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Trip Report Icebergs, Whales, Puffins and Potholes - A Newfoundland Adventure

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Hello,

After going to Banff two summers in a row, I thought I should see a new place, even though I really adore Banff.

The friend I ended up traveling with suggested Newfoundland. I was very overdue for a vacation and wanted a place to get away from the urban jungle I call home, so this was a perfect choice. Flights, at least only 6 weeks out, were very expensive, so I used United miles to get up there and credit card points to get home.

We flew into St. John’s and decided to stay in one region rather than bouncing around. The first two nights were in St. John’s, followed by four nights in Witless Bay and closing out with one night back in St. John’s. I did very little planning or research in advance of the trip, contrary to my usual style. I was tired from a busy work life, so I just wanted to relax on this trip.

Here’s a little report. There don’t seem to be a ton of them out there on this destination, so I thought I would add mine. I have to say, when some folks asked me where I was going for vacation and I said Newfoundland, several people did not know where in the world it is!

June 16
Flight from Houston to Toronto and then a plane change to get to St. John’s. I didn’t have a lot of connection time, but thankfully my first flight arrived early, so I had a bit of cushioning. I was switching from United to Air Canada, so I had to pick up my checked bag and get it rechecked. Pearson is a crazy airport. The security screening was chaotic and slow and I was happy when I finally got through and could go to my gate.

Arrived at tiny St. John’s airport right on time at 7:00 pm. Car rental was with Avis. I had selected a compact car online, but the amount of luggage the website said it could hold and the reality were not the same! I’ve never seen such a little trunk (Chevy Sonic). Went back to the counter to ask for a different car and for $4 more a day, I got moved into a Chevy Malibu. Much better!

Drove downtown to check into the Courtyard Marriott right on the harbor. This hotel is clean and conveniently situated for walking around St. John’s. I had enough time to rest for a couple of minutes, then I went to Walmart to pick up water, soda and snacks for the week before returning to the airport to collect my friend who had flown in on later flights. I recommend getting your goodies at Walmart or Costco because it’s cheaper than places in the smaller towns.

June 17
Signal Hill day! To my delight, it was a mild, sunny day and we drove up to Signal Hill. The views are wonderful from here, including a lighthouse at Ft. Amherst. We then hiked to Quidi Vidi, which was more of a robust walk than I had been expecting. It was a nice hike and we even got to see a young eagle in his/her nest.

Quidi Vidi is very small and to be honest, I didn’t find it to be much of a destination if you aren’t interested in the brewery. It’s quaint and charming, but there’s not much to do. I think there may have been one place to get something to eat.

I got very sunburned this day. While I had some sunscreen on my face, I had not packed high spf and regretted it. I honestly thought the weather would be overcast and rainy based on the forecast I had seen before leaving for the trip. The sunny weather was a treat, but I ended up looking like a lobster.

After getting back to the car, we decided to go for a drive in search of icebergs. We had received a couple of tips of where some were close by. The first area, Maddox Cove, didn’t have any, but Portugal Cove had two! This was quite a thrill for me. I find them fascinating. I had been following them on a app as well as icebergfinder.com in advance of the trip.

We saw the ferry to Belle Island and were surprised to see how many cars were waiting for the ferry. Based on what we saw, I imagine it takes some time to get there with the volume of cars waiting.

When we got back into St. John’s, we walked around town for a bit. First stop was the Cathedral-Basilica. A wedding was in progress, so we had to wait a little while, but we had a nice chat with a lady who was part of a company that would be taking the wedding party on a bus for photos.

The church is beautiful inside, with lovely stained glass windows. I recommend stopping in this pretty place.

We also visited the big Anglican church. It is very pretty inside as well and the people staffing it were very warm and welcoming.

We never had lunch, so I was starving at dinner time. We went to the Classic Café which was just a block down from the hotel. It was just ok. I can’t say I had any good meals on this trip, but that’s ok as I’m not a foodie anyways.

Witless Bay is up next. Fantastic place.

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    June 18
    After a leisurely start to the day and a disappointing breakfast at the Granite Restaurant (slow service, cold food), we set out for our day. First stop, Cape Spear!

    Cape Spear is an easy drive from St. John’s and there’s a good sized parking lot. Admission is free this year in honor of Canada’s 150 celebration. You walk up a long set of stairs, kind of like a boardwalk, to get to the lighthouse. It sure was freezing cold here! The wind is very strong! I bundled up in two fleece coats and my rain coat and then I was comfortable.

    The lighthouse setting is beautiful. You get to tour the lightkeeper’s quarters, which are neat. I saw my first whale of the trip while I was staring down at the water. Awesome!

    After walking back down to the parking area, we continued down to a trail to a lookout area. The surf was mighty and there are warning signs about staying away from the rocks as 8 people have been swept away in the past.

    Eventually, we had to move along and continue our journey. We slowly made our way to Petty Harbor and made a stop for a light lunch at Tim Horton’s (quick and easy and filled up the car with gas).

    Our lodging for the next four nights was Elaine’s by the Sea in Witless Bay. This place occupies prime real estate in the area. I couldn’t ask for a more relaxing place to stay. It is right on the waterfront, has plentiful chairs out on the lawn for winding down and viewing marine life. I saw so many whales from these chairs!

    Elaine’s is an immaculate, well maintained place to stay. I was a little put off at first by the requirement to leave my shoes by the door, but I recognize that helps keeps the place clean and minimizes the sound of foot traffic. I remove my shoes upon entry of my own home, it’s just I have never seen a requirement in a place of business.

    I think I had the best room in the house. I had a king size bed, two lounge chairs and a bar table with two chairs and four lovely windows from which to watch the bay.

    After checking in and settling my stuff, I tried to have a nap, but was unsuccessful because I couldn’t block out the sound of the phone ringing and voices downstairs. My friend had gone walking and found an iceberg, so we went to check it out. It was so exciting for me to see an iceberg!

    Dinner was at the Captain’s Table. Dining choices are very limited in the area and this place gets business due to that very fact. The kitchen and staff are very disorganized, but they are apologetic for their shortcomings.

    The evening was spent in the Adirondack chairs, enjoying the beautiful scenery and watching whales.

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    June 19

    Today was our day to drive the Irish Loop. First stop was the lighthouse at Ferryland. The drive to the base of the hiking path involves a bumpy, gravel single lane road. The scenery here reminds me of Ireland and is very beautiful. There is a picturesque island that has livestock on it. The narrow road was quite reminiscent of Ireland as well! Happily, we didn’t run head on into any other cars because there aren’t too many pull outs.

    There was an iceberg visible in the water, yet another thrill!

    It was extremely windy in the parking area. The hike to the light house really warms a person up, so I was soon shedding my layers.

    There were only a couple of other people out here and soon they moved on and we had the light house to ourselves. It really is a gorgeous spot and the lighthouse is lovely too (can’t go inside, at least on the day we were there). Some days of the week, there is a catered picnic option here. I suppose the wind could be calmer at times, but I can’t imagine trying to picnic in the windy conditions that were present the day I was here!

    We stopped at a little gift shop right before getting back on the main road and I was able to pick up post cards. I filled them out promptly and was able to purchase stamps and mail them from a post office up the road. It’s now July 10 and nobody has received their cards yet in different parts of the USA. Talk about slow mail! The postcards I have sent in the past from Europe usually arrive within a week!

    As we continued on the Irish Loop, weather and road conditions deteriorated significantly. The pot holes in the Avalon peninsula are atrocious! If I didn’t know where I was, I would have thought I was in a third world country, not a Canadian province. The neglect of the roads is a shameful disgrace and a serious threat to public safety as well as the safety and condition of cars. This part of the world should have been a relaxing, beautiful drive, but all I could do was concentrate on not killing the car and swerving around potholes. It’s fortunate that there is not a lot of traffic in the Avalon peninsula because I was often in the oncoming traffic lane trying to avoid potholes.

    The drive became really monotonous because tremendous fog had set in and nothing could be seen beyond about 10 feet ahead. I know there was some spectacular scenery somewhere out there, but we couldn’t see it! Of course, I wouldn’t have really been able to enjoy the scenery anyways as the driver since I had to concentrate so fiercely on the roads.

    The afternoon was a lost day until we reached the Salmonier Nature Park. This park is a sanctuary for wild animals that have been so injured or otherwise rendered unable to return to living free. The set up is very nice, with a boardwalk through out the park. The animals living here include moose, caribou, owls, lynxes, foxes and more. Caribou have such fuzzy antlers! I would have loved to have touched them! It was a great delight to see a lynx, the first I have ever seen in person. He was pretty small compared to what I was expecting and I was envisioning myself holding him like I do my cat at home!

    Dinner tonight was at the Robin’s pizza joint in Bay Bulls. It’s actually a decent fast food place, combo pizza place, doughnuts and sandwiches.

    Boat ride and La Manche hiking up next.

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    June 20

    Breakfast at Elaine’s is the guest’s choice of bacon, eggs, muffins, cereal, strawberries and blueberries. I am officially on break from bacon for a while after having it 4 days in a row! B&Bs usually have a choice of at least one other meat. In Ireland last year, I guess I was spoiled with numerous choices from sausage to salmon and many things in between!

    The setup is one big family table. Each morning, I met a lot of nice people. With the exception of two couples from the U.S., everyone was from the Toronto area.

    We set out to hike the trail to the ruins of La Manche Village. In the 1960s, a terrible storm wiped out several houses and all that is left are the foundations. You start out driving down a bumpy gravel road, La Manche. At the end of the road is a small parking lot (only one other vehicle there) and the trail entrance. The trail is a mostly wooded hike, sometimes involving rock scrambles. It often seemed like we were hiking down a creek bed. It’s not scenic until you reach the actual village and the suspension bridge. The hiker is rewarded with a beautiful cove and gorgeous coastline. The suspension bridge is really cool (sways a lot) and it leads to the East Coast Trail. We climbed to the top of the stairs before turning back.

    On the walk back, we ran into two couples from the b&b at different places along the trail.

    We then headed down Route 10 to La Manche Provincial Park, a campground with a waterfall trail. There was no indication of where to go to find the trail, but if you idle long enough, someone will come by to direct you. We found the a trail entrance and proceeded on the approximately ¾ mile to the waterfall. Most of the walk is very dull. I had been thinking it would be on boardwalks the whole way, but there are only a couple of sections.

    When you finally arrive to the small waterfall, it is lovely and peaceful, just not spectacular. There was a woman with two teenagers relaxing in the water. The woman said the water was very cold. No thank you!

    Lunch was at the Irish Coffee Shop very close to the b&b. It has a fantastic view, but it’s not very professionally run (very slow, disorganized service). My toasted sandwich was burned too. The desserts people were getting looked very good though. I would say to skip the entrée and go straight for dessert there!

    We rested at the b&b before walking down the road to make our 3 pm boat ride with Ecotours. While there are big boats that depart from Bay Bulls, Witless Bay has ecotours with zodiac pontoon type boats. I think only 11 or 12 people can fit on them. We were each given not so elegant orange jumpsuits to wear for the ride. The captain said these would keep a person alive and floating for days in the cold ocean. I would love to test that theory in a safe pool! This was our really warm day and I was dying in this heavyduty suit.

    Last year, I had taken a very rocking, rough boat ride 10 miles out to sea in Ireland to see Skellig Michael and we were given petite life vests. I was surprised to receive such a heavy duty safety garment for a much shorter, smoother journey in a protected bay. What a contrast!

    I thought the boat ride would allot time fairly evenly for the three “attractions” in the bay that day: whales, puffins and an iceberg, but the captain spent the majority of time looking for whales, only five minutes on puffins and did not go to the iceberg at all. I was so very, very disappointed. I thought it an injustice to customers, especially given the price. With tax, it was $97 per person! I had heard from b&b guests who took the bigger boats for a cheaper price and they said they got a good amount of time with all three attractions. So, while it was a pleasant enough excursion, I would not recommend Ecotours and would instead take O’Briens or Gatherall’s. Both received good reviews and went to see the iceberg as close as was safely possible.

    Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! You need sunscreen on the boat! Again, I only packed SPF 15, so I was lobster girl.

    Dinner. What to do about dinner? We didn’t want to drive far in pursuit of food, so we went back to the Captain’s Table. This time, we waited and waited for our food and after an hour, someone came out to tell us the waiter forgot to put our order in! They did provide us with a free appetizer at least. When time to settle the bill, the waiter had added an extra side item, so there was the final strike against them. They took it off, but it was another hassle. No more Captain’s Table! It has potential, but needs some serious kitchen and staff training and organization.

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    Aggiegirl,

    I've enjoyed reading your perceptions from your first visit to Newfoundland as I just visited as well from Montreal for the first time in June.

    A few thoughts: 1. I thought Quidi Vidi WAS a destination, but as a quick-look attractive end point if you're hiking the North Head/Ladies Lookout Trail. The meal I had at Mallard Cottage there was exceptional amidst a warm, sociable ambience! 2. You're right about the O'Brien's tour being great. Loved every minute! Although arriving later, I didn't get to see an iceberg! 3. Yep, the potholes made this Montrealer feel right at home! It is harder for places with rough winters, but of course there's more to it than that why they're a problem.

    Glad you decided to vacation out in this part of the world! Daniel

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    Thanks for those reading along. Daniel, I saw Mallard Cottage and it does look like a nice place for a meal and gets rave reviews.

    Here's the conclusion of my report.

    June 21

    Cape Saint Mary’s Ecological Reserve!

    After awaking to a pretty day in Witless Bay and another breakfast of bacon and eggs, we decided to make the trek to Cape Saint Mary’s Ecological Reserve, about 2.5 hours away. This place is known as a haven for thousands and thousands of nesting birds.

    While I was gathering my stuff in my room, I noticed something in the water out back, so I grabbed my camera and raced out. I thought it was a seal, but it turned out to be a posse of otters! How fun! All the other guests followed me out to see what I was seeing. This little gang was so cute! I know they are said to be mean if you come face to face with them, but they sure have some charm from where I was standing. I was so happy to have this little surprise.

    Onwards for our day. Wouldn’t you know, just a few minutes out of Witless Bay, we ran into that horrible fog again! It was a terrible drive over the most horrendous roads I’ve ever come across! Truly obscene! My little rental Chevy Malibu was a champ though, and got us safely through. There was not a single relaxed moment on the drive.

    Upon arriving at the visitor’s center, we found biting wind and cold temperatures. Allegedly, there was a light house nearby, but we couldn’t see it for the fog.

    The rangers in the center are very friendly and helpful. They were celebrating “First Nation” people day and had cake and coffee out for visitors.

    Our timing was such that a ranger was about to head out to the birds and we were able to join him. I think it was about a twenty minute walk over uneven ground. A few other people had turned up and joined us, and one lady wiped out along the way. The ranger had cautioned everyone in advance, saying they’ve had a few broken femurs, but no deaths or falls off the cliffs, ha!

    We got out to the cliff’s edge, but because of the fog and mist, we couldn’t see the water about 400 feet below. I’m sure it’s quite stunning on a beautiful day, like a mini Cliffs of Moher. Just a few meters away is Bird Rock where thousands of gannet pairs nest. It’s quite a sight to see, even in the fog. This is a great place to see beautiful birds up close.

    After walking back to the visitor’s center, we walked down the road to find the lighthouse. It was sounding a fog horn, so we followed the sound since we couldn’t see it through the fog.

    We took a different way back to Witless Bay, going north before heading east and it was a noticeable improvement in road conditions compared to the drive over.

    We went to dinner at Riverside Restaurant in the Cape Broyle area. Again, a poor dining experience. Food just wasn’t good.

    On the way back, we finally saw a moose! I had been waiting all week to see these famous moose. Supposedly, there are about 140,000 of them on the island, but we had yet to see one in the wild. I was so excited! Seeing a real moose in the wild was a bucket list thing for me. I hadn’t seen another car in either direction for miles, so I slowed down, pulled over and was very slowly inching up closer to be parallel from the moose on the other side of the road.

    Wouldn’t you know, just as I was getting closer and about to get my camera, a pickup truck came blazing down the road from the opposite direction. It scared the poor moose and luckily for everyone, she ran into the woods rather than into the path of the truck. What a giant jerk of a driver! I had read that there are 500-600 collisions with moose every year on the island and now I could see why. Some folks are completely reckless and have no regard for the welfare of wildlife. First off, it was dusk, when the moose are more likely to be out, so one should slow down. Second, if you see a car pulled over with hazard lights on, it would be a good idea to slow down since there’s a very good chance that car is pulled over because of some wildlife.

    I was so mad that my moose moment was ruined!

    June 22

    Final full day on the island.

    It was time to bid adieu to Witless Bay and Elaine’s beautiful property. I was really sorry to be leaving such a peaceful and scenic spot. I had enjoyed spending time every evening in the chairs watching whales.

    We decided to go iceberg hunting on the peninsula next to the peninsula that holds St. John’s. Somewhere near Bay Roberts, we stopped into a visitor’s center, where we met Lois, the employee on duty. She was very nice and helpful. She pulled up the iceberg tracker website to check statuses and then marked up a map with all the locations showing icebergs.

    We had great visibility on the roads today and the pavement conditions were much better than our previous destinations. It was a beautiful drive and we saw many icebergs making the loop. The most stunning of all was a huge one at Grates Cove. It was so close, you could see parts of it under water! I was so wishing I could find a boat to rent to go out to it. It was so amazing to see something so big and so close. It is truly beautiful and the town was lovely too, and reminiscent of Ireland. It’s well worth the time for this gorgeous drive and I’m so glad I did it.

    When we finished the loop, we headed to St. Johns’ for our final night. This time we were at the Capital Hotel. It is clean, easy to find and reasonably priced.

    After a brief rest, we went downtown and had dinner on the harbor at Jack Astor’s. It has a nice view of the harbor and we were able to sit outside on a nice, sunny evening.

    I normally don’t drink alcohol, but I couldn’t resist a frozen drink that looks like an iceberg. It sure tasted like I was drinking from an iceberg, it was so cold! It froze my chest and I wondered if I might die of a heart attack right then and there. I’ve had “ice cream headaches” before, but never severe chest pain from something cold. Yikes!

    The food was acceptable, but nothing to write home about.

    After dinner, I went to the grocery store to pick up a case of Iceberg Beer to bring back for my dad and brother. I was a little concerned about it making the trip unscathed, but it worked out. The liquor store gave me some bubble wrap and brown paper bags and I opened the case and swaddled up each individual bottle before cramming them back in the box. The case then went into another box which was then surrounded by laundry. I presented to beer to dad and brother at our 4th of July gathering and they enjoyed it very much. That was the only thing I brought back. There aren’t a whole lot of souvenirs to bring back from Newfoundland, that I could justify buying.

    June 23

    Goodbye Newfoundland!

    It was a long day of flying and it was hard to return to hot, crowded, aggressive Houston.

    Newfoundland is filled with some wonderful sights and it’s a great place to get away from the urban jungle.

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