Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Western Newfoundland: Forests, Fjords, and Fish & Chips


OK ... time to 'fess up. I really did not know much about Newfoundland when Doug proposed that we go there while traveling in Eastern Canada. Sure, I had heard the name before, but I didn't know how to correctly pronounce it ... and I certainly had no idea what kind of amazing experience lie ahead for us!

And for those like me, who don't know much about this gem, come along as we explore this beautiful Canadian province where cod is king, and the larger-than-life puffins are really only about ten inches tall. And while we're at it, we might as well learn how to correctly pronounce this new-to-us province of Newfoundland ... it's ''newf'in-LAND.''

We booked the ferry ride (because, as I also quickly learned, you can't drive there) and took a six hour cruise across the Gulf of St Lawrence to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and Labrador (which I learned is the official name of this province, but for brevity's sake, I will just refer to it as Newfoundland). Western Newfoundland is where we spent our first week of exploring this beautiful land of forests, fjords, and fish & chips.

As is our usual traveling mode of operation, we arrived in Newfoundland with no camping reservations and no solid plans of where we were going or what we wanted to see. One thing that we quickly found out is that there are amazing boondocking spots all around the island. Almost every night we were able to find a serene parking spot overlooking the water. 

Our first night was spent in a city park near the ferry dock since we arrived just about sunset. The next morning, colorful Adirondack chairs invited us to enjoy our breakfast along with an ocean view. A walk along the park's hiking trail that gave us a preview of some of the spectacular scenery that we were going to enjoy over the next few weeks.

After our hike, Doug studied up and announced that he had found us a lunch spot near to our next hiking trail. Great, I thought ... my first opportunity to try out the fish that this island is famous for. We both had to chuckle when Doug pulled into a big empty parking area with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other. True, he had found us a lunch spot ... I just needed to provide the lunch! 

Fueled up with my standard ''go-to'' lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, we found the trailhead for the Starlite Trail. 

This three mile hike would lead us up through thick forests 

... until we got up above the tree line 

... and into the clouds at the top of the mountain

... where we were rewarded with an amazing view of the lake and waterfall below us.

The island of Newfoundland has one ''main'' highway, the Trans-Canada Highway, that connects the western side of the island with the eastern side. While it provides for relatively quick travel from one end of the island to the other, there isn't much scenery other than possibly an occasional stray moose, and you don't want to run into that kind of scenery when you are cruising down the highway. 

We decided to make Gros Morne National Park our first main destination, so we veered off the ''main drag'' and headed to Cape Saint George. There we found another boondocking spot that taught us that it is sometimes not a good idea to park close to the coast when the rain is fallin' and the winds are a-howlin'. 

The winds were still quite brisk the next morning, but the rain had subsided, so we decided to try out the scenic and tasty Bread Crumb Trail. This would have been a fairly easy hike had it not been for the strong gusts of wind that still tried to blow us off course. But our efforts led us to amazing views of the cliffs high above the coast.

Our pictures may look serene, but it was very obvious to us how the strong winds and pounding waves have carved away at the coastline over the years.

We found out that this trail is called the Bread Crumb Trail because every day during the summer months, local citizens bake bread in the wood-fire oven at the park entrance. I did say that this hike was tasty because ... as we finished our hike, this cheerful teen was handing out the warm, fresh-from-the-oven rolls. She isn't sure how the tradition started, but she has been enjoying the bread here for as long as she could remember, and she was happy to improve her bread-making skills as well as spread the joy through this unique summer job.

Gros Morne National Park

There are certain places that one needs to visit while in Newfoundland, and Gros Morne National Park usually tops the list. The meaning of its name ... large mountain standing alone ... became obvious as we drove into the park. This mountain towers over the forests and fjords that make this area famous.

We stayed in three of the national park's campgrounds during our visit in Gros Morne National Park. Unlike US national park campgrounds which you have to book far in advance, it was possible to drive right in and get a cozy spot for the night. Their sites were spacious, and they had nice laundry and shower facilities. Staying in the national park campgrounds also gave us easy access to some of the park's most popular hiking trails and allowed us to experience many of the sights that make this part of Newfoundland so unique.

The first evening we hiked the trail that led us along the coast for a perfect western island sunset and made plans for the next few days of our visit in the national park.

Western Brook Pond

Gros Morne National Park is famous for its varied and unique landscapes including Western Brook Pond ... the glacier-carved, land-locked, fresh-water fjord. This ten mile long pond is best explored by booking a boat cruise which we did.

A two mile hike from the parking area brought us out to the boat dock. For the next two hours we were gifted with spectacular views of waterfalls,

... artistic rock formations,

... and views that are forever etched in our memories.

Moose Tracks

Interestingly, moose are not native to Newfoundland. Four moose were ''imported'' to the island in 1904 as a source of food, and now over 100 years later, more than 120,000 moose roam the island and nibble away at their favorite trees and bushes. Their great numbers have made them both a blessing and a curse. They are hunted and used for meat on the island, and it was common to see ''moose burgers'' on restaurant menus. But also, because of their great size and the fact that they tend to roam from dusk until dawn, they can be a huge road hazard. Thus we were told by many locals to not drive after sunset.

During one hike in the national park, we came upon an interesting visualization of how the moose have impacted the forests of  the island. This fenced area is a ''moose exclosure''. It was put up over ten years ago to keep the moose out in order to study the effects of their eating habits on the forest vegetation in the national park. Inside the fence where no moose has been for over ten years, the area was thickening up with new growths of trees, bushes, and flowers. As we walked outside the fence, we noticed how the forest thinned out dramatically, and it became quite clear which vegetation is the moose's favorite ''munchie''. 

The Pitcher Plant

While walking through the marshy area around the park, we noticed Newfoundland's official flower, the pitcher plant, growing in abundance. 

This carnivorous plant thrives in the nutrient-poor bogs by attracting, trapping, and digesting insects caught in their pitcher-shaped leaves.

A few less flies and mosquitoes?? We're ok with that ... besides, their flower heads are quite pretty! 

Gros Morne National Park Hiking Trails

Gros Morne has numerous hiking trails that showcase the unique beauty of this national park. Some though, were a little more challenging than others. We had almost made it the three miles to Bakers Brook Falls when the trail turned to mud.

It was a little messy at times, but that is what hiking boots are for. And the view of the waterfall at the end was definitely worth it!

Lookout Trail had a lot of uphill climbs, but portions of boardwalk made it easier to navigate through the bogs filled with pitcher plants and led us high up ...

... to where colorful Adirondack chairs once again invited us to relax and enjoy the view.

Don't mind if I do!

The 360 degree panoramic view at the top was a great reward for the effort.

The Tablelands

Gros Morne National Park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its many natural wonders. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in case you, like me, were wondering. One of the park's most unique treasures is called the Tablelands. In this section of the park, geologists have determined that the rocks were formed deep in the middle layer (or mantle) of the earth.

Through the years, scientists have studied this barren rock field in order to prove the theory of plate tectonics. In layman's terms ... this unique orange landscape was found to be exposed mantle from the center of the earth that was thrown up millions of years ago by collisions of tectonic plates.

Even though streams run through this rocky area, no plants can grow in this area because of the high concentrations of toxic metals such as iron and magnesium.

But, despite the lack of vegetation, the interesting features of the rocks that made their way from the middle of the earth continued to remind us of what an amazing part of the world we are just starting to explore.

We are discovering that Newfoundland is a place where tall lighthouses decorate the rugged coastlines ...

... A place where wildflowers add a layer of beauty to the mountains,

... a place where Cod is King,

and fish & chips is going to quickly replace the standard grilled cheese lunch!

Our first week in Newfoundland has just ''whet our appetites'' for the tall mountaintops,

dramatic coastlines,

and flowing waterfalls,

that this Canadian province has for us to discover!

More to come as we venture to the eastern part of this island
lined with craggy coastlines, quaint fishing villages, and possibly ... Puffins! 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Cruising Along the Quebec Coastline

When asked, many of our hometown friends would state that the ultimate road trip is a journey up the ''North Shore'' of Minnesota. Highway 61 hugs the coastline of Lake Superior, and at any given point, views of lighthouses, waterfalls, cliffs, and quaint towns fill the traveler with a deep sense of awe as the beauty stretches out before them.

So when we asked our new Canadian friends about what to see and do in Quebec, they all had the same answer. We need to follow the Fleuve Saint-Laurent (St Lawrence River) and seek out the Route des Baleines (Whale Route) as we make a road trip of a lifetime up the Cóte Nord (North Coast) and around Gaspésia (Gaspé Peninsula).  

When we left Quebec City, we had a week to travel to Nova Scotia where we catch a ferry that will take us to the provincial island of Newfoundland. 

Not nearly enough time to discover every rocky cove,

... or hidden waterfall,

... or quaint village along the way,
but we did develop an appreciation for the kilometres of natural beauty that lies along the coastline of Quebec.

Our route was planned, the ferry ride across the St Lawrence River was booked,

... and our skillful driver was ready to handle the twisty, bumpy and steep roads that would lead us to some amazing sights as we cruised along the Quebec coastline!

A few of our highlights along the way included ...

Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre

Thirty minutes up the road from Quebec City is the oldest pilgrimage site in North America. The Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre Shrine is dedicated to the grandmother of Jesus. Towering over the St Lawrence River, it was built in 1658 by sailors in the area seeking divine protection against the harsh elements of their trade. The church was dedicated to St Anne who is known as the patron saint of sailors. 

The basilica is magnificent .... adorned with stained glass and filled with hundreds of works of art that celebrate the life of St Anne, St Mary, and Jesus.

It is also a revered holy place of healing as many miracles have been attributed to St Anne's intercession through the years. Candles are lit by visitors seeking and/or receiving answers to their prayers.

Two giant pillars embellished with crutches of all types signified the miraculous acts of healing that have taken place in this holy place over the years.

Whale Watching Tour

Attracted by abundant sources of food and cold summer waters, whales of many types call this northern area of the St Lawrence River their summer home. The area around the village of Tadoussac is primo for seeing humpbacks, belugas, and blue whales. 

While there we took advantage of one of the many whale-watching tours that are offered. Although the day was sunny and warm, it was quite chilly on the water, so we were happy to be given the fashionable orange parkas along with waterproof pants.

The zodiac boat that we rode in was smaller, faster, and lower to the water than typical tour boats,

... therefore, we had a greater possibility of getting wet. But we also enjoyed the chance to see a number of these gentle giants up close.

At one point, a humpback gave us an up-close and personal greeting as he swam right underneath our boat. Peak whale-watching season is June through September, and we would highly recommend getting off the highway like we did to check out the real Routes des Baleines (Whale Route).

Ferry Ride Across the Fleuve Saint-Laurent

At one point in our journey we had to cross over the Fleuve Saint-Laurent (St Lawrence River) to Gaspésia (the Gaspé Peninsula). It was fun to look for more whales and catch the sunset during this two hour cruise across this vast and beautiful waterway.

A check of the on-board vending machines revealed candy bars unique to this area, but Doug wouldn't mind if Coffee Crisp chocolate bars would catch on in the United States.


Another fun destination was located on the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. The cute hamlet of Percé attracts many tourists every summer. They come to see its unique rock formations and view the thousands of birds that hang out on nearby Bonaventure Island National Park.

While not usually a fan of ''touristy'' towns, Doug was allured by the promise of lobster ... specifically lobster rolls at La Maison de Pecheur (The Fisherman's House).

I enjoyed the chance to relax along the water on the fancy beach chairs that adorn many of the public parks and beaches in the area.

Spectacular Side-of-the-Coast Sights

Down every hill and around every curve, spectacular sights greeted us as we made our way down the coast.

We could tell that we were approaching a new town when the majestic silver church steeple appeared on the horizon.

Waterfalls could be found all along the route. Canyon Ste. Anne, which is near to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre, is even taller than Niagara Falls (242 feet vs 167 feet). 

Water birds just begging to be the next subject of one of my ''artsy'' photos lined the waterfront.

The guides at the Visitor Information Centres along the route were always happy (I think) to practice their English as they gave us hints of neat ''off-the-beaten-path'' places to see. Following their suggestion, we stretched our legs with a short hike/rock scramble along the shore in the cute village of Port-au-Persil.

Halfway up the ''Cote Nord'', the road transformed into a ten-minute ferry ride in order to cross the Riviére Saguenay as it flows into the St Lawrence River.

The summer weekend traffic was more than the ferry could handle, but we were ok taking in the views while we waited.

Hard to see in this picture, but the mouth of the river was teeming with white beluga whales who come here every summer to give birth.

On the other side of the river, the road continued, but we took a side detour to the check out another Canadian microbrasserie (microbrewery). 

Lighthouses are also a common sight along this jagged coastline, and it is this co-pilot's job to make sure that we stop at as many as we can.

Marinas became welcome sights along the way because, as we soon found out, amazing food truck preparing fresh seafood could often be found intermingled among the fishing boats.

It is at one such marina food truck that we found our winner for the best Canadian Poutine. This shrimp poutine with a delicious white sauce made Doug forget that he really doesn't like gravy that much.

The only thing better than watching this dad teach his sons to fish was seeing the excitement on the little guy's face as he reeled in a decent sized fish.

Pop-up art is evident in this area that attracts artisans as well as fishermen. This large creation was on the side of the local sanitation department ... and was made of ''re-purposed'' garbage.

Even lobster traps become a part of the local art scene!

Beautiful Coastline Resting Spots

One thing that continues to amaze us is the number of beautiful boondocking locations that invite us to come and rest free-and-easy for the night.

Many halte municipales (city rest areas) allowed us to park overnight, and they usually had bathroom facilities and comfy park benches so that we could enjoy our view of the coastline.

We use the app iOverlander to find primo boondocking locations like this local fisherman's hangout between the river's edge and a quiet neighborhood.

Marinas also have plenty of quiet,

... as well as scenic resting spots.

It is also fun to stay with local people that we meet through our Boondockers Welcome membership.

One gracious host couple gave us a healthy supply of wild blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans and broccoli from their garden as well as useful information about what to see and do in the area.

The ultimate perfect boondocking spot is when I can set my alarm, get up, grab my camera, open the door, and capture the beauty of a sunrise while still staying warm in my cozy van.

Yes, just as this French phrase translates to ''I want this paradise everyday'' ...

...  we are grateful for all the bits of paradise that we enjoy!

Port of Sydney

The end of our coastline journey brought us into the port town of Sydney, Nova Scotia.

A walk along the downtown boardwalk 

... gave us another beautiful sunset view as we looked forward to tomorrow and a journey that will take us to a place which up to this moment, I don't even know how to pronounce correctly.

Next up:
Hop on the ferry with us as we head to the most easterly province of Canada ... we are excited to explore the island of Newfoundland
... or as a native would pronounce it ... ''newf'in-LAND''!