Shelter for the Soul
Western Newfoundland: A place that rush hour forgot.
Stepping out of the airport in Deer Lake you can feel your gears shifting down almost immediately. Things just are calmer and gentler in Western Newfoundland.
Our trip began with a drive south toward the town of Stephenville. The location of a U.S. WWII base Stephenville is a proud little town that has been plagued by recent plant closures. In the music shop on Main street you can find accordions of all sizes and colours. We picked up a couple of sandwiches at Danny’s Bake Shop and headed to the Port au Port Peninsula for our first hike. The rain was coming down hard so we drove the loop around the Peninsula and marveled at the well-kept houses of this French speaking community. The closest thing to a store that we saw was a man selling fresh produce out of the back of a cube van. The scenery was spectacular. We gave into the weather, donned our rain suits and hit the hiking trail. It was absolutely pouring but the trail was fantastic.
Next was Corner Brook. This small farming village set in a beautiful valley exploded into a town when Bowater opened a sawmill. The plant, now operated by Kruger Incorporated, is enormous. At first glance it seems like an eyesore but a visit to the local museum puts everything in perspective and you realize how the mill management created the “town” for their workers with a bisecting green space that includes a trail system and even a swimming spot. The water is so clean you can see the bottom.
We continued our visit of Corner Brook with Cycle Solutions who offer cycle tours, trips and other adventures. From the top of James Cooke National Historic Site high on the south side of town we rode down through the neighborhood streets. It was a steep, thrilling ride. I marveled at the number of homes with doors well above ground level that seemed to serve no purpose. The boys from Cycle Solutions called these mother-in-law doors. Must be Newfie humour! We headed toward the mouth of the Humber River on the north end of town and stopped for a tour of the Railway Society of Newfoundland’s museum. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the train, no longer in service, is referred to as the Newfie Bullet. The museum and train tour give a glimpse into the history of the province. Our ride back to Cycle Solutions was a little more challenging but well worth the work. Back at the bike shop, I thanked the guys and visited Brewed Awakenings next door for a well-earned smoothie.
We stocked up on trail mix and beef jerky and headed for Gros Morne National Park. Just outside of town, we passed the local ski are, Marble Mountain, that gets an average of 16 feet of snow every year and the temperature rarely dips below -5?C. Corner Brook is an outdoor adventure paradise!
Further up the highway we turned onto Route 430, the Viking Trail, and the entrance to Gros Morne National Park. A UNESCO world heritage site, the National Park is unlike most as it has small communities peppered throughout the park. Forewarned about Newfie speed bumps, it didn’t take long to find one — a moose that is. The park is full of them. It’s also full of hiking trails. With over 100 kms of trails that range from short and easy to long and strenuous there is something for everyone.
We stopped for the night at the Shallow Bay Motel in Cow Head, a family owned business that makes you feel like you have come home again. Not only is it one of the friendliest little motels it also has great entertainment. Proprietor, Darryl House teamed up with the Corner Brook based Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL) to bring the Gros Morne Theatre Festival to town. Now working on its 14 season, this summer theatre festival is top shelf. The TNL has toured its plays in 6 Canadian provinces, the UK and Australia. Offering two shows a night the company’s productions offer a glimpse of rural life in Newfoundland. We were lucky enough to see two shows. Keep an eye on the GCTC schedule as Ottawa is regular stop for TNL productions.
Western Brook Pond is nothing like the name suggests but well worth the 3 km hike in. We bought tickets dockside and boarded a boat for a guided tour of the fjords.The billion year-old cliffs are spectacular. It was great to chat with other tourist and swap stories. On the trip back to dock our captain kept us entertained with local music.
At Norris Point we visited the Bonne Bay Marine Station. A world-class research and teaching facility, it is open to the public for Interactive Aquarium Tours. The biologist filled us with a wealth of information about the unparalleled marine ecosystem of the bay. We met Pierre the two-toned American lobster and learnt a whole bunch of nifty facts including the scallop myth. Apparently, if you’re eating a scallop anywhere west of Nova Scotia — you’re likely not. A ray like, shellfish-smelling fish called Skate is caught, cut and sold to us “westerners” as scallops.
Full of local bay knowledge, we set off for an afternoon paddle on the Bonne Bay. Gros Morne Adventures offer daily, guided tours that leave from their beach-front shop in Norris Point. With the view of the Tablelands on one side and Gros Morne Mountain looming large on the other side, we paddled out onto the bay. It didn’t take long to get the hang of a two-man sea kayak. We saw a mink scurry by on the rocky shore and a Humpback whale surface about 40 feet in front of us. An eagle flew overhead. Wow, simply spectacular!
Completely sastisfied with our day’s adventure we headed to Neddies Harbour Inn for the night. A beautiful spot looking out over Bonne Bay, Neddies has a spa like atmosphere. We enjoyed a superb meal and hit the hay. Next up was an early morning, guided hike.
Some 500 million years ago, the rocks of the Tablelands were the underside of the ocean’s floor. Their red glow can be seen from most vantage points in Gros Morne. During the Parks Canada hike on the Tablelands Trail, the interpreter explained how millions of years ago the rock was forced up to the surface. It’s incredibly barren atop this rocky terrain but an odd little plant call the Pitcher plant has carved out an existence. Like a mini Venus’s-flytrap, it’s an example of nature’s uncanny ability to adapt to its surroundings. As the weather became unbearably hot the guide shared with us one of his favourite swimming holes. “Just past Birchie Head take a right just before the bridge. Park and hike in.” After a stop for sandwiches,it didn’t take us long to find the spot. The swimming was glorious. A few local boys came to jump off the rocks up stream and a lady arrived with her dog. We stayed all afternoon.
On our last day in Newfoundland we drove out to Trout River on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and enjoyed dinner and the sunset at the Seaside Restaurant. Gros Morne is the antithesis of the ready-made destination. It’s about slowing down, exploring nooks and crannies and finding yourself. With its ancient mountains, fjords, hiking trails and beautiful sandy beaches, your soul will find peace.