Why Newfoundland will steal your heart — Part 2

Following on from my previous post on my trip to Newfoundland, here is part two!

Looking over at ‘The Battery’ and appropriately, a fishing boat going out to sea

Day 8 — Bonavista to St John’s

Day eight would see me drive the three and a half hours to St John’s. This was the big one — the oldest city in North America and the capital of the province to boot. I was excited — this was very much evident by the lead boot I had found for the day. Kia and I were flying along them roads!

I tried to find the road to the B36 crash site on the way down but some how missed it, and ended up back on the freeway. I’ll check it out on the way back, I thought to myself.

I got into St John’s at about 2pm and was eager to get the HI Hostel where I’d be staying for the next four nights. Not least so I could take a break from driving!

I had made a friend called Lindsay way back in Moncton, New Brunswick, the previous year, who by some weird traveler fate, was volunteering at the hostel where I was due to stay. I immediately warmed to Lindsay when we first met, but our time was very short as I was moving on, so it was great that we could meet again to exchange travel stories and see where we were both at in our lives.

The colourful houses St John’s is famous for

Our first port of call was to hike up to Signal Hill — a strategic hill and castle-like, 17th century fortification that looks over the city and its harbour. The views at the top are delightful and it’s a great place to sit and just reflect, or simply just to enjoy the view.

There was an erie calmness, as the wind whistled around the hill and the canons aimed down at an enemy that had long since departed.

Day 9 — St John’s

Today was due to be a quieter day. I seem to recall lounging around the hostel for a few hours, just jamming on the guitar and enjoying the laid back atmosphere there.

Later that day I headed up Signal Hill again, but this time took one of the coastal trails which took you around the coast to the little community of Quidi Vidi. Probably best known for the brewery of the same name.

I had the pleasure en route to observe a Bald Eagle nest. The nest was about 50 metres or so down the cliff-face, in the trees. I sat there for what must have been a good forty-five minutes, hoping the male or female (whichever was out hunting) would swoop in and return. Whilst it never happened, the waves crashing against the cliffs, flocks of birds and just the peacefulness of it kept me satisfied.

Day 10 — Bay Bulls and Whales

A Humpback whale dives for Herring

I had done little research before arriving in St John’s and knew there was some puffin and whale tours that head out from Bay Bulls; about 45mins drive south of St John’s

Today, Michael from just outside Toronto, Joan from Germany and I headed down to see if we could catch one of the tours. Somehow I managed to get us lost en route so we ended up making it by the skin of our teeth. In we ran to the store to purchase tickets, and just as we did, a whale exhaled from its blowhole right there in the harbour. “It’s a whale!!” I exclaimed. At that point we were desperate to get closer.

It’s quite something to think that you could just stand on the harbour front and watch two Humpback whales gracefully duck and dive for Herring, but that was exactly the case here. The Humpbacks would dive for minutes at a time to disturb and herd the Herring to the surface where the whales would then take massive gulps. It was like being in a nature documentary, except the ship’s captain was our David Attenborough.

Next we headed out to sea to checkout the cliffs and the puffins that were here ready for the breeding season. The captain told us that the ones present were merely “socialising” and getting “reacquinted”. It was unclear what they were better at — swimming or flying. With such tiny wings, they had a terrible time trying to takeoff.

Getting ‘Screeched-In’

That evening, Michael and I, plus a couple others from the hostel went out for a beer. Of course, there was talk of getting ‘screeched-in’. This is the process of becoming an honourary Newfoundlander, and involves reciting a passage of words, downing some Newfoundland steak and necking some screech rum. Oh, and kissing the cod, which is exactly how it sounds ;)

Anyway, it’s a bit of fun and quite the experience, after which you get a nice certificate to treasure.

Official Screechers!

Day 11 — East Coast Trail

I was procrastinating on what to do on this day for quite some time before looking up a part of the East Coast Trail and jumping in the car. My destination was Port Kirwan, and in particular, the Spurwink Island Path Coast Trail that starts here from the church car park.

What happened next really summed up my trip in many ways. After looking at the trail head and seeing that it was 9.3k each way, I spoke to three guys who were shooting the breeze outside one of their houses. I asked if there was a quicker or alternative way to get to the Arch. Since it was already 2pm, the chances of getting out and back before dark and actually enjoying the hike were minimal.

One guy — a big, burly fisherman called Gerald, said that he had marked an alternative route that would shave at least an hour each way. Not content with that, he then offered me a ride on his ATV/Quad to the trail head after his marked section!

The chaps had thick accents, and made jokes about how it would be the last anyone would see of me. I laughed along with it but did catch myself wondering whether my fate had been sealed by accepting the lift…

Berry Head Arch

I was to meet Gerald at the first trail head some 500m or so into the hike. Sure enough, ten minutes later, I heard the faint sound of the ATV. It grew louder and louder until he rounded the corner. I chucked my bag in and hopped on the back; ignoring the fact there was a huge axe at the front.

And off we went! It was a bumpy ride but well fun. The quad just ate up the terrain and asked for more.

Once at the trail head, Gerald gave me directions and off I went. He said to be sure to pop in for a beer on return. I couldn’t thank him enough and headed off towards the arch.

Unfortunately I couldn’t join Gerald for the beer later in the day, as I had to get back to St John’s for a gig with Lindsay and some other hostels folks. I did catch him briefly though and again, thanked him for his sage advice and help. What a great bloke!

Now it was time to head back to St John’s to see the rather lovely Julie Doiron.

Day 11 — Cape Spear

Day eleven would take me to Cape Spear and to the most easterly point in Canada. I would go with a couple of Italian friends that I had met at the hostel who were in Canada (and St John’s) for the next two years on a masters degree. I couldn’t help but wonder how they would get on, and whether I too could live here.

The weather was not too good but in many ways it was just the right weather to show how isolated and rugged Cape Spear was. That thick fog I mentioned about before rolled in and you really couldn’t anything of the coastline to the north and south of us.

As we paused for thought and to take in a few last pictures, there it was — another Humpback feeding in the waters just off the coastline.

The lighthouse at Cape Spear

Day 12 — St John’s to Gander

I had three days remaining and at least 7 hours of that would be driving back to Deer Lake. I decided to try and see if Jon, my CouchSurfing host in Gander, was around for the return leg. He was, which was great news — at least I’d get some good company on the return journey.

On the drive up, I was very keen to get to the B36 crash site, however, by this point I was feeling the driving, hiking, drinking and everything else I had experienced over the past twelve days. I was shattered. The weather was absolutely dreadful as well. I pulled into Tim Hortons and looked out at the weather — it was cold and wet with thick fog. It didn’t take me long to realise that I wouldn’t be seeing the crash site — at least not on this trip.

I pulled into Jon’s later that day, armed with a fresh pack of Guinness.

Day 13 — Helicopters and Dirt Biking in Gander

The next day, Jon kindly offered to show me around his airbase, and best of all, let me loose on his wee Honda dirt bike!

Jon’s Search and Rescue squadron was based at Gander Airport. Housed there were two helicopters that would go on missions around the Newfoundland and Labrador coast. The choppers were made in none other than Yeovil in Somerset, not far from where I grew up, and would be under a continuous cycle of mechanical scrutiny when at base.

Made in Somerset, UK, based in Gander, Canada

I got to have a good poke around the helicopter but it absolutely felt like I was behind enemy lines at this point — you could tell this was serious business for the men and women working.

The most fun you can have with your trousers on

Next it was time for a rip around the local quarry on Jon’s Honda. First and second gear were a nightmare to shift to and from but once it got going, man, did it shift. I had so much fun and could have ripped around for hours had I not needed to hit the road and get to Deer Lake.

My last night and mixed feelings

The drive back from Gander felt somewhat difficult. I was to fly to Alberta the following day, which would be a huge change in terms of geographic distance, but in addition, I was leaving the relative ‘safety’ of the east behind. It was all I had known since I started my trip nearly a year prior.

Nonetheless, I felt blessed by all the good things that had happened, all the amazing nature I’d seen and all the new friends I had made. Newfoundland had had a profound effect on me — its people, its nature and just the overall feel of the place.

******

That night, in my B&B, I felt a strong sense of calm — like I had conquered some of the doubts that I had about renting a car and making a trip up as I went along.

I slept well, and was woken early for the first of what would be three flights.