20170714 – Day 16

Got up at 04:00 again this morning to head back out to Cape Spear for another sunrise.  This morning was great, no clouds in the sky, and much less windy than yesterday.  Again, we headed back to the hotel to catch a bit more sleep.

After breakfast at the hotel, we drove back out to Cape Spear to see the historic lighthouse.  There’s a modern automated light station there now, but it’s also the site of the oldest lighthouse in Newfoundland which still remains as a historic site operated by Parks Canada.  We got a bit of a tour of the site, which also explained a bit of the military history and how it was used as a battery in WWII.

From the top of the hill, you can follow the East Coast Trail out along the headland, so we went a few kilometres along that.  The East Coast Trail runs from the top of the Avalon peninsula down to the bottom along the coastline, and is mostly a rough walking trail.  The part around Cape Spear had fairly minimal elevation change, but had several spots to get a view of the ocean, the lighthouse, icebergs, boats, and whales.


I survived the hike mostly fine, my sister is looking like a well-cooked lobster from the sun.

Next we made our way out to Fort Amherst, which lies across the harbour narrows from Signal Hill.  This had been recommended to us by the provincial commissioner at the Girl Guide office yesterday.  It has a light station (fully automated) and the remains of several military batteries (including an old cannon still mounted), but unfortunately there’s a fence blocking off access to the more crumbly unstable interesting bits.

Our flight home is tomorrow afternoon, but we have to return the rental car to the airport by noon, so we’ll probably end up spending a few hours in the airport.  It’s been great seeing Newfoundland, and — as always — so much more that we would have liked to see if we’d had time.

20170713 – Day 15

We got up at 04:00 this morning to drive out to Cape Spear to watch the sun rise at the easternmost point in Canada.  Evidently this was a thing that people commonly do, because the guy at the hotel lobby desk already had some breakfast food out and printed off some directions for us.  Of course directions are only helpful when there are street signs (which there aren’t), but we managed to only miss 2 of the turns and ended up backtracking slightly to get ourselves back on course.

It was colder and windier at Cape Spear than we expected, but we were there for the sunrise.  Unfortunately the actual sun was behind some clouds, so we’re probably going to try again tomorrow and hope for a clearer day.  We headed back to the hotel, since it was still before 06:00 and went back to sleep for another few hours.

We got breakfast around 09:00 and tried to decide what our plan for the rest of the day involved.  Originally we’d planned to go back to Cape Spear when the visitor centre was open, but we decided instead to visit the Girl Guide office (my mom and sister are both very involved in guiding) and see Signal Hill today.  That involved another series of confusing directions, but luckily I had loaded them up on Google Maps before leaving the hotel.

The Girl Guide office was on the northern side of Quidi Vidi lake, in one of two remaining buildings constructed by the US military when they had an army camp here during one of the world wars.  Leaving, we drove down through the Quidi Vidi village area but there weren’t any signs indicating where to park or what exactly to see, so we ended up continuing on past it and trying to make our way up to Signal Hill.

We went to the Signal Hill visitor centre to read about the history of the site and get some food, and then walked up by Queen’s Battery and over to Cabot Tower.  Signal Hill looms over the entrance to the St. John’s harbour and has been an important site for hundreds of years.  It’s been a nearly constant site of military defenses, figuring prominently in the last battle of the Seven Years War when the English climbed up the hill to recapture it from the French.  It was also used in World Wars I & II to defend the harbour.

Beyond military uses, Signal Hill has been used for signalling for even longer than its military uses.  Ships waiting to enter the harbour would raise flags to be visible from Signal Hill, and the signalmaster there would raise flags that could be seen from the city below.  This worked like a sort of relay system to inform companies along the waterfront when their ships were arriving, as well as signaling to the ships when they could proceed.

Signal Hill is also famous as the site where Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless transmission, ushering in the use of radio signals for overseas communication.  An amateur radio station VO1AA still operates out of Cabot Tower, but unfortunately there was no communication happening while we were there, and the attendant wasn’t qualified to allow others to use the station.  In theory, I’d be allowed to use the station, since I hold an amateur radio basic qualifications licence, but not today.  Heading back down from Cabot Tower, Mom somehow managed to lose the very obvious gravel trail and got her shoes soaked and muddy, so we called it a day and headed back to the hotel.

We drove down to a nearby shopping mall to hit up the food court for dinner.  One thing that keeps surprising me at food courts here is the lack of compost bins.  In Vancouver, composting is mandatory, and it’s routine to have 3 or 4 different bins for garbage, glass/plastic recycling, paper recycling, and organics/compost.  Here, it’s just garbage and glass/plastic recycling.  It feels so wrong to be throwing things like napkins and tea bags into the garbage, so evidently that west coast indoctrination is working as intended.

20170712 – Day 14

We decided to spend our first day in St. John’s walking around the old downtown.  Got breakfast at the hotel and then tried to get directions downtown.  That ended up being a bit stressful, since St. John’s apparently doesn’t believe in street signs and roads routinely converge and separate and are one-way.  After driving a loop of the downtown twice, we finally managed to get into a parkade.

We walked down Water Street for a bit and found a visitor information centre.  We continued on to the Newfoundland Railway Museum, which documented the construction of a railway across the island and also the various ships that were used for transport to Labrador and Nova Scotia.  More recently, the now-abandoned railway line has been turned into a provincial park trail (called the T’Railway) the spans from St. John’s to Port aux Basques.

We had picked up some brochures of walking tours of the historic downtown, so we followed the one for the western part of the city.  Along the way was a stop at the Newman’s wine cellars which included a sampling of Newman’s port.  We later got lunch at the Ryan premises, and followed the walking tour for the central downtown area.  After stopping in some souvenir shops, we walked down Water Street to its eastern end to visit the Terry Fox Mile 0 memorial.

By this point we were all tired of walking, so we decided to head back to the hotel.  Getting back was also an adventure, given turning restrictions, road closures, detours, and no ability to get directions without cell service.  After a very very indirect route, we managed to get back to the hotel.

20170711 – Day 13

Today was our “drive to St. John’s” day, and that’s pretty much all we did.  Slept in until 9 (which was nice after several days of early mornings) and then set out on the highway.

We stopped at the visitor information centre in Gander to see about getting a hotel reservation for St. John’s, rather than leaving it to the very last minute.  Most of the hotels were already booked, but we managed to get one a bit of a ways outside of downtown.  The whole Newfoundland portion of this trip we’ve been without hotel reservations and there have been a few close calls because of it.

We made it to St. John’s and got checked in.  I swear when we did our trip in 2008 we had better maps, because navigating in the cities here has been an absolute nightmare.  Our limited maps don’t show all the street names, and half the time there aren’t street signs to tell what the street name even is.  We don’t have cell service in Newfoundland, so Google Maps isn’t an option either (although we did at one point stop at Tim Horton’s to use their wi-fi to find a hotel).

Went up the road a bit for dinner where we could just get some pasta.  We’re all getting a bit tired of restaurant food.

20170710 – Day 12

We drove back into Gros Morne today to check out the guided hike of the Tablelands.  It was a great trip, and we had an amazing guide who was both incredibly knowledgeable and funny.  The Tablelands are an extremely unique area where rock from the earth’s mantle is exposed on the surface without having been metamorphosed into other types of rock.

It appears as a barren rusty cliff-face standing out against the green of surrounding hills.  The contrast is very stark, with one side of the highway covered in the typical shrubby trees and the other almost bare reddish rock.  The reason for so few plants is because these rocks from the mantle contain high levels of toxic heavy metals like Aluminium, Cadmium, Cobalt, Nickel, and Iron.

It’s in part because of this geological anomaly that the area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This is where the concept of plate tectonics was proven, because within a 12km area you can find rock from the mantle in the Tablelands, rock from deep ocean crust across the highway, rock from beachy areas forming Gros Morne mountain, and rock from shallow sea beds forming other mountains nearby.

We finished our tour of the Tablelands just before 13:00, and headed back to Deer Lake for lunch. Then we continued driving all afternoon to reach Gander.  The network connection in our hotel room is terrible, and we were tired of eating restaurant food, so we’re currently spending the evening in Tim Horton’s down the road.

20170709 – Day 11

Today was a travel day mostly.  We got up very early and, since there was nowhere nearby to get breakfast, ended up driving back into St. Anthony to stop at Tim Horton’s.  Then we drove pretty non-stop to the historic site at Port aux Choix.

Port aux Choix has been inhabited in several periods over the past 4500 years.  The earliest inhabitants (“Maritime Archaic Indians”) used it as a burial ground, and it is the best preserved burial site that has been discovered to date.  Artifacts from the graves have been one of the main sources of knowledge about these people.  It was later inhabited by “Paleoeskimo” and Dorset people, and later still by proto-Beothuk people.

It’s interesting to hear about these distinct periods of settlement and how these groups came to be abandon the site (and eventually become extinct) as a result of natural changes.  Periods of cooling and warming altered the environment and the wildlife that was able to be hunted.  It’s easy to think of indigenous people as having lived in unchanging ways for thousands of years until disruption by European contact, but the reality is that it was a slow but constant churn of different groups with different technology.

After getting lunch in Port aux Choix, we drove until we got to Deer Lake where we’re spending the night.  Our plan tomorrow is to head back slightly into Gros Morne to check out the Tablelands, and then more driving so we can reach Gander.

20170708 – Day 10

We got breakfast at the hotel today, and then drove through St. Anthony to Fishing Point Park overlooking the Atlantic to see if there were any icebergs visible.  There were a few in the distance (kinda hard to see with the marine cloud and fog) and even a few in a nearby inlet.  We walked around there taking pictures for a bit before heading up to L’Anse aux Meadows.

L’Anse aux Meadows is one of the most northern points on the island of Newfoundland, and the site of a short-lived Norse settlement approximately 1000 years ago.  The Saga of Erik the Red tells of the discovery of a place the Norse called Vínland, and archeological works at L’Anse aux Meadows prove that this was the site of a likely Norse landing.  The remains of several sod dwellings and workshops have been excavated, including a forge.

The site is now a Parks Canada National History Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and includes a to-scale reconstruction of some of the buildings that would have existed in the Norse settlement.

There’s also a trail leading along the coastline for a bit and then through the peat bog area, which we followed.  I have to say, the peat bog and rocky landscape don’t exactly meet my criteria for an ideal place to establish a colony.

We left L’Anse aux Meadows and drove back to find our motel for the night.  By this time, the weather was pretty rainy and fog had rolled in, so we weren’t able to see any more icebergs.  We tried again after dinner, but the fog was still making visibility quite bad.

20170707 – Day 9

We got up this morning to gale force winds, and uncertainty about whether our plan of a boat tour of Western Brook Pond would go ahead or not.  We got breakfast at the hotel and drove to the trailhead.  We’d been told that we wouldn’t know if the tour was running until we actually got to the dock at the end of the trail.

Luckily, it was running, and we were able to make our reservation for the 10:00 tour.  The winds were ridiculously strong though, and along some parts of the 3km trail boardwalk it was hard to walk without almost being blown off the boardwalk.  In a few spots near other ponds, the wind was making waves big enough to splash up onto the boardwalk.  It kept threatening to rain too.

The rain arrived just after we got on the boat.  We’d chosen to sit on the upper deck, open to the weather, for better views.  We donned our ponchos pretty quickly, and managed to stay mostly dry for the duration of the boat tour.

Western Brook Pond is a former fjord carved out by glaciers, but now a freshwater lake cut off from the ocean.  It’s one of the few lakes with a neutral pH level and the water is so pure that it does not conduct electricity because it contains so few impurities.  The mountainous walls are over 600m tall, made of volcanic rock that’s metamorphosed into gneiss.  Waterfalls and hanging valleys aplenty.

We were reasonably dry when we got off the boat, but were not fortunate enough to make it back to the car in the same condition.  The rain started not long after we set out on the trail back to the parking lot, and picked up in strength until everyone was soaked.  Even the ponchos didn’t help much due to the wind.

We had a long drive ahead to St. Anthony, so we got back on the road as quickly as possible. We made a quick stop at Arches Provincial Park and a late lunch/snack stop in Port Saunders, and got into St. Anthony not too long after 18:00.  Our plan was to stay for 2 nights, but unfortunately none of the local hotels had any rooms available for the second night.  We were lucky enough to get a room in St. Anthony for tonight, and one at a different motel closer to L’Anse aux Meadows for tomorrow night.

Dinner was pizza at the nearby Viking Mall, and then a quick stop at Tim Horton’s for tea.  The Tim Horton’s in St. Anthony has a one-of-a-kind “Iceberg Doughnut” as part of their Iceberg Festival.  Speaking of icebergs, we’ll hopefully be seeing some more of them tomorrow.

20170706 – Day 8

Today was mostly driving.  We got up around 07:00 for breakfast and then stopped at the Mary March Provincial Museum.  They had some interesting information about how the island was formed and how there are several distinct geological areas:  two tectonic plates, and part of the ocean floor.  The museum was named after Mary March, the name given to a Beothuk woman named Demasduit, who was captured by English settlers after they murdered her husband during a raid.  They later attempted to return her to the Beothuk people, but she died of tuberculosis before they were reunited.

We left Grand Falls-Windsor around 10:00 and headed towards Deer Lake.  We stopped in Deer Lake for lunch, and then carried on towards Gros Morne National Park and Rocky Harbour.

We were lucky enough to find a hotel room in Rocky Harbour for the night, and booked the Western Brook Pond boat trip in Gros Morne for tomorrow morning.  Our plan is to make it up to the top of the island tomorrow and spend the next two nights in St. Anthony while we tour the Viking site at L’Anse-aux-Meadows.

We got dinner at a little restaurant/cafe beside the hotel, and then watched the sunset over the harbour.  There seems to be an issue with connecting to the hotel wi-fi, so I’m ending up connecting via my phone and then tethering my phone via bluetooth so that I can make this post.  Hopefully better connectivity for nights ahead.

20170705 – Day 7

We got continental breakfast at the hotel in Gander, and then set out to drive up to Twillingate.  We stopped at the Beothuk Interpretation Centre in Boyd’s Cove to learn about the now-extinct indigenous people of Newfoundland.  Boyd’s Cove is the site of a historic Beothuk village that was uncovered by archeologists in the 1980s.  The interpretation centre has a trail that leads over to the village site, but a bridge had washed out over the winter so we weren’t able to see it up close.

We drove up to Twillingate, and caught our first glimpse of icebergs off in the distance.  We accidentally continued slightly past Twillingate to Crow Head.  There was a lighthouse there that we toured, and took photos of the one iceberg we could see in the waters nearby there.  We stopped for lunch at a nearby cafe, and then parked in Mutford’s Cove where several more icebergs were visible just off-shore.


While we were standing on an outcropping taking photos, the iceberg in the foreground of that photo cracked into two pieces, and we watched them separate.

Leaving Twillingate, we continued back towards the Trans-Canada Highway and into Grand Falls-Windsor for the night.  The most common road sign here in Newfoundland seems to be “Caution: Potholes Ahead”, which is certainly accurate for pretty much every road we’ve driven on.

We arrived in Grand Falls-Windsor and had a bit of trouble finding a hotel.  The map we were using neglected to label almost any street names, and our guidebook didn’t provide directions.  After going in circles through the town, we ended up resorting to stopping at Tim Horton’s so we could use their wi-fi to find a hotel on Google Maps and get directions to it.  I feel like we had better maps back in 2008, because we definitely weren’t using Google Maps on cell phones back in those days.