In the summer of 2004, my wife Sheila and I put 3,038 kms (1,888 miles) on our RV and another 3,676 kms (2,284 miles) on the tow car, travelling in Newfoundland. I offer comments, tips, and observations on locations and activities that may be of interest to future visitors to that marvelous province.
Initially, we weren?t sure if paying to tow the car over on the ferry was going to be worthwhile, but now our advice is: Don?t leave the Mainland without it! Having the car with us in Nfld. saved us a lot of money in gas and it also made it easier to get into some places where a 31-ft. Class C would have had problems maneuvering and turning around. We reserved the ferry in advance for June 29, but if we had just shown up there would have been space available. You can arrive at the terminal after the last ferry of the day has sailed and camp in the lineup for the morning ferry. Pick a day when the last ferry is around midnight or earlier. Another choice for camping overnight is the Wal-Mart in Sydney off Kings Road by Exit 6 off Hwy 125, a 20-minute drive from the terminal. We started loading aboard the MV Cariboo at 8 a.m. and were underway by 9 (9:30 in Newfoundland). After a clear, smooth crossing, we disembarked at 3:10 p.m. Newfoundland time. The cost for the two of us plus 49 feet (15 m) of RV with toad was $265.50. We spent our first night in the Cornerbrook Wal-Mart. The next day, we drove our car down the scenic Route 450 through Frenchman?s Cove, Lark Harbour, Bottle Cove, and Little Port.
At Lark Harbour, we had lunch at Marlain?s on the patio overlooking the glass-smooth harbour. Back in Cornerbrook, we hooked up and drove via Hwy 1, then Hwy 430 to Gros Morne RV Park in the town of Rocky Harbour. We spent the evening of Canada Day around a campfire on the beach at Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, where Parks Canada interpreters performed songs and skits about the French influence on fishing and habitation of the west coast in the 1700 and 1800s. We learned that the stunted fir and spruce forests around us that only grow to two or three feet (.6 to .9 m) were called Tuckamore. A common local phrase is: ?The glaciers didn?t do Newfoundland any favours?, meaning the glaciers took most of the topsoil and earth away, leaving little to grow crops or trees. Our next stop was the Lobster Festival at Cow Head, where we parked in the outdoor hockey arena parking lot only a short walk from all the activities that would take place over the next three days. We discovered that Newfoundlanders know how to party! The outdoor dances that started around 9 p.m. went until 2 a.m. one night and after 3 a.m. the next. Whole families turned out, not just the teens! This was just one of the interesting experiences we enjoyed during out stay at Cow Head. We had our first traditional Newfie breakfast ? fried bologna, baked beans, toast, coffee, juice and seconds if you wanted. The cost was just a donation to the local Canadian Rangers team. We watched the Ironman Contest where one event was a timed race involving a sled and loading and unloading logs, a very practical skill, given the piles of wood for winter heating that you see everywhere. One day we drove down to take the boat trip on Western Brook Pond, a fresh water landlocked fjord with towering 2,000-ft. (610-m) cliffs. One evening, at ?Neddy Norris Night? at the Shallow Bay Motel in Cow Head, we were entertained with traditional Newfoundland songs, skits, and stories. We also went on a free hike around the Cow Head headland, led by the Mayor?s wife who recounted local history and showed us an ancient archeological site.
To Labrador and back
On our way up Hwy 430 towards the Labrador ferry at St. Barbe, we stopped to tour the Nurse Myra Bennett home in Daniel?s Harbour. For many years after her arrival in 1921, Nurse Bennett was the only medical aid for 125 miles/200 kms of rugged coastline. She received many awards, including the Order of Canada.At the turnoff to Hwy 430-28 to Port Aux Choix, we spotted an abandoned gas station, which looked like a good overnight spot. We unhooked and drove down the little peninsula to Port Aux Choix where we poked around the Heritage Centre, bought Partridge Berry jam, had a great seafood lunch at the Anchour Caf?, and visited the very interesting Whales & Things Museum. (Among the things we learned here: the largest squid found in a whale?s stomach was 27 feet/9 m and 440 pounds/200 kilos). We overnighted at St. Barbe RV parking lot, ($12 a night, $15 if an electrical site is available). We left the RV there and took the car on the ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle to Labrador, ($77.50 roundtrip, for the car and us.) We stayed at Norm and Gladys Letto?s Beachside Hospitality Home in L?Anse au Claire for $45. In the evening, Norm played a few tunes on his button accordion for us.
The next day, we drove north up the 89 km/55 miles of paved road, stopping on route at L?Anse Amour, the site of a 7,000-year-old grave of a Maritime Archaic boy. Down on the point, we saw the tallest lighthouse in Labrador, 128 steps to the top. At the end of the paved road is Red Bay National Historic Site with, among other exhibits, a preserved 400-year-old Chalupa (oak whaling boat). We also stopped for a snowball fight beside the road. Although the weather was very warm, there were still patches of snow around. Back in Newfoundland we drove up Hwy 430 stopping at Flower?s Cove to walk over Marjorie Bridge to Lawless Point and the 600-million to 3.5-billion-year-old fossil-like Thrombolites on the beach. We continued on up the Hwy to Triple Falls RV Park. Located roughly at the junction of Hwy 430 and 436, which we made our HQ for the next four days. (All services: $23 total per night.)
Up Hwy 436 at L?Anse aux Meadows, we visited the site of the Viking settlement from 1000 AD, and Norstead, a reconstructed village depicting Viking life of 1,000-years ago. En route, we stopped at the Dark Tickle Jam Co. for tea, scones, and jam and sampled bake-apple and partridge berry juice. Up Hwy 437 at Cape Onion, there was a grounded iceberg near shore. We explored the St Anthony area, looking for ?bergs at Great Brehat, St. Anthony?s Bight, and Fishermans Point, which overlooks ?Iceberg Alley?. While taking in dinner theatre at the Norseman Restaurant for ?Tales of L?Anse aux Meadows?, I had my first taste of Fisherman?s Brewis. It then became my challenge to find the best Brewis meal in Newfoundland.
We toured Dr. Sir Wilfred Grenfell?s house and the Grenfell Association museum where we learned about the Grenfell Association?s work. Dr. Grenfell arrived in Newfoundland in 1892 and devoted himself to improving the lives of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. We attended a Newfie Mug-up at Grenfell Centre, then it was off to Lady Ann?s Tea Room for baked apple and partridge berry muffins and scones and a delicious drink made from Purity brand syrup, water and iceberg chunks, all to the accompaniment of Newfoundland songs and stories. People here go out regularly to get ice from small bergy bits, so you often have 10,000-year-old ice in your drink and sometimes it fizzes from air that was trapped in the ice at time of freezing. Heading south on Hwy 430, we stopped at the site of the 1919 wreck of the SS Effie where there are still bits and pieces of the heavy engine and boiler on the beach. Despite a horrendous storm when she ran ashore, there was no loss of life. The wreck, which has been immortalized in song, is located south down the highway from The Arches, a unique formation of wave-and-wind-carved arches in rock that stand alone on the beach. In Rocky Harbour, we tried for email at the library but it was closed for Orangeman?s holiday on July 12.
Onward to Hwy 431 and The Waters Edge camp in Shoal Brooke. We camped right on Bonne Bay, with all services for $20 a night. While there, we toured the Gros Morne Discovery Centre exhibits which includes a continental drift model and video that shows how Newfoundland is made up of three entities, as evidenced by the geology of the three areas: Part of Newfoundland is the old North American continent ? the western Long Range mountains are part of the Appalachian chain, but Central Newfoundland is from the ancient Lapitacus Ocean, and the Avalon Peninsula area is part of the Euro/African continent. We explored Woody Point, and went to the Trout River day use area for a Parks Canada presentation entitled In Cod We Trusted. Parks Canada has some very funny, very talented people working for them. We also booked a hike to the Tablelands. This is a geological anomaly from 460-million years ago, an area of denser mantle rock that was thrust up by tectonic plate movement. Because of its mineral content, it is toxic rock which supports no life. In fact, the rock will kill off seeds that sprout. Our guide (Fred) gave us much information, spiced with much humour. Then it was time to head eastward on Hwy 1 to Grand Falls-Windsor, where we parked at Wal-Mart for two days. After seeing a sign at a church parking lot advertising ?Moose Burgers $2?, we enjoyed a couple. We asked the church charity group how they got the moose, seeing as you need permits to hunt them and most people need the meat they hunt for their family. The answer is found in a local riddle: ?Question: What do you call Moose in Newfoundland. Answer: Speed bumps!? Dead moose periodically become available because of vehicle hits, and some other sources. The Department of Fish and Game attends the moose incident and has a list of charities to which they donate the meat. The catch is that the Charity may get a call at any hour of the day or night and must be there in about 30 minutes to get the meat and process it before it spoils. ?Waste Not, Want Not?, really works!
The Exploits River is one of Newfoundland?s premier salmon rivers, so while we were in Grand Falls-Windsor we visited the Falls Salmoid Centre. They have fish ladders and viewing windows and we discovered that Pacific and Atlantic salmon are quite different. Atlantic salmon do not die after spawning and they have a two-year sea-cycle. There is only one variety, unlike the Pacific salmon that has Coho, Chum, Sockeye, etc.
After touring the Abitibi Paper Mill, we went to the Loggers? Outdoor Museum display where we learned axe throwing at the replica 1920?s logging camp. It was interesting to compare it to BC logging camps and practices. The trees in Newfoundland max out at about 10 inch/25 cm diameters (remember the glacier soil removal program) and the climate doesn?t help tree growth either. So all the logging is for pulp and paper production. Our next stop was just down the road at Bishops Falls Municipal Park Campground. From here we drove up Hwy 350 to Botwood and their seaplane base, which was the North American terminus for the gigantic Pan-Am Clipper flying boats. The inaugural flight of the flying boats was in 1937 from Foynes, Ireland. The 50 passengers had private cabins for 25 hours at 145 miles/233 km an hour. The Clippers range was 3800 miles/6115 km. The local Heritage Centre is the original 1937 terminal building and it has lots of information and displays. Botwood was a secret WWII anti-submarine base, so they have an old PBY Catalina on display. After WWII, Gander took over as the transatlantic stop.
Then it was on to Glovers Harbour (originally called Thimble Tickle). It was here on November 2, 1878, that a giant squid was hauled ashore. Total length, 55-feet/17-m with a 20-foot/6-m body and 35-foot/10-m tentacles. There is a full-size cement and steel model of the squid. Further up Hwy 350 at Leading Tickles, we hiked out on Culls Island to a lookout area. It is very scenic with a maze of inlets, islands, coves, and white houses shining in the sun. Then we stopped at the local Heritage Centre for tea and molasses cakes and accounts of the story of the Queen of Swansea, wrecked in a winter storm in 1867 on a nearby island. The survivors found themselves in a barren deserted area, unable to contact anyone, and they all perished. Back down to Bishops Falls where we made a short stop at Eel Brook Nature Walk. There are or were eels in Eel Brook that migrate to the Sargasso Sea to mate but we didn?t see any. Off Hwy 1 to Hwy 340, and a few kilometers past Lewisporte, is the Roadside Market Seafood Store. It was now mid-afternoon, so we pulled into their ample parking lot and said we would like to get a couple lobsters and have them cooked and could we stay the night in their lot by the shore? No problem. So we parked; prepared for ourselves wine and appetizers, and in a while two lobsters were delivered to our door, one piping hot and one cold. We had asked for one lobster to be chilled so we could compare to see how we liked them best. In our opinion, cold is best.