’s itinerary held another Newfoundland attraction: a ten-mile boat ride on the Western Brook Pond. (Apparently even the largest lakes are often called ponds in Newfoundland!)

Clouds threatened rain, which spit on us for about five minutes; but otherwise a fine day.

Rocky cliffs with many cascading waterfalls.
Pissing Mare Falls: 1125 ft – highest in NFLD and the 31st highest in Canada.
One of several ‘faces’ on the cliffs of this glacier-carved land-locked fjord.

Multi-gifted tour guides.

This boat ride to the end of the fjord at Sally’s Cove is also a drop-off for back country hikers to hike the Long Traverse: a 35km hike from the Cove to Gros Morne.

This arduous, spectacular hike boasts a not particularly well-marked trail, with tortuous black flies and the possibility of snow. The first two conditions were confirmed first-hand the day before, descending the summit of Gros Morne, where we’d had a ‘shouting conversation across the valley’ with a hiker finishing the Long Traverse trail. The flies were ‘driving him mad’; after which we were privy to the yelling conversation between him and his female partner who’d lost the trail, equally frustrated by the bugs, and “could he come find her or at least wait up for her!” He evidently kept charging ahead to get beyond the miserable insects; we saw him “across the valley” shortly after: they were still communicating so nobody was in danger.

I love challenges but hiking the Long Traverse is no longer on my bucket list.

Me and Catherine, my adventure (and tenting) companion: prepped for the weather.

Those dubious clouds thankfully held off until we were back at camp; when tarps started to whip in the wind and it began to rain. Nervous about keeping my down-filled sleeping bag dry, all my gear was quickly stuffed into kit bags and taken to the shelter. Uncertain about the tent (which later collapsed on itself), I decided to share with others a cabin at the campground. Wonderful idea.

The next day several of the group carried on up the coast to do more cycling and sight-seeing; me and three others drove back to Channel-Port aux Basques to catch our ferry reservation.

It was a meandering day, stopping at restaurants for lunch, then for tea and pie, “sit wherever you like, m’love...” , exploring as many nooks and crannies of coves and views before arriving for a midnight departure at the ferry terminal. Onboard, with an adjustable chair to stretch out in, my jacket and small cushion for warm comfort, I had a solid six-hour sleep!

6am sunrise, viewed from my bed-seat in the ferry.

I’m grateful for my wee taste of of Newfoundland. There’s much more to see and explore: I will return.

Canso Causeway: back home to mainland Nova Scotia.

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