On the Road to Canada’s East Coast–Newfoundland

The Place and People of the Rock

by James Careless

Moose, mountains and mankind. My wife Susan and I recently experienced all that and much more as we explored the wonders of Newfoundland .

The raw, sea-battered cliffs at Cape Enrage

The raw, sea-battered cliffs at Cape Enrage

We began our journey with a six-hour mini-cruise via Marine Atlantic (www.marine-atlantic.ca). Our ferry ride began at North Sydney, and arrived at Port aux Basques on Newfoundland ’s southwest tip. We sailed on a modern multi-level people/car ferry called the MV Blue Puttees. MV stands for Motor Vessel. Puttees were strips of cloth that soldiers wrapped around their ankles and lower legs for support. Blue Putties were worn by members of the Newfoundland Regiment in World War One. Lacking khaki cloth, they hand-made puttees out of blue broadcloth; hence the nickname, the Blue Puttees. This mini-cruise ship has bright, modern seating areas and restaurants, and even cabins for overnight travel. The small beds were comfortable, and the bathroom clean and well-equipped.

After we arrived on The Rock, we got a shock. As mainlander Canadians – what the Newfoundlanders refer to as being “from away”– we had this image of Newfoundland as a mostly flat, rocky plain with few trees and much fog. Now, as our one-end-of-the-island-to-the-other-and-back tour proved, this is only partially correct. Much of The Rock is mountainous with deep, narrow fiords cut by retreating glaciers. The glacier-worn mountains that dominate Newfoundland are ancient. In fact, some of the oldest rocks on Earth – at least in terms of being able to actually see and touch them – are here.

The mountains of Gros Morne National Park

The mountains of Gros Morne National Park

The best place to see Newfoundland’s mountains and beaches in all their splendor is Gros Morne National Park (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nl/grosmorne). Gros Morne is French for ‘large mountain standing alone’. It refers to the park’s Gros Morne mountain, which stands 2,644 feet tall. The 697-square-mile park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. Thanks to the violent collisions of two passing tectonic plates, the Earth’s geological history has been ripped, thrust up, and left in the open for all to see.

You can literally travel in time at Gros Morne. Just go down to the beach where the ground has been tilted vertically, and the layers of rock stand stacked like books on a library shelf. There are layers from various epochs; some from when the area was a seabed, some from volcanic flows. Some layers are thin like sheets of compressed tissue paper, others are set in thick stone waves. Overall, you get the sense that a lot has happened here over the ages – and much of it has been volcanic and violent.

Moose ahead! There are so many moose on Newfoundland, that moose/car collisions are a real problem. There are numerous moose warning signs on the roads, because when a car and moose collide, nobody wins.  We had three encounters with moose; thankfully none while driving. Once, while we were walking quietly along a wooden boardwalk taking photos, a young male moose suddenly crossed directly in front of us! Calmly marking his territory and munching on plants, his message was clear: “You seem harmless and I don’t mind you here as long as you realize whose turf you’re on.”

An iceberg off Twillingate

An iceberg off Twillingate

Moose and mountains are not all that you can experience in Newfoundland: Whales are seen blowing spouts of water off the coast, and icebergs can be toured in the province’s Iceberg Alley. These bergs come from Greenland and travel southwards to melt along Newfoundland’s East Coast. You can safely see icebergs by taking guided boat tours from communities such as Twillingate on the Rock’s northeastern shore.

We went out on the MV Daybreak, a 55′ long ship operated by Twillingate Adventure Tours (twillingateadventuretours.com). It features a wide-open top deck plus enclosed lower area, for those inclined to seasickness. The ship captain found and then circled a beautiful melting iceberg. According to the tour guide, it could have taken up to three years to get here. We didn’t get too close, because icebergs are fragile and can shed sections in seconds. The resulting waves can swamp you if your boat is right alongside. (As a bonus, if whales are around, the ship will take you to see them too.)

These are just some of the natural wonders we saw in Newfoundland. But man has left his mark as well. Here and there, you’ll find fishing villages tucked into the coast. In larger centers like the capital, St. John’s , there are rows of clapboard houses neatly decked out in all colors of the rainbow.

The people in Newfoundland are approachable, smart, and worth talking with. Newfies are renowned for being among the friendliest folks on Earth.

Seafood, not surprisingly, dominates this historic fishing region’s tables. Even in the most humble of restaurants, you’ll find excellent chowders and fisherman’s platters with cod, shrimp, scallops, and all kinds of bounty from the sea. The restaurant at the Twillingate Adventure Tours office also offered unique cupcakes with fruit and cheesecake inside. Quite wonderful!

If you are ever in Placentia near St.John’s, you must go to Philip’s Café. Operated by the husband/pastry chef and wife who also run the Rosedale Manor B&B – where we stayed – the food at Philips Café is simple yet beautifully prepared. His signature molasses and raisin bread is locally famous! The café uses a real wood stove, and looks out on the long, lovely Placentia Harbor .

We drove a lot the first day and stayed in the delightful Freshwater Inn in Gambo, on the northeast side of the Rock. This is a deceptively simple-looking trio of rooms in a stand-alone building overlooking Freshwater Cove. All three rooms are beautifully decorated with high ceilings, lots of space, fine furniture, and amenities. Multi-course breakfasts served by hosts Peggy and Boom are fresh and tasty.

The Rosedale Manor's koi pond

The Rosedale Manor’s koi pond

Our next stop was at the aforementioned Rosedale Manor B&B Inn in Placentia; about a 1.5 hour drive from St. John’s. This lovingly restored Second Empire home has six gorgeous period rooms, plus great views of the harbor, an outdoor garden for relaxing, and a koi pond. Another great place to stay on the Rock – and you get to have breakfast at Philip’s Café just down the street!

Downtown St. John’s became our third stop, at the Avalon Guesthouse. This high-end youth hostel offers private rooms with bath, in an authentic 19th century setting. If you’re on the road for a while, this is a good place to stop. It has laundry facilities, cable TV in every room, computer access, free Wi-Fi, street parking, a self-catering kitchen, lockers, late night check-in, luggage storage and is smoke free.

The George House Heritage B&B

The George House Heritage B&B

Back on the road again, we found ourselves in Dildo, Newfoundland. Named by famed explorer Captain James Cook, this is where you will find the George House Heritage Bed and Breakfast. It is no exaggeration to call the George House one of the most luxurious B&Bs in all of Eastern Canada. This 1885 Second Empire hilltop mansion with sea views has five period-furnished guest rooms with silk wall coverings, plus ensuite bathrooms with whirlpool tubs. Gourmet breakfasts, lunches and dinners are served at the Sea Level Dining Room down the hill at the Inn By The Bay. This award-winning place is amazing!

Back on the road, we headed westwards to Port Aux Basques and stayed at the Anchor Down Bed and Breakfast in Rocky Harbour. This is a clean, well-kept B&B in the heart of Newfoundland ’s scenic Gros Morne National Park. We were perfectly placed for a day’s exploration of this natural treasure. The Anchor Down has five comfortable bedrooms with bathrooms; one also has a two-person Jacuzzi tub. A quite good breakfast is served promptly at 8 am.

We then overnighted at the Humberview Bed & Breakfast in Deer Lake, before taking the ferry back to the mainland. This wonderfully modern, elegant, spacious and lovingly-kept B&B is worth visiting. There are seven exceptionally furnished rooms with ensuite baths. The palatial 820 square-foot Grand Suite is really an apartment, with a four-poster Queen Ann bed, separate sitting area, and Jacuzzi tub in a large, pillared bathroom. Enjoy the amenities, excellent food, and hospitable hosts who really care about their guests.

The place and the people of the Rock are each unique in their own way, and our image of Newfoundland has expanded after having seen its many wonders.