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.

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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!

Day Six: Churchill Falls

Today was a lovely relaxed day. We picked up our satellite phone (available free to residents and visitors driving the Trans-Labrador Highway – there is no cell service and the communities are 300 km apart or more with nothing in between).  Then we hiked up to see Crystal Falls near Labrador City.

 

The start of the hike was hard to find – just a clearing in the woods and a steep path of boulders. We climbed and climbed until we realized we had somehow missed the (also unmarked) turn to the falls. After backtracking, we did find the path into the woods and it was worth the trek.

 

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The highway to Churchill Falls is well paved and we did see some vehicles from time but mostly it was just our car for as far as the eye could see in any direction.

We climbed hills, crossed bridges over immense lakes, passed bogs of tamarack, black spruce and low shrubs, and watched for caribou.

 

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We saw two otters playing in a lake and stopped for a photo. The wind was so strong, I couldn’t hold the camera still and I was nearly blown off my feet.

Just before arriving in Churchill Falls, we pulled over to take a photo of a large split rock.

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Then we noticed a road leading down further. We followed it and discovered a hiking trail that took us through the woods, clambering over fallen trees to a series of lookout points over the Churchill Falls.

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The community itself reminds me of Fermont, Quebec. It’s also a company town and includes a large building that houses the hotel, library, post office, swimming pool, school, and sportsplex. The houses are clustered not far from this central building. And for a good reason – it gets really cold here in the winter.  The school is only closed when the temperature reaches -50 C (-58 F). So if it’s -49C, kids still have to go to school!

When we checked in at the hotel, we were asked if we wanted to do “the tour” (the tour of the Churchill Falls generating station). As soon as I heard it involves going 90+ stories below ground, I was out.

Instead, the desk clerk told us of a steep gravel side road we could take down to a section of the Churchill River where the diverted water rejoins the river. The company has created a lovely recreational area with benches, a boat ramp and dock. That is where we watched the sun set tonight.

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And on the drive back up to town, an Arctic hare bounded across the road in front of us!

 

 

Day Five: Labrador City

This afternoon we arrived in Labrador.

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But let me back up bit.

It’s September 27th, and we had our first taste of…snow! It is cold and we were pretty high up but I thought it was rain blowing in sheets across the mountains. Wishful thinking!

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The next surprise was a spot where the road split into a divided highway with a grass-filled median, a sidewalk along one side, and openings for driveways…but no houses. In fact, no buildings at all.

This was the site of the former town of Gagnon. It was a bustling mining town of 4000 between 1959 and 1985. It had a school, churches, a hospital, stores, a mall, an arena, a curling rink, an airport and much more. And then the mine closed, all the jobs were lost, people moved away, and the entire town – all of the buildings – was demolished. All that is left now is a flag and three memorial plaques beside the river.

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It was a stark reminder that nothing is permanent.

When we reached Fire Lake, another mining area, the road changed from paved to the same slippery muddy clay we had experienced a few days earlier. This time I was whiteknuckling it as we curved up and down, across railway tracks (11 crossings on the same road!) and came way too close to washed-out ditches for my nerves.

I’m sure many of the truck drivers who saw us today were shaking their heads at the sight of a Mini navigating these roads!

I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the mines here. Photos do not capture the size, or the layer upon layer of tailings.

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We eventually made it to Fermont, another  community built around mining.

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The town of Fermont is known for The Wall. The Wall integrates shopping centres, apartments, schools, a library, cinema, daycare and a sportsplex so that people never have to go outside in the winter.

You have to look closely in this photo, but you can see the long line of red, brown and white building joined together to create a solid “wall”.

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And tonight we’re in Labrador City. We entered a new time zone when we crossed into this province (one hour ahead), and the language changed from French to English.

We headed out for a lovely walk around Tanya Lake, savouring the sunshine, although the wind was strong and cold.

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Tomorrow, Churchill Falls as we continue the journey north and east.