(May 11 – May 30, 2015)
We spent quite a long time deciding on whether we would come here or not. The weather forecasts, amounts of snow, and the reactions of the people who we told, a somewhat surprised look followed by a smirk to outright laughter, made us think twice. Then at some point we both just decided to make a go of it regardless of the weather or of what people had told us. Besides we packed our winter things and not just for nothing either… Now after almost three weeks on this rather rugged island we are really happy that we made the decision to come. Newfoundland has really exceeded our expectations!
Since we wanted to take the morning ferry our plan was to camp the night before at the ferry terminal, well actually just outside of the ferry terminal, but when we went inside to buy our ticket for the crossing a nice employee told us that we could park directly in the terminal, and to our pleasant surprise, we would have access to the building the whole night including: WIFI, hot tea, and the best part hot showers. So we ended up having a rather comfortable evening parked next to the big rigs, an experience in its self.
The next morning we were excited like two kids before a roller coaster ride as we drove the Landy onto the ferry. Somehow it’s a different kind of adventure travelling by ferry to an unknown land. Our next surprise didn’t take too long either: We meet Bruce, John and Morton on the ferry and after a really interesting afternoon Bruce invited us all out to dinner! It was a very welcomed offer, which we graciously accepted. Eating out isn’t exactly something we can afford to do too often on our budget (If we ate out often our trip would end that much sooner…) so we savor the excellent roast beef from the ships kitchen that much more. Thanks again Bruce!
With full bellies we arrive in Port aux Basques to temperatures around 7C, not any colder than we had in Nova Scotia to our surprise. The only thing we have to do now is find a spot to camp for the night. According to the map the provincial park J.T. Cheeseman is only a few kms away so we head for it, even though we aren’t sure if its open or not. The gate is open when we arrive but we don’t see anyone in the booth, and no one is in the office so we decided to simply pick a spot and camp for the night – as it turns out for free. Not a bad start we think!
As just about everyone assured us we didn’t have to wait too long for the newfie weather to show itself, the next day the thermometer started the downward spiral towards zero and the wind started picking up. After a windy walk along the beach at the provincial park we were quite happy to be on our way to Corner Brook safe and warm in our Landy. Cooking outside in the rain and wind didn’t really appeal to us so we bit the bullet and fled to a restaurant instead. A few hours sitting in the warmth of the restaurant and enjoying a good and relatively inexpensive meal the idea of leaving to look for a place to camp in the now sleet and wind was really hard! Low hanging grey clouds accompanied us as we drove along the Humber Arm with the sleet changing to rain and back again every few minutes. Not exactly the ideal weather to look for a place to camp, but quite unexpectedly at the very end of the arm, at the very end of the road we found the „perfect“ place to camp at Bottle Cove. It’s not really all that easy to „wild“ camp, as we have found. Most of the time we don’t find the perfect spot that we imagine in our daydreams. It needs to be level, and of course not in the middle of a town, with access to water, and of course no „No Camping“ or „No Overnight Parking“ sign. Extras like super views or idyllic location generally fall under the “rare” category. So we are more than thrilled at our luck at stumbling upon a spot with a fantastic view of the cove! The sleet and wind are temporarily forgotten and we head out on a little evening hike before retreating into our car to our air heater and ginormous duvet.
The next morning we are greeted by more sleet, but with our ideal starting position we headed out onto the extremely well laid and maintained hiking trails set up by the O.B.I.E.C (Outer Bay of Islands Enhancement Committee) ignoring the weather as much as we could. The trails were a lot of fun to hike and we came across one super view after another.
After doing some grocery shopping in Corner Brook we finally headed in the direction of Deer Lake sometime after lunch. As so often the case, it seems, we totally underestimated the time it takes to get anything done: Started too late on the road, took too long at grocery shopping, and started too late to look for a camping spot… we searched for what felt like half an eternity and just as we were about to give up and park behind the next gas station we met Pauline (who stopped because she thought we were lost). As it turns out Pauline is also a vet and with her husband Phil have a dairy farm just outside of Deer Lake. She offered us a spot to camp next to one of her big stalls, which also has a full bathroom available (with shower!). The night was really cold and the next morning we noticed that our towels, which we hung up outside the car, were frozen stiff! It was so cold that we decided to hit the road without breakfast. Thanks again Pauline and Phil for letting us stay at your farm!
Our next stop was Twillingate, they supposedly have an iceberg “guarantee” and of course we were keen to see our first. As we arrived we could see that just about everything is called “iceberg” something or other: Iceberg B&B, Iceberg Café, Iceberg Gallery, and Iceberg Tours etc. Of course most of them are still closed but we were happy to find out that the only campground in the area just opened for the season.
With the exception of one RV we were the only ones there so we could pick out the best spot for us. The next day we found out just how good of a spot we picked: Although we had clear blue skies we could hear the wind blowing through the trees and the waves crashing into the shore, but our spot was so well sheltered from the wind we didn’t feel a thing. We could just sit there enjoying the warmth of sun as the wind rustled the treetops. At $15/night, a really fair price we think, we decided to stay for the week and set up our complete camp. We even officially opened tenting season and setup our Howling moon roof tent for the first time. The weather continued to improve over the next couple of days, which didn’t bother us at all, but even the locals said that it was unusual for this time of year. We were so happy with the sudden spring-like weather that at first we didn’t feel like doing too much besides enjoying the sun and our awesome camp. We cooked over an open fire for the first time and tried out our cast iron bread pan – with success! The first time using hot coals to bake bread and it turned out really good and tasty (even though it was a bit burnt on the bottom – beginner mistake J).
As for the promised icebergs they remained in the distance too shy to venture close to the coast, apparently we were also too early for iceberg season too. That’s ok though, we may not have gotten to see any icebergs up close here in Twillingate but we did meet two wonderful people, Nina and Michael, on a hike around the area. We got along instantly and ended up hanging out with them the next three evenings chatting like we’ve known each other for years. What a great and welcomed chance encounter meeting the both of you!
Gros Morne National Park
Since we started planning our trip to Newfoundland we have heard from just about everyone that we absolutely have to visit Gros Morne and that the landscape is stunning. So we decided set up our camp at Green Point campground, it’s not exactly like we had a choice thought, since it’s the only one that’s currently open. Camping at a National or Provincial park is always nice. The sites are spacious, well laid out and take the natural landscape into account. Each site has its own picnic table and fire pit and trees and/or bushes separate you from the next site to provide some privacy, almost like your own little yard. It really makes camping fun! The super weather, unfortunately, didn’t hold out for us (after almost a week of sunshine I guess we shouldn’t complain too much) and that evening storm winds shook us in our roof tent. The next day turned out to be a real test for our Foxwing awning and walls with the wind blowing in off the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Despite the icy winds we set off to hike along the coast and were rewarded with some spectacular views. We also saw a lot of Moose tracks and droppings and around each corner we were hoping to see one. Apparently they were smarter than us and didn’t bother strolling about in such weather. Later that evening I finally got to see my first Moose in Newfoundland (Gary wasn’t so lucky). A completely unexpected encounter, apparently for both of us, there we stood staring at each other a few meters apart until the spell was broken and the Moose took off at an ungainly trot into the woods. We also saw some signs of beaver at the nearby Berry Hill pond but unfortunately the busy little creature stayed hidden from us.
We ended up only staying three nights at the park, as the weather didn’t seem to want to improve; besides it was getting time to have a shower again. Green point is nice and all but they only have cold water and for an outdoor shower with cold water the temperatures are just a wee bit too low.
In the morning we decided to break camp after breakfast and while heating water for tea our propane tank suddenly runs dry. It seemed to us that it emptied rather quickly; just about 3 weeks of cooking with a 2,5kg propane tank is not long right? When we bought it we saw that you could also buy these funny little gauges that would show you the level of gas in the tank, we even though for a minute to buy one but then thought, bah we don’t need all those knick-knacks anyway… Hindsight… Luckily we have a backup power gas canister for our little primus burner with us when we want to make a quick coffee or tea without having to set up the big two-burner stove. Filling the tank proved to be more of a challenge than we thought too. The nearest station, Rocky Harbour, was only a couple of kms away and although they fill propane tanks they only do them once a day at 4pm! It wasn’t even 11am yet and we didn’t really want to hang around until then so just as we were about to pay $7 for a 16oz propane tank along came Nolan and Ashley to the rescue. They heard us talking to the attendant about the propane and offered us their two remaining 16oz tanks from their last tour. As it turns out they had spotted our Landy in Deer Lake and visited our blog so they were familiar with our adventure. The tanks would definitely help us along for a few days until we can find a solution. Thanks again Nolan and Ashley!
Besides “No Camping”, “Closed for the season” has become one of our favorite sayings here in Newfoundland. We often ask ourselves when does the season actually open here? First we thought that everything should be opened by middle of May, but the more north we traveled the more towards the end of May/June the season seemed to go. Regardless of where we went almost everything is “closed for the season”: Cafes, shops, bakeries, campgrounds, parks, visitor centers, tourist information, boat tours… everything seemed to still be hibernating and it’s the end of May. Actually, it’s not all that surprising really, we’ve trudged through meter high mounds of snow on our hikes and pretty much the only thing that’s green are the evergreens, with the exception of a hint of green grass here and there. It worked out in our favor mostly, we can’t spend any money at any of those things that are closed, but there is that thing with the showers and the lack thereof. We can, and do, wash ourselves, but at some point, at least for us, we reach a point where we can’t think of much else other than having a hot shower, especially to wash our hair. Washing hair outside at near freezing temperatures with the wind constantly blowing is definitely out! We can make it, as we have found out, a maximum of 5 days (the real outdoor freaks will probably laugh at that thinking that 5 days is nothing), and it’s actually not all that easy to find a shower. Even if a campground is open it’s no guarantee that you will get a shower, as we found out… So far either the water was still frozen or some other malfunction would prevent us from using the facilities and we would be back at square one. Upon leaving Gros Morne we drove all the way to Port aux Choix looking for a shower. The only Motel in the area wanted to charge us $10 for a shower! We asked the lady if that came with a personal masseur or other amenities, but apparently that’s the price of a shower these days…
Great Northern Peninsula
After finally finding a shower, and a camp, in Port aux Choix we headed up to the north tip of Newfoundland. We thought we would simply make a little detour before heading off to Labrador but this little spit of land really drew us in and we decided to spend some time here. The drive alone was fantastic with an ever-changing landscape with Moose and Caribou sightings. A young inquisitive Moose even posed nicely for us to take his photo. That evening we headed towards L’Anse aux Meadows and into a really breathtaking terrain; a deeply emotionally moving landscape, a balsam for the soul. It is quite difficult to describe in words and almost impossible to capture the feeling in a picture how ever hard we tried. Suddenly we see them… icebergs! Around almost every corner we discover a new view of them. Now that we are farther north we have apparently driven into the iceberg season. It’s clear to the both of us that we will spend some time here!
The weather also seemed to be improving. It’s cold and windy but nice and sunny, and if you want to see an iceberg you have to reckon that it’s going to be cold. We drive around following every side road “hunting” for icebergs and hike up the hills enjoying the rugged coastline, the ice formations of the many icebergs and many islands that make up the peninsula. The Viking village, in the national park of L’Anse aux Meadows, is still closed, but we could walk around and visit the site and look at the recreated Viking village.
In the evening while searching for a place to camp near St. Anthony we took a side road to Goose Cove. To our surprise right at the mouth of the harbor were three beached icebergs! We had heard that icebergs sometimes beach themselves right up on shore and just sit there and melt away, and sometimes the tide frees them again to continue their journey south. We spend some time just looking at them; the ice is thousands of years in the making, what stories it could tell! And now they are there just a few meters away from us. We couldn’t resist trying a piece of the ice that had broken off of the iceberg to see if it tasted different; you can even buy drinks chilled with real iceberg ice, for a little extra…
Polar bear Alert?
Along with all the typical Moose postcards that you can buy at every convenience store we also saw more and more cards with Polar bears on them. We visited a little shop and discovered polar bear plush toys and figures and the like and asked the lady there about them since we couldn’t really believe that they had polar bears so far south. But the lady in the shop confirmed that the polar bears follow the seals south on the pack ice and are spotted quite often here and even as far south as St. Johns. They can be seen sometimes until July! “Last year one tried to break my front door down” explains the lady, “that wasn’t particularly a comfortable experience, but luckily out door opens outwards so he couldn’t push it in.” “Here? Seriously!” we ask somewhat alarmed. “Yeah, right here.” she said. We looked at each other with open mouths; we certainly hadn’t expected to hear that. Just last night it was another late night and raining so we really didn’t feel like washing our dirty dishes and just packed them in our folding bucked at put them under the car. We thought at most a squirrel would come by and sniff at our plates not thinking that anything really dangerous was up in these parts. The lady then told us about a man who woke up late at night to a noise and went out of his bedroom to see a polar bear wandering around his living room! We had a hard time believing the stores as 100% truth thinking maybe that the lady was spinning us a yarn, but sure enough we heard on the radio on the drive back to our camp that a polar bear was sighted at the airport not 20kms away. We decided right there and then no matter how late, tired or how horrible the weather we will wash up and preferably far far away from our camp.
“To travel is to step outside ones comfort zone”
We set up our camp near a little village called Hay Cove on an old baseball field with a view overlooking l’Anse aux Meadows enjoying the wonderful landscape and our camp life. Camp wood gifted to us by the Hedderson brothers, and we filled our water supply with help of the generous locals at Hay Cove. We went on small hikes around the area and were continuously amazed by the views. It’s wonderfully sunny but as always windy. That’s something that one needs to get used to in Newfoundland, what really isn’t all that easy to do and it’s not getting any easier. The way we are travelling we are really dependant on the weather and our personal comfort level is quite limited. We realize exactly how limited time and again. We often get cold quickly, or it gets too hot or too uncomfortable, and when the wind constantly blows shaking the car, the tent or the foxwing walls, the constant noise tends to also get on ones nerves. It would be lie to say that it’s always fun. It takes a lot of energy and nerves sometimes, but it’s an experience, and we chose this way of travel with all it’s pros and cons.
For our last two nights in Newfoundland we decided to treat ourselves and stay in a local B&B. By the way we can highly recommend Viking Nest/Viking Village at Hay Cove, comfy, cozy and a great home cooked breakfast from Thelma. We had mountains of washing to do and a hot shower would also do a world of good. Besides it’s much more comfortable to write an article for our blog in the warmth and comfort of the B&B livingroom. We weren’t sure that she would let us in the way we looked with greasy hair, smelling strongly of campfire, and dirty clothes. But after a shower and freshly laundered clothes we look a lot more respectable and can enjoy the coziness.
Newfoundland has really left an impression on us with its amazing natural beauty and incredibly friendly and helpful people. We have had a lot of really intensely moving experiences here and would encourage everyone to go visit.
More Photos on Flickr: Newfoundland