Day Sixteen: Stephenville

The highlight today was the landscape. We drove in sunshine from Rocky Harbour to Stephenville, albeit via a rather circuitous route. Why drive directly to your destination when there are so many things to explore?

Once again, we saw brilliant colours on tree-covered hillsides followed by rugged mountainsides around the next corner.

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At times, you could see for miles and all you could see was range after range of mountains. I was reminded of that children’s song about the bear going over the mountain to see what he could see. And all that he could see was…another mountain!

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As we approached Stephenville, we turned off and headed out to explore the Port-au-Port Peninsula joined to the mainland by a causeway with a stony beach.

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The area has the most diverse ethnic and linguistic mix on the island including Mi’kmaq, French (descendants of French and Basque settlers from the 1700’s) and Acadians. We saw the Mi’kmaq flag for the first time today, and many of the signs were in 3 languages – French, Mi’kmaq and English.

The drive to Cape St. George and back around was spectacular. Here are some of the amazing views.

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On the way back to Stephenville, we suddenly descended from the mountains to a low coastal beach. The beach itself was made of thin stones that sank under your feet like sand.

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Newfoundland continues to surprise us with its diversity.

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Tomorrow we will be up before the sun to drive a couple of hours to Port-aux-Basques for the ferry to Nova Scotia. I’m not a morning person (as some of you well know!) so it’s a good thing I’m not the one driving 😊

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Day Fifteen: Gros Morne Park (Part Two)

We are now halfway through our trip. We have seen so much yet it feels like we have only skimmed the surface.

Speaking of which, today we had the rare opportunity to walk on the Earth’s mantle. The Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park look like a barren desert with steep slopes rising to flat-topped mountains.

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The golden brown rock – peridotite – is thought to have been forced up from the depths several hundred million years ago during a collision between tectonic plates.

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The rock has toxic amounts of heavy metals and lacks nutrients to sustain plant life so the area looks like a moonscape.

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Yet the land and mountains on the opposite side of the road are lush and green.

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The plants that do grow on the tablelands are alpine and found only in the lower part of the landscape. The pitcher plant (a carnivorous plant like the Venus flytrap) is vibrant red and prevalent.

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So is the creeping juniper. We saw some tiny ferns near a waterfall as well as some purple asters.

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The whole day was one of contrasts. I had no idea that this part of Newfoundland was so mountainous. Every time we came around a corner, a new breathtaking view arose before us. And what a mix! Snow-covered mountains, jagged peaks and flat table tops, lush valleys, deep lakes and fjords…

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We stopped as always in a few coastal villages along the way. We were particularly charmed by Norris Point nestled between Bonne Bay and the East Arm and surrounded by rolling hills and mountains in glorious fall colours.

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In a couple of valleys we saw the unmistakable crimson of maple trees – the first maples we’ve seen since Quebec. It actually made me feel a bit homesick for the range of fall colours we usually see this time of the year.

Tomorrow we continue south to Stephensville, and the next day, we’ll be catching the ferry to Nova Scotia. Only two more sleeps in Newfoundland. I will miss the extraordinary land and sea as well as the open and welcoming people who have made us feel so at home.

Oh, and the partridge berry pie!

Day Fourteen: Gros Morne (Part One)

Today, we travelled back in time. Way back. To a place where millions of years of Earth’s history are visible.

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Green Point is a long cliff, best viewed from the rocky beach. It has layer after layer of limestone and shale and shows clearly the geological development of ancient mountains. Over time, as the tectonic plates shifted, these layers were forced upward resulting in vertical layers of varied varied colours, textures, shapes and thickness.

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As we walked along, our eyes following the lines of rock up the cliff, we wondered how many millions of years of Earth’s history we were passing with each step.

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Once again, photos don’t do it justice.

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We could have spent a whole day there, just wandering and exploring. On our way back to the car, we stopped to chat with a fisherman. He told us that he’s the only fisherman left at Green Point now although there had been about 30 at one time. He also mentioned only another two or three in the neighbouring small coves, and they’re all over sixty. He wonders what will happen to the fishery when they’re gone since there are no young people interested in taking it on. It’s the story we keep hearing.

We hiked to Western Brook Pond next, a striking fjord in Gros Morne Park. It was formed by a glacier which, when it melted, left a fjord 16 km long (10 miles) with 650 metre (2000 foot) cliffs on each side. During the summer, you can take a boat tour of the fjord. It wasn’t an option today, but it was still spectacular to see.

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I think my favourite part of the day, however, was at the Lobster Cove Head lighthouse. We went there last night to see the sunset and returned this morning to explore the trails and the lighthouse keeper’s house.

What a treasure trove of history and culture! The house is set up as a home and has many stories, photos, hands-on materials. Not just about the lighthouse and its three keepers and their families, but also those who used to live nearby. Since the light of the lighthouse had to be kept lit at all times, the families in the area tended to congregate at the lighthousekeeper’s house for social gatherings. There were first person tales of music, storytelling, games and food shared.

We wandered down the path to where the lighthousekeeper’s family had their vegetable garden and then further down to the rocky beach. So much to see in the tidal pools.

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And in the distance, a few remaining fishing huts in Lobster Cove.

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Day Thirteen: Rocky Harbour

Just for a change, let’s go backwards through our day today.

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It ended in Rocky Harbour at the lighthouse, watching the sun set over the mountains.

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The drive there was spectacular, and couldn’t be captured in photos. The road followed the shoreline with the vast Gulf of St. Lawrence on one side and the towering range of Long Mountains on the other.

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We slipped in and out of tiny coastal villages and stopped at the breathtaking Arches Provincial Park.

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Before we left Port-au-Choix this morning, we went for another hike along the coast.

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We came upon a herd of caribou grazing. We counted ten: several young males off to the side and a large male with his “harem” at the other end of the meadow.

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We were able to follow the path down toward the ocean, passing quite close by the young males. Once we reached the trees, the large male began to charge one of the younger males. It was a bit unnerving to see how quickly he could cover the ground without any effort.

We now have two full days to explore the Gros Morne area. So many vistas and trails to choose from!

Day Twelve: Port-au-Choix

If a picture speaks a thousand words, this was our day.

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End of post.

Only kidding. It did rain, hard at times. It was foggy in spots, and the potholes were deep enough to swallow a truck whole (and we’re driving a Mini!) However, the sun did eventually shine, it warmed up to 18C, and my partner now has the skills to navigate any obstacle course imaginable😁

Two things that have been puzzling us were explained today. From the moment we got off the ferry, along the coast and inland, we have passed enormous piles of stacked wood.

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Often there are numbers written on the side, and there are wooden “wagons” on sleighs for dragging wood out in the winter. It turns out that people can apply for a license to log areas owned by the forestry service. They just leave the piles there at the side of the road until they need them and no one else touches them.

The other puzzle was garden plots along the side of highways, often nowhere near any community. They usually have a wooden fence around them.

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People apparently just claim an area of flat land and plant it with vegetables. The only requirement is that they not use any wire fencing so as not to injure moose or caribou.

Speaking of which, we saw a moose today. It graciously posed long enough for me to get this photo.

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And then, when we reached Port-au-Choix, we went for a hike and saw…caribou! Four of them.

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In addition, we saw whales out in the St. Lawrence, and a bald eagle near a roadside lake.

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Tonight the wind is howling outside our B and B. I’m grateful not to be in the fishing boat that we saw heading out at supper time.

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Tomorrow we’ll hike again and see if we can find any more moose or caribou near the Point Riche lighthouse. And then we’ll continue south into Gros Morne Park. Hoping for a few sunny days to explore the mountains!

Day Eleven: L’Anse-aux-Meadows

L’Anse-aux-Meadows was the destination of this trip from the start. It’s the location at the northern tip of Newfoundland where an archeological site showed beyond any doubt that the Norse established a settlement around the year 1000.

It was fascinating to travel back in time and see the remaining grass-covered mounds of the foundations of their homes and workshops. The reconstructed buildings further along were warm inside in spite of the blustery wind.

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The walls were constructed at least 6 feet deep in peat moss and the roof was layers of peat, birch bark, more peat, and then living grass.

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With recognizable navigation marks nearby, easy access to the ocean and its food sources, a fresh water stream and plenty of wood nearby, it is understandable why they chose this area.

The rest of our day was spent driving around, visiting coastal villages, hiking and taking photos that seem to tell stories all their own.

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The moratorium on the Northern cod fishery in 1992 was a turning point in the Island’s life, culture and history. The closure ended almost 500 years of fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is still a part of current conversation and its impact was evident everywhere we went.

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The smaller communities are losing their younger generations and, as a result, the future of many coastal villages is time limited.

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Even where we’re staying, the government offered a buy-out program if the few remaining residents would move away. They would still own their homes and could return when they wanted, but within a year, there would be no services like hydro. A 98% agreement was required among the residents and three didn’t want to move, so no one could go.

We read about such situations but it takes on new meaning when you meet people for whom this is their daily reality.

Tomorrow we start to head south toward Port-au-Choix.

Day Ten: Newfoundland!

We started our day in Labrador with a long hike along the coast outside L’Anse-au-Clair. The trail took us to the remains of a house built by settlers from Jersey in the Channel Islands between Britain and France. They arrived in the 1800’s and settled along this barren coastline for the seal and cod fishing.  Beautiful as the area is, I can’t imagine coming here 200 years ago and creating a life from scratch.

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Then we drove a few minutes along the highway into Quebec at Blanc Sablon. The ferry to Newfoundland leaves from there.

It was a 1.5 hour ride across the Strait of Belle Isle. No whale sightings today.

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We meandered up the coast from St. Barbe, stopping to check out a couple of hiking trails.

The first one led to a series of unusual bun-shaped “rocks” that are actually among the earliest life forms on Earth. They are called thrombolites and are rare. The only other place they are found is in a place in Western Australia.

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After that we wandered through an area of limestone barrens where 118 of the 300 known rare plants in Newfoundland exist. Many of the low trees and shrubs are several  centuries old.

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I saw a stark contrast in the landscape between Labrador and Newfoundland. In Labrador, the terrain was mountainous with tall black spruce and tamarack. In Newfoundland, the land is very flat along the northwest shore and into the interior. The few trees tend to be scrub brush and you can see for miles.

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Further east, the land becomes hilly and mountainous and the trees grow a bit taller but the variety is different.

On our way to L’Anse-aux-Meadows, we stopped at The Daily Catch, the only restaurant that’s open in the area at this time of the year. The haddock had been freshly caught just off the coast of L’Anse-aux-Meadows and the partridge berry pie was delicious.

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I have it on good authority that the bread pudding with Screech rum sauce was good too 😉

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This is the sunset that greeted us as we turned into L’Anse-aux-Meadows where we will stay for two nights.

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We’re eager to explore the Viking archeological site tomorrow.

Day Nine: L’Anse-au-Clair

This morning dawned frosty and a little cloudy.

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We decided to take a walk around Mary’s Harbour before continuing our journey. It is still a busy fishing port and very picturesque, nestled in the shores of a salmon river.

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The drive started out, once again, smoothly on pavement. I had understood that the entire route from Mary’s Harbour to L’Anse-au-Clair was now paved. I was wrong… gravel deteriorated to deep scattered potholes, with sporadic sections of blessed pavement.

Fortunately the view was lovely, and the terrain continually changing. We drove up steep hills and into deep valleys. The trees became shorter and more sparse.

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At one point we stopped to climb one of the hills. The view was spectacular – hills in every direction, and the island of Newfoundland right in front of us.

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The ground was an array of colour – mosses of every shape and size, low lying plants, rocks, and lichen.

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After today’s drive, I now understand why Labrador is called The Big Land. Its vastness is unimaginable and the variety of its terrain is unmatched.

It rained most of the afternoon so we didn’t stop much. But we did pause at L’Anse-Amour to see the lighthouse (still active and the tallest in the Maritimes) and a burial mound dating back 7500 years!

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We also learned that the Basque fishermen used to sail here every year for whaling in the 1500’s. It’s a land with a long history.

Tonight is our last night in Labrador and on the Trans-Labrador Highway. We handed in our satellite phone (thankfully we didn’t need it). We’ve certainly had some memorable experiences.

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And tomorrow we head to Blanc Sablon, Quebec to take the ferry across to St. Barbe, Newfoundland. I’m not fond of ferries so I’m hoping for smooth seas and an easy crossing!

Day Eight: Mary’s Harbour

We set off in the bright sunshine this morning, knowing we had a long drive ahead. The first sign we saw as we turned on to the highway was one like this, a familiar sight on the Trans-Labrador Highway.

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Only today’s sign said it would be nearly 400 km to the next gas station.  Something to take seriously!

The first hour of the 6.5 hour drive on Highway 510 South was smooth and paved. We enjoyed it while it lasted. Suddenly we were back to gravel. Over the next few hours, the road got more narrow and there were sections with deep potholes.

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We saw this sign and decided to play a game to keep our minds off the road conditions. We looked ahead and every time we saw a shadow on the road or in a lake, we asked each other, “Is that a moose?”

When we began to climb a hill, I glanced up. “Is that…a moose?” It was. A moose had ventured out into the middle of the road and stood there as if posing for a photo. I did manage to get one before it headed back into the woods. My first ever moose sighting!

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We pulled off the road to stretch at one point and saw a couple of gray jays. Next thing we knew they were landing on the car antenna and on our open hands.

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And in my hair!

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About 1.5 hours from our destination, we came upon road work. And more road work. But as far as we could tell, all they were doing was grading the road.

As we drove through the construction area, suddenly we saw a strip of black in the left lane ahead. They were paving the road!

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And then it got even better…our lane was paved too. After almost 5 hours of bouncing along gravel, listening to the stones hit the car, and dealing with bone-jarring potholes, I wanted to leap out of the car and kiss the still warm pavement. To my partner’s relief, I resisted the temptation.

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We stopped at a lookout point and met some people from Niagara Falls. A friend with them was from the local area and they all recommended that we take a side trip to St. Lewis.

We’re glad we did. St. Lewis is a small fishing community along the Eastern coast.

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We climbed to the top of a hill to find this sign.

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And from there, we could see Newfoundland! In the photo below, look for the furthest island.

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Tonight we are in Mary’s Harbour where the biggest surprise of the day happened at supper. We discovered that the three people at the next table had just arrived by sailboat from Greenland…after trying to sail through the Northwest Passage!

Now that’s a story!

Day Seven: Happy Valley-Goose Bay

It’s been a day of contrasts. We started in Churchill Falls (elevation about 1440 ft above sea level) and tonight we’re in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, elevation 39 ft. Bit of a change!

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We could see it in the landscape along the way. The dark greens and bright yellows of black spruce and tamarack gave way to vivid oranges, reds and yellows of birch, poplar and low deciduous bushes. Steep rocky hills softened into flat sandy valleys as we followed the twists and turns of the Churchill River.

Unfortunately it poured rain all day so my photos were rain-streaked and taken from the car en route.

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With the changing terrain came a difference in wildlife. From road signs warning of caribou, suddenly there was a very large one cautioning about moose.

Still no sightings but in a hike on the Birch Island trail before supper, we did find moose tracks on the beach.

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The hike along the boardwalk through protected wetlands was a highlight of the day. We saw robins, an unexpected sight, and were treated to beautiful colours across Lake Melville and the Mealy Mountains. Lake Melville opens up to the Atlantic Ocean and is, therefore, tidal. The tide was receding when we were there.

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The boardwalk took us into woodlands, across the beach, and through wetlands.

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We had walked for about half an hour when suddenly, the boardwalk ended. Ended as in uncompleted. We had to turn around and walk all the way back again.

All part of the adventure, never knowing how things will turn out!

But this view was worth it!

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Tomorrow is a one of our longer days – about 6.5 hours. We will be heading southeast toward Mary’s Harbour. We’ve heard that a lot of that road is now paved, but not entirely, so we’ll see what awaits!