Monday, June 30, 2008

Bonavista Peninsula - Bonavista-Elliston-Maberley

We woke up snug in our little tent to the sound of heavy rain pattering on the nylon roof – and it was cold – about 8 or 9 C. We grabbed a coffee and scone at an Irving’s Restaurant, bought lunch, and set off up the western side of the Bonavista Peninsula towards Bonavista.

Bonavista is a very interesting and pretty town with a population about 4000. It’s probably the largest town we have seen in a few days and definitely an area worth visiting for a couple of days. We wished we had longer there, but we needed to keep to our schedule so that we would be able to catch the ferry from Cartwright to Happy Valley Goose Bay.

The Ryan Premises is an extremely interesting and well done explanation of the fishing industry in Newfoundland. The interpreters are very knowledgeable, and the exhibition is professional, artistic, and easy to understand. We learned about the different boats that fishers used, the different methods of fishing, the process of the industry, and the “truck” system – which I am sure led to much manipulation of the fishers by the merchants. There were displays about the animals in the region, and the life the people led. Very well worth seeing.

After that we went out to Dungeon Park where we saw some extraordinary rock formations, and had lunch in a blustery, cold wind - we sat in the car overlooking the ocean, watching for whales, but saw none!. This was also the "Commons" where residents grazed cattle, sheep, and set up their little vegetable plots. We also saw the lighthouse, which is really special and quite a unique shape erected in 1843. The lights are quite special since they came from Scotland’s Inchcape Rock where they had been in use since 1811.

Next we went to Elliston, the “root cellar” capital of the world – also saw the partridge berries growing and we walked out a peninsula to see a puffin colony. The Puffin is the national bird of Newfoundland. They are quite fascinating and we loved watching them. At Maberley we had magnificent views of the ocean.

Then it was back to Terra Nova and the second night in the park, after catching dinner in a very pleasant setting in Charlottetown.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bonavista Peninsula - Trinity

It was drizzling lightly this morning when we left Swift Current and pretty cold. The weather always looked as if there was going to be a huge thunderstorm, but it really didn’t come to anything more than drizzle. We headed out on the Discovery Trail, but decided that we couldn’t make the rounds of the whole peninsula and that we would have to do it in two days. The one thing you come to realize about Newfoundland is its size. It’s huge; and because the settlement is all around the coast, there is nothing in the centre and you have to drive off the main highway to see anything, then retrace your steps back to the highway. It takes time, and we have realized that you can only cover about 200 to 250 kilometres maximum in a day and manage to do anything. We headed out to Random Island and although it was really pretty, we were more intent on reaching Trinity so didn’t spend much time on the Island.

Trinity, established in 1580, used to be a thriving fishing town. The current population is about 350. The town is quaint, with many little narrow lanes weaving between the perfectly renovated colourful houses. It is famous for its “theatre” but although we saw some of the actors wandering around town, we weren’t able to see the actual theatre.

We drove from Trinity out to New Bonaventure where the set for “Random Passage” is, but unfortunately, we did not have enough time to go around it. We were lucky to see an iceberg though, and the scenery was quite lovely.

Then we headed into Terra Nova National Park and our first experience camping!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Northen Gannets

Saturday was another cold and blustery day spent on the Avalon Peninsula. The highlight of the day was a visit to Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. We walked out from the lighthouse around the blustery cliffs to view the various seabird colonies nesting in the cliffsides. There were northern gannets, black-legged kittiwakes, common murres, and black guillemots, but it was the northern gannets that really intrigued us with their various coquettish embraces, and defensive beak fights. We stood for quite a while watching and enjoying their distinctive moves. Then it was back on the road to our destination in Swift Current. The scenery on this leg of the Iris Loop varied a little more than the rest and we actually saw a hay field with bales wrapped in plastic. Haven’t seen too many horses along the way, or any domestic animals for that matter, but we did see a bloke on a horse riding through one of the small towns. The graveyards make a statement. Most of the headstones are simple crosses. Very effective and powerful compared to our need for elaborate marble headstones.

Our overnight stop was in Kilmory Resort. This was literally a wooden cabin situated on the Piper’s Hole River. The view from our cabin was stunning. However, the cabins themselves were a little tired and we had an unfortunate incident in that I tried to change the booking 48 hours ahead of time and was told that we needed to give them 10 days’ notice. Interesting. I must have made about 30 bookings in Newfoundland/Labrador and this is the only one that requires this amount of time. Plus, it was not stated in any material I had from them. They say they told me on the phone. Maybe they did. Unfortunately, I don’t remember them saying that, so it is my word against theirs. They eventually split the difference and told us to contact the owner. I am afraid it won’t be the owner we will be contacting, but will make a point of informing Canada Select. Anyway, the ladies in the office were very charming, and upgraded us to a one bedroom when I had simply booked a studio.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cape Pine Lighthouse

Harold, who was our host on Thursday night, is a lighthouse keeper at Cape Race. It was the operators at this lighthouse that picked up the distress signals from The Titanic and relayed them to various ships and other lighthouses in the area. He told us about the Cape Pine Lighthouse, and so this morning we set off on the hunt. We found the lighthouse, after a 10 km trip down a rough and rocky gravel road which crossed the ocean barrens. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any Caribou but the scenery at the lighthouse was amazing. It is operational so we showed ourselves around the windy sight. We saw tons of whales frolicking in the freezing ocean just below the lighthouse. The temperature was around 9C, then plus the wind, it was pretty cold. After seeing the lighthouse we continued on our trek to the very picturesque community of St. Shotts and saw the Cape Shotts lighthouse. I think this is the most southerly tip of Newfoundland. The landscape in this area is quite unique. The coastal barrens are literally huge tracts of barren ground connected by small streams or rivers and ponds. There is literally nothing growing there except ground cover over the rocky soil. Our next stop was the stoney beach at St. Vincents where we stopped to see whales. We did see them way off in the distance, but after Cape Pine, it was a little disappointing. We did stand and watch the Northern Gannets diving in the water - amazing birds which we think may be related to the blue footed boobies we loved so much in the Galapagos. We also had an exciting encounter with John Sylvester (, a photographer from PEI. Although a landscape photographer, he was trying to catch whales too. He was also very knowledgeable, and gave us all sorts of information about birds in general.

Friday night we stayed in the Salmonier Country Manor. It was an old convent and quite beautiful. I even managed to do a clothes wash!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Avalon Peninsula - St. John's to Mount Carmel

First thing this morning, Ray heard, and saw out of our 3rd floor bedroom window, an asphalt stripper driving down the road in front of the B & B. He wondered to himself why someone would be driving equipment like that through the streets of downtown St. John’s. Shortly after this, Louis interrupted our breakfast saying there was an accident down the road. He didn’t know all the details but Mary’s daughter had just come in to the B & B and told him there had been an accident. While packing up the car after breakfast, Ray walked down the road to see what had happened. To his surprise he saw the asphalt stripper sideways in the road with its conveyor belts protruding into the middle of one of the small colourful houses in the road. What had happened is that the vehicle drove along the road parallel to our B & B, then turned left down one of the many steep hills in the City. Think of Hell Hill (the original) paved; think of one of the hills in Ushuaia; think of a really, steep hill, that stretches straight down over 2 major intersections to the harbour. Think of a vehicle with steel tracks trying to control its speed down this hill. You got it! It doesn’t. So, obviously, the driver realized this too late, and then tried to stop the vehicle by turning right. There are two possible scenarios. Either he tried to stop by turning into the building; or he tried to stop by turning right into a small street on the right, and it didn’t work and he went into the building. On the way, he took out an SUV parked by the side of the road. Very fortunately, if you can believe this, no one was hurt. The house was a rental, and there was no-one living there. The van was empty. There was no-one in the street. There was no other traffic around. The driver was not hurt. People around the accident were dumbfounded. How could anyone not understand that you could not take a vehicle like that onto a paved road as steep as that.

So, we left St. John’s around 10. 30. First stop was Cape Spear. Most people think that Cape Spear is important because it is the most easterly point in North America. Not so. Its important because it is the site of the oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland. Its another desolate cape in Newfoundland. The old lighthouse sits atop the rock. It doesn’t function any more, but a new lighthouse has been built just in front of it. Around the lighthouse are Canadian gun bunkers placed there to protect the cape from the Germans in WWII. We had a walk around the cliffs keeping well back from the edge so that the gale force winds wouldn’t knock us over the edge into the ocean a couple of hundred feet below.

Our second stop, was Cape Broyle where we went on a 2 ½ hour kayak trip around the fiord in a raging gale. It was total fun! The wind was quite strong, the waves were very choppy, and it was a constant test of your strength, especially the trips across the bay when we were at total right angles to the wind. We went in a cave, kayaked by the side of a waterfall, and tasted some sort of delicacy from a sea urchin……and battled the wind and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a small world. One of the guides worked last summer at Rustica Harbour (not quite the right name I think), and he was astounded to hear that I had kayaked there last summer with a girlfriend (Pat). He was really intrigued by this and was going home right away to check his log to see if he took us out!

After the kayak trip, we drove down the Avalon Peninsula through the Oceanic barrens to Trepassey. It is amazingly barren. There are acres, and acres, of nothing but ponds and grasslands. It really is desolate. The coast is beautiful. High cliffs, rocks, and wild surf. The B & B had been recommended by our hosts from Cantwell House in St. John’s and we were made very welcome. We cleaned up a little from our salt water dousing and then went out to dinner. When we got back, we learned that Mary and Louis from Cantwell House had called Harold and Marie at the Northwest Bed & Breakfast because they had heard on the news that there had been a kayaking accident and although everyone was OK they were worried about us. Apparently the winds were so great that one of the kayaks around Cape Broyle overturned but the kayakers were soon rescued and pulled back into shore lying over the kayak. It must have been jolly cold. The kindness and thoughtfulness of the people in Newfoundland goes beyond what we understand in Ontario! Anyway, Mary is calling tomorrow morning at breakfast to speak to us to make sure we are OK, and also to pass on some information she thought of about Labrador.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sights of St. John's

Today we got our exercise all right. The hosts in the B & B kindly ran us up to the top of Signal Hill. It seems this was where the last battle between the English and French took place in 1762. The hill is literally thousands of years old rock. The Cabot Tower on the peak was built to commemorate the arrival of John Cabot in 1497 (which was hotly contested by the French) and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The views over the ocean and the city are spectacular. What was even more spectacular was the North Head Trail that we took back down. This was a hiking path that leads from the Tower back down to the harbour. It traces the cliffs down and is a combination of wooden steps, and rocky paths. At one point the path is so narrow that there is a chain you have to hold on to on the rock face for safety. The views from this trail are spectacular. St. John’s harbour is small and extremely well protected and you have to enter through the “Narrows” to get into it. The trail takes you through the front yards of the little colourful houses in the harbour. You hear stories of visitors being invited to have tea with the owners. We followed the path up to the “Geo Centre” which was our next stop.

Mary Hayes our host at Cantwell House promised us that after visiting the “Johnson Geo Centre” ( we would never look at the earth the same again. She was right. The centre was full of interesting information presented in the most modern, interactive, and creative way. The centre was built to make people aware of the land of Newfoundland and the life-story of the planet. We first saw an interactive video, complete with running water, earthquakes, waterfalls, rain dripping on rocks, narrated by a hologram of Gorden Pinsent. This introduced the rocks of Signal Hill as 550 million years old. It showed what causes volcanoes and earthquakes and how Newfoundland was once a tropical climate, then came the ice age, and how when the glaciers retreated they left the big bolders and rocks that I talked about in one of my former posts. The next exhibition we chose to see was the ExxonMobil Oil and Gas Gallery. It seems that economically there are two important commodities in Newfoundland; fish, and oil. Growing up in Scotland, in a family where the BP Oil and Shale Works played a big part, I am fascinated in the “oil” industry in Newfoundland. The display showed how oil and natural gas are formed in the earth through decomposing foliage which is mixed with sediment and how the heat from the core of the earth “cooks” the foliage and turns it into oil and natural gas. The display also showed the different types of oil drilling. First, a gravity based structure – Hibernia; and second, a floating production, storage, and offloading vessel – the SeaRose FPSO. This second method is used off the coast of the Burin Peninsula and is quite unique because it attaches to the ocean oil well by a hose which can be detached to allow icebergs to pass. Newfoundland is relying heavily on oil production and one can only hope it will be successful. It also strikes me how innovative Newfoundland is . First there was the whaling industry in the 1600s which dried up; then the cod fishing, which has now dried up; and now the oil drilling.

The last exhibit we looked at in the Geo Centre was “The Titanic Story”. I would almost recommend traveling to Newfoundland just to see this! This was an incredibly powerful chronological expose of where the blame lay in the Titanic disaster. It shows the greed, arrogance, and bad judgement that led to over 1500 lives being lost in the first voyage of the luxury liner “Titanic”. The fact that the owner of the White Star company that built, owned and operated the luxury liner was never charged is criminal. He blatantly jeopardized the lives of the passengers on the ship in an effort to put his competitor “Cunard” out of business. Many, many mistakes were made from the innocence of the two Marconi wireless operators who were so busy transmitting messages from the passengers that they failed to pass two of the nine iceberg warnings from other ships to the Bridge, to stinginess in the building of the ship, to the lack of appropriate life boats and defective staff training prior to the voyage, and finally, an arrogant and incompetent captain.

We strided out from the Geo Centre across town to “The Rooms” ( (Oh no, there is a news item on TV on “bed-bugs” and how prominent they are in hotels in North America just now!! I guess I shall have to be even more vigilant in checking beds in the various places we stay. Can’t understand why the owners of the hotels wouldn’t be constantly checking??). Since we arrived in St. John’s we have heard many people praise the rooms, and some have said they are far ahead of the ROM and in particular the new Michael Chin addition to the ROM. The structure of The Rooms symbolizes the typical house in the outports. The word “room” means a gathering place where families came together to process their catch. The Rooms in St. John’s houses a museum, an art gallery, and the archives. When we first arrived, we went up to the 4th floor cafeteria and had a snack overlooking the city of St. John’s, the harbour, and the Narrows. The view was stunning. We saw some great exhibits. First, a photograph exhibition of the works of James Andersen. His photos illustrated daily life in and around Makkovik, Labrador. The pictures showed life events such as fishing, marriages, celebrations, children, camaraderie, etc. etc. Very expressive and fun to view. The other exhibit I really enjoyed was “This Place and Its Early Peoples”. This was all about the animals and various peoples that live and lived in Newfoundland. It showed black bears, polar bears, fox, Newfoundland wolf (now extinct), mink, beaver, otters, moles, Arctic hares, etc. etc. Absolutely fascinating. There were tons of other interesting displays, but I had enjoyed everything so much, that I was quite mentally saturated. The displays were truly first class. So, about 6:30, we walked back to the B & B. On the way, we tried to get into the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, but unfortunately, due to vandalism, it was locked.

Dinner was gross. We ate fish and chips at Ches’s – an institution in Newfoundland! The reward – a certificate that we “tasted the finest fish and chips to be found in Newfoundland.

Tomorrow we move on from St. John’s. We have enjoyed this small city – 99,200 population - . The people have been warm, courteous, and very considerate. They are survivors, and you have to respect that. Mary Hayes and Lewis, our hosts at Cantwell House are well informed and have helped to make our stay educational and interesting. The location of the B & B is fantastic, and the car hasn’t moved for 3 days. And it is clean, and charming. Check it out if you are thinking of visiting St. Johns: