Foxes, Puffins and Vikings…Oh My!

Dungeons Provincial Park

Each region of Newfoundland is wonderfully unique and has so many incredible things to see and do.  After exploring the Avalon Peninsula, we headed to the Eastern Region.  This area of Newfoundland is the smallest geographically, but has so many great places to explore.  Had we not been traveling with pets, we would have loved to have made our way to the southern end to take the ferry to Saint-Pierre et Miqueleon, two tiny islands that are actually part of France.  However quarantine regulations wouldn’t make a crossing feasible, so we didn’t end up seeing much along this route.  The upper Eastern section was chalked full of neat sights, cute towns and really great hiking in Bonavista, Elliston and Trinity.  We were a bit late in the season for icebergs but Twillingate (Central Region) was still a must as was a visit to Gros Morne National Park (which gets a blog post of its own – it’s simply that awesome!).  Before taking the ferry to Labrador, we were told we had to see St. Anthony and L’Anse Aux Meadows at the very top of the Western Region.  Even though it meant another three hour (one way) detour, we figured ‘in for a dime, in for a dollar’ at that point and let our FOMO drive us on.  It’s really difficult to choose highlights from our time in Newfoundland, but this section of our trip ticked off so many boxes on our overall list of ‘hoped-for’ experiences, it’s safe to say this leg of our journey might just be our favourite! (Sorry, PEI – but you don’t have puffins or Gros Morne!).

The Route:

Cape Bonavista

Elliston

Trinity East & Port Rexton

Twillingate

King’s Point

Gros Morne (Next Post)

St. Anthony & L’Anse Aux Meadows

Cape Bonavista:

You can’t really go wrong visiting Cape Bonavista.  The town is lovely, small and quaint, but has a couple of nice cafes, a decent market and overlooks the ocean.  The cape features a provincial heritage site with two lighthouses perched right on the cliff-side.  In the deep ocean waters below we saw a pod of whales pass by, the only place we actually saw them breach.  The lighthouse park offers great hiking, gorgeous views and outlooks and rocky trails lined with wild blueberries and juniper…and for reasons we’d discover later, a lot of feathers and pieces of birds that seemed to meet an unfortunate fate.  Just up a dirt road past some way too friendly horses and a couple minutes from the lighthouse, was the Dungeons Provincial Park.  It’s pretty much just a viewing site for a collapsed sea cave, but it was neat nonetheless and was surrounded by even more incredible views.  We know…enough with the views, Newfoundland – we know you’re stunning!

Cape Banavista Light House

Cape Banavista Light House

Dungeons Provincial Park

Dungeons Provincial Park

Dungeons Provincial Park

Just down the hill from the lighthouse site, was the John Cabot Municipal Park, a spot we had heard was available for overnight parking (not actually recommended by the visitor’s center, but they did say no one would ask us to leave).  We love parks like these ones, they come with bathrooms, picnic tables, the perfect view for whale-watching…and some of the healthiest looking foxes we’ve ever seen.  It was then we realized what happened to the birds.  Just before we started cooking dinner, four cheeky little guys decided to surround us and the other RV boondocking beside us, and seemed to have no intention of leaving until the thunderstorm rolled in and scared them off.  The skies cleared, gifting us with a fantastic sunset and a chance to reclaim our camp-stove from the foxes, and we fell asleep under a statue of an explorer who discovered this beautiful island just steps from where we rested our heads.

Foxy

Foxy

Foxy

Cabot Municipal Park

Cabot Municipal Park

Cabot Municipal Park

Cabot Municipal Park

Elliston:

Grateful for a morning without rain, we were off to explore Elliston, a town renown for two things: root cellars and puffins.  Seeing puffins had always been on Cally’s bucket list, so this was a spot she had been looking forward to this entire trip.  The Elliston Puffin Viewing Site is a run by donation and is accessible through private property that has been open so that visitors get the chance to see these funny little birds.  A short, rocky walk takes you up to the top of a cliff that looks out on to a large island where the puffins tend to frequent and even on this grey foggy morning, there must have been hundreds.  Almost a cross between a penguin and a toucan, these surprisingly small and fast seabirds are hilarious to watch.  They swoop and dive from the top of the rock down to the ocean for capelins.  When they catch something they fly back, beak full of fish, and land on the island again, in a comical maneuver reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin.  We spent almost two hours sitting on the edge of the cliff as the fog lifted, watching these weirdly adorable little birds and appreciating that places like this still exist.

Puffins

Puffins

Puffins

Puffins

Prying ourselves away from the puffins, we were off to search for root-cellars.  There were dozens located throughout Elliston, many still in use.  These root cellars are different than many of the traditional ones you see in movies where people flee to hide from tornadoes.  The ones in Elliston are above ground because the terrain is so rocky it would be impossible to dig them out without explosives.  So instead, they were built up using rocks and boulders and then covered with soil and sod, resembling more of a ‘Hobbit House’ than a traditional cellar.  Elliston was also participating in a community art project (‘Art Encounters on the Edge’) which included one of the cellars located along the path coming back from the puffin site.  An artist preserved local plants in mason jars with a lighting system that when you closed the doors to the cellars and flipped the switch, created a hauntingly beautiful set of lanterns, bouncing light off the stone walls around us.

Root Cellar Root Cellar

Root Cellar

Trinity East & Port Rexton:

All the guidebooks for this part of Newfoundland emphasized that if you enjoyed hiking that the Skerwink Trail was a must.   Considered a difficult trail (there is some rough terrain and A LOT of good climbs), this 5.3 km trail had ocean views, sea stacks, dense forest, beaches and the chance to see whales (and icebergs when in season).  Unfortunately, the fog seemed to be following us and although the hike was great and a fantastic walk for the dogs, we couldn’t enjoy the views as I’m sure we would have on a clear morning.  (A couple quick notes: Our dogs are used to hiking some crazy trails, so they managed this one just fine, but there are a lot climbs and some very narrow stairs that older dogs may not be able to handle.  Wear good shoes, we’d recommend hiking boots or a really good trail shoe for this one.  Go early, we got there at 11 am on a really foggy day and the parking lot was full and overflowing onto the side streets.)

Skerwink Trail

Skerwink Trail

Skerwink Trail

Skerwink Trail

Looking for an après-hike, we stopped at the Two Whales Coffee Shop located in Port Rexton.  We were pleasantly surprised (to be honest, completely shocked) that this little café, that was sort of in the middle of nowhere, was completely vegetarian.  We grabbed a couple of sandwiches, almond milk lattes and one of the best vegan date squares we’ve ever had.  To make our day even better, we stumbled across the Port Rexton Brewery and popped in for a tasting flight.  It’s a small, fairly young microbrewery, but they had a decent selection and some pretty tasty beers.   So what do you do when the universe hands you an awesome day?  You pay it forward by picking up a couple of hitchhikers of course!  Back in front of the Two Whales Coffee Shop we saw a young couple holding a sign scrawled with the word ‘TransCanada’ on it and since we were headed that way ourselves and felt the need to help out fellow travelers, we stopped.  He was from Montreal, she was from Germany and they had spent the entire summer hitchhiking across Canada.  We spent two hours chatting with them and learning their tricks and tips for free-camping – after two summers of doing this they were total pros!  We said goodbye to our weary passengers dropping them off at a gas station in Gander and started to make our way towards Iceberg Alley.

Two Whales Cafe
Port Rexton Brewery

Twillingate:

Sadly, this was August, and we had most definitely missed the iceberg season, but we had still heard Twillingate was worth visiting.  We made our way through the village which was another pretty tourist town offering tours, gift shops and seasonal restaurants.  We headed out to the coast, to the Long Point Lighthouse, which ended up being closed for the day, but served as the trail head for a few different hiking trails.  So with dogs in tow, we took off down the stair case and towards the cliffs.  This was a fantastic hike for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, if it were iceberg season, this is definitely the place to view them from!  We could imagine watching them pass as we made our way along the rocky shorelines and knew it would be awe-inspiring.  Secondly, the rock formations here are incredible! Millions of years old and left by volcanic eruptions, they’ve remained practically untouched for millennia.

 Twillingate

Twillingate

Twillingate

King’s Point – Rattling Brook Falls:

Rattling Brook Falls made it onto our route because we had heard it was a lovely waterfall, but also because it offered (and encouraged) free camping.   The waterfall itself was impressive enough, but would have been amazing in the spring after a good melt.  It’s about a half kilometer walk along a well maintained boardwalk to the base of the waterfall and a really great swimming hole.  There are a couple of tent platforms for camping, but we just set up in the parking lot and pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Rattling Brook Falls 

Gros Morne (Next Post):

We have so many great things to say about this National Park, we decided to give it a post of its own!  The short version is that we stayed for just shy of a week and it was amazing!  Stay tuned…

 St. Anthony & L’Anse Aux Meadows:

After an amazing stay in Gros Morne, we headed to St. Anthony.  More specifically we were headed to L’Anse aux Meadows for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, but everyone kept saying St. Anthony was a must.  By this point we have visited our fair share of pretty harbor towns, each with its own unique and charming character.  Maybe we missed something, but we couldn’t quite figure out why this town was supposed to different.  It was another perfect example of maritime character, filled with fishing paraphernalia, gift shops and cute cafes.  Maybe it was because we were reaching the end of a whirlwind roadtrip, where after driving through so many small towns, they all started to blur together.  So please don’t get us wrong – St. Anthony was lovely, but after we left we couldn’t quite figure out what made it any more desirable to see than Bonavista or Twillingate.   If you’re reading this and thinking ‘They’re crazy!  What about x or y?’, then please comment and let us know.  This will definitely not be our last visit to Newfoundland and would love to start adding stuff to our list for next time.   We did find a great spot to stay for the night, Gull Pond Municipal Park, which was right on the water and the only spot in Newfoundland we actually saw a moose!

Moose

L’Anse aux Meadows, on the other hand, we found to be incredibly fascinating!  The only authenticated Viking site in North America, it was here where a Norse expedition led by Leif Eiriksson landed and began further exploration of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  The site contains the remnants of turf-walled houses that were built to weather the harsh Newfoundland winters (They have full scale replicas that have been constructed based on archeological findings throughout the site that can be explored).  Although they only stayed there for less than 20 years, the site has a much greater significance.  It was here that the circle of global migration was completed…

L'Anse aux Meadows

L'Anse aux Meadows

L'Anse aux Meadows

After a great afternoon of history, we headed back to Sainte Barbe to hop a far less enjoyable ferry ride than the one that brought us to this fantastic province.  The 90 minute evening ferry to Blanc Sablon was MUCH rougher than the one that brought us to Newfoundland and unfortunately the boat itself was in desperate need of some TLC.  But when we made port, our free-camping spot for the night was only five minutes up the road (in Brador, Quebec), right on the ocean and had another puffin viewing site, so the queasy crossing was easily forgotten.

Puffin Island

WHERE TO NEXT: The LONG drive back to Ontario via the Trans Labrador-Quebec Highway

 

What we’re Enjoying:

Cally’s Reading:  The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – by Jonas Jonasson

Graeme’s Reading:The Search for the Green River Killer: The True Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer – by Tomas Guillen and Carlton Smith

Podcast –  Invisibilia (NPR) – Emotions and High Voltage (Emotions Pt. 2)

Podcast RadioLab (NPR) – The Ceremony

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