Newfoundland, a small island with big views

Trip Start May 05, 2007
Trip End Sep 02, 2007

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Flag of Canada  , Newfoundland,
Thursday, August 9, 2007

Well after making it into the visitor information centre I spent a short but comfortable night there. I awoke around 9am and headed inside to get a bit of a heads up for the island. From there my first destination was Gros Morne National Park, a moderate 340kms away. I drove through some of the best country that I had seen across Canada, I still came across road works in the area however this time it was a little different to the rest of Canada. For starters there would be signage indicating a reduced speed zone (40km/h) then nothing; either that or there would be signs then nothing for 5-10kms then the road works would begin and other times you would just happen to come across it! This made me very hesitant when to obey, when to ignore it and just remain on the look-out. Another thing I noticed as I drove towards Gros Morne was there appeared to be snow still on the mountain tops (later confirmed by information staff).
          I made it into the KOA campground shortly after midday, although it felt like forever (I think it had a lot to do with the fact I was right buggered from the previous night!). That night I had a relatively easy night at the campsite and didn't do a whole lot there.
          From the recommendations of the Hudson's and the visitor information centre I decided that the following day I would go on the search for Vikings. At the tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula is L'Anse Aux Meadows (an UNESCO world heritage site). This area is the first authenticated Norse site in North America, discovered in 1960; archeologists have determined that this area was settled around 1000AD, from dating artifacts found in the area.
          Throughout my drive to the area I had fantastic views of very contrasting landscapes; changing from rocky outcrops to ocean views, large open meadows and enclosed forest areas. I also noticed along much of the highway were what appeared to be vegetable plots. I was later told that when they were building the highway a lot of top soil was turned over and it is relatively rare elsewhere, so the locals have taken advantage of the windfall.
          I arrived late in the afternoon to L'Anse Aux Meadows, for some reason the drive again seemed long and arduous, however I made it and had a little look around. For what the drive was worth, I don't think I spent long enough time in the area (also on the back of my mind was with overcast conditions I had no headlights!!!). I did manage to go on a guided tour of the area and it was all interesting, in addition to this I managed to see an iceberg off in the distance (even in the early stages of August), that was a nice view through the binoculars. The colouration was similar to the ice formations I had seen in the Canadian Rockies the previous winter, a rich light blue, with a white halo surrounding it. This also just highlights the close proximity to which Greenland, Iceland and the Arctic Circle are to where I was.
          From there I headed the short distance to St Anthony, in the hope of being able to find someone able to look at the lights. I was fortunate enough to check into an RV park where the owner knew a couple of local lads that could help me out late in the afternoon. It ended up being a simple matter of a corroded wiring and the problem was solved within an hour.
          I was back on the road the next morning, full of energy so I just drove (700-800kms), nothing really exciting to mention.
          The next day I hoped to see some icebergs up close of the coast of Summerford, having been told that this was the best place to view them. I awoke to pouring rain and a heavy fog had significantly reduced the visibility compared to the previous day. Still I headed up towards Summerford (about 60kms away) and hit the main street. The roads here were worse than the Montreal region and that's saying something. I had to constantly swerve back and forth to avoid the potholes and on numerous occasions I hit them sending the front tyres down hard on the bitumen, all the time hoping my wheel alignment or shockers wouldn't be screwed up. My perseverance and determination eventually paid off and I was rewarded with a nice view of a three small (comparatively speaking), close to shore icebergs.
          Content with the fact that I had seen icebergs in the area I continued on towards St. John. The dive again was one of those that seemed much longer than it probably is in reality. The fact that it rained throughout the whole day, combined with pothole dodging made the 440kms to St. John a lot tougher than usually driving the same distance elsewhere. I also had another little problem to worry about too, all those potholes and sharp turns etc. across the journey had taken its toll and while in Summerford I noticed a nasty shuddering from the front right of the RV. Thinking that it might be the breaks or suspension, I needed to get it checked out A.S.A.P. Again I was left with the dilemma of trying to find a free mechanic to look at the vehicle late in the afternoon right away. I continued on until I reached Clarenville and after numerous phone calls and "sorry we don't look at motorhomes" I was able to track one down. While I was on the road I met up with Carl and Janet Hudson again, who offered their support should anything happen to go horribly wrong. I was again surprised, thankful and relieved to have the generous support of people whom I had met just days before. Thankfully I didn't need the gracious support, although it was a mind easer just to know I had the support there if I needed it.
          The original plan was to stay in Pippy Park RV campground, only a few minutes from the centre of town. So I headed for there, only to find that a whole heap of campers traveling through the area from various parts of the United states (they were serious RVers and the rigs certainly proved that) had the serviced sites in the campground occupied, in addition there were a group of H.O.G.S (Harley's on the Go) in the area (while they didn't need the serviced sites as such, there were a few using the electricity and water), so for the first two nights I had an unserviced site (most disappointing because my Birthday happened to fall during one of those two nights). Anyways after fixing problem #3 (the headlights), I now turned my attention to problem #2 (the camera). Seeing it was my Birthday I decided to treat myself with a new digital camera, one of a bit better quality in the hopes of capturing a few good photos of the larger whales that frequented the area. 
          So for my Birthday I gave the usual sightseeing activities a miss opting to shop around for the digital camera and to acquaint myself with the area. I also took the opportunity to look at the weather for the next couple of days and plan my boat tour from that. Probably the most exciting thing I did that day was to go to the Fluvarium. Apparently it is a "world-class" freshwater interpretation centre. While it is indeed a freshwater interpretation centre world-class I'm not to sure about.
          The main feature of the Fluvarium (originating from a Latin word meaning "windows on a stream"!) is the underwater windows that give observers a panoramic view beneath the surface of a brook. For me it wasn't really informative, nor was there a lot there. The only thoughts I had during this time is how can I improve my chances of fishing!
          I had only allowed myself two days in St. John's, giving me time to explore the Avalon Peninsula and for the last day in the area I took a short bike ride around the city. The first objective was a bike ride up Signal Hill (hard enough on a good bike with shorts on a hot day; try a crappy bike and jeans then!), and then to check out what there was to see from there. St. John's isn't all that big and I am glad I didn't plan to be there for too long (not that I think it's a bad city just not a very tourist attraction city). From Signal Hill I went into the main st. and poked around there for a little before heading to George st. (where all the bars are located) to sample a local drop. While I was down there all the H.O.G.S had their machines lined in the street for a competition, so I stuck around for a bit and had a bite to eat and a few quiet ones.
          The following day I headed out to Cape Spear, I thought for a relatively tourist attraction there would be better directions on how to get there. Before I knew it I was out of town and most of the way onto Bay Bulls and Witless bay. The boat tour I had planned was from Bay Bulls, so it wasn't too bad, however I was 3 hours too early. With this in mind I went into the tourist information centre and found out I wasn't the only one (there were no directions at all on how to get there at all!!!) Anyways, I had traveled across Canada from West to East and I wasn't about to let this get in my way. I eventually found my way and after dodging some more potholes I had reached the most easterly point in North America, it's all westerly from here! Off the coast I saw a few humpback whales splashing around which filled me with confidence about spotting them in the Bay Bulls area (unlike Captain Mark's whale cruises this company didn't guarantee the sightings).
           I continued on not spending too much time on the cape and arrived in the Bay Bulls area shortly afterwards. The company I chose to go with was O'Brien's they were a little more pricy than the other companies ($80), however their reputation was better than the others, it was well worth it too!
          The captain, Joe was well experienced and gave a very in-depth explanation of not only the sea life, but of the geological processes and origins of the cliffs surrounding the region. We didn't get much of a look at the puffin colonies that make the isolated island their home (there were plenty of them on the ocean anyways), but were treated to several whales in the area. We had close-ups of humpbacks and minke whales, although not as close as the pilot whales they were still close enough to hear their blowholes. They put on an amazing show often showing the tails and flippers and the captain knew when to coast and let the whales come to us and when to travel towards them (the other skippers were overheard on the CV radios calling for the position of the whales, so basically they had no idea!)
          From there I headed to one of the southerly points of Newfoundland, Cape St. Mary's; home to thousands of Northern Gannets, Kittiwakes, Murres and other species. The cape was truly spectacular, with literally thousands of birds congregated on one lone island (aptly named "bird rock") in what appeared to be a structural arrangement of nesting sites for different species on the steep cliff face. There were also some lone sheep in the area that would often ignore the parks advisory to stay on the path because of the steep cliff faces, so that was really interesting to see them clamber all around (secretly I wanted one to fall for a lesson to the others, but it didn't happen). It was also here that I saw a lone bald eagle close-up, just perched on the cliff face. One thing to note is that when you have a lot of birds there is also going to be a lot of fertiliser and the smell goes with it too!
          While I was at the bird sanctuary I met up with Carl and Janet again (a prearranged meeting) and from there we had a bit more of a look around the area and headed for Placentia (a larger town just outside of the area where the Nova Scotia ferry would be departing from later on that evening (with any luck).
          During this part I hit the worst roads that I have come across, in parts they were reduced to gravel after being washed away during the heavy rains, also combined with very steep winding climbs and descents it was hard to determine what was coming up next (It felt like extreme rallying in an RV, and not the most comfortable travels either). In Placentia we planned to have a proper meal at a restaurant before boarding the scheduled ferry around midnight. It was good to be in pleasant company and have a proper sit down meal without the dishes too. It was the first meal I had had like it since I left
Australia three months ago. To be truthful I have been overwhelmed by the support and hospitality that I have received from the Hudson, and very grateful as well. I only hope that I can reciprocate the favour to either them or someone else down the line after knowing what it means to someone in my situation.
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