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Trip Report Newfoundland Trip Report (Avalon and Bonavista)

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Newfoundland trip report

Basics: 2-10 June, 2009, traveling solo. 5 nights in St. John’s, with several day trips; 2 nights near Trinity; 1 night back in St. John’s to catch early-morning flight the next day. Weather was nice (windy), scenery was stunning, and I’d love to see more: it’s a wonderful place. If you have any questions, please reply to this post and I’ll do my best to monitor it and respond via the forum.

Prices are Canadian $ (not including fees, charges, surcharges, taxes, GST, HST, etc.) unless stated otherwise.

Lodging: The only lodging I arranged in advance (a few weeks) was nights 1-4 at “At Wit’s Inn” in St. John’s, $99/night, full breakfast included, free parking (on-street). Wonderful hosts, clean and nicely-kept, outstanding breakfasts, en suite facilities. Location is excellent, reasonable walks to Signal Hill one way and George St. the other. After a few days, I decided I’d need another night in St. John’s, but they were booked. They did, though, find a spot for me just down the road at “Chef’s Inn” ($109/night), which was also a very nice place, and the room had a nice view of the harbor, which I didn’t have at the previous place. Also was en-suite, full breakfast, and free on-street parking. A note about parking: many B&Bs that don’t have their own parking lot (i.e., most of them downtown) will give you a parking permit for your car allowing you to park on the street within a few blocks of your B&B. I never had trouble finding a spot within a block, but that might be more difficult in July/August with more crowds. On the other hand, it might not – there were a lot of conferences in St. John’s during this time, and many of the hotels were completely booked.

Nights 6-7 at Fisher’s Loft Inn, Port Rexton (near Trinity), $112/night, en suite, breakfast not included (breakfast was $15 for a full breakfast, less for a “continental” breakfast). I had the full breakfast both days, and it was outstanding. Room was spacious and elegant, with a view of the bay. This is definitely an upscale establishment, comprising at least 4 separate buildings, one of which has the dining room. It’s located an easy 10-minute walk from the start of one of the most scenic hiking trails I’ve ever seen, the Skerwink Trail. Binoculars come with the room, and bicycles are also available.

Night 8 back in St. John’s, at Captain’s Quarters, $104/night, continental breakfast (but I left too early for it). Location is great, and free off-street parking lot is helpful, but it’s definitely not as comfortable or well-appointed as any of the other places I stayed.

Car rental: Enterprise, smallest available car, $230 (US dollars) for 1 week, including all charges. I reserved the car a few months before the trip, having heard they can be scarce in the summer. Mileage allowance was 1400km, of which I used 1100, so I think this was reasonable if you stay around Avalon/Bonavista area, but if you’re going farther you might incur some charges …

General travel tips: it seems like a lot of flights arrive in St. John’s late at night, so the car rental and lodging operators are well-equipped to handle this. I arrived after midnight and had no problem getting a cab; I’d also warned my hosts in advance of my arrival time so they’d be ready. I picked up the rental car the next day, though that was mainly to avoid an extra day of rental – the counter was still open when I got off the plane. Coming from abroad, as I was, I went through Canadian customs in Toronto, and then had to go through a security check again before going to my connecting gate. I hadn’t seen this coming, so I hadn’t emptied my water bottle anywhere, and therefore it was emptied for me after some stern questioning. They also confiscated my 4-oz. toothpaste tube, which made it through security in the US. Finally, they were rather confused by my folding book light, which apparently when X-rayed resembles a scale used for weighing drugs. So all in all, I got plenty of attention. I used an ATM in the Toronto airport to get enough cash to last me the whole trip. Cab from St. John’s airport to downtown was $25 (incl. tip). In early June there are going to be things that simply aren’t open for the season yet (some museums, tours, B&Bs, etc.) – this wasn’t a problem for me as I expected it, and the lack of crowds (often the lack of anyone else at all) was part of the appeal. Other seasonal issues: I saw almost no black flies, and only used my bug spray once, despite the fact that I was outside most of the time. Finally, I was a bit too early to see whales (that wasn’t one of my goals for the trip, so it wasn’t a big deal). Some people told me the whales were just starting to arrive in the area, so perhaps if I’d gone on a boat trip with the purpose of seeing some, I’d have done so. Saw plenty of icebergs, though.

Weather: I was lucky, with sunny weather and highs around 20 (C) all but the last two days of my trip. Even so, I wore layers most of the time – this is the windiest place I’ve ever been in my life, especially anywhere high up along the coast (and that’s mostly where I went). The last 2 days were 12-15 C with off-and-on rain showers, but it really didn’t slow me down. I highly recommend that if you bring a hat to Newfoundland, have some way of securely attaching it to your head, or it will end up in the Atlantic rather quickly.

What I did: will be in next post (as a "reply" to this one).

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    What I did:

    To get the “executive summary” and skip the detailed drivel, just read the heading of each day’s description and you’ll see roughly where I was able to go each day. Feel free to "reply" if you have any questions, and I'll do my best to monitor this thread and respond via the forum.

    Day 0 (home-St. John’s, Newfoundland):

    Air travel from home to St. John’s, arriving about midnight.

    Day 1 (downtown-Signal Hill- Quidi Vidi-The Rooms-downtown):

    After breakfast (8-9AM), walked to Signal Hill via Signal Hill Road to visitors’ center, then trails to Queen’s Battery and Cabot Tower. Stunning views of ocean, St. John’s, cliffs, etc. Interesting historical details at Queen’s Battery and the Tower, which has a shop, exhibits, and access to the roof, just in case it wasn’t windy enough at the base of the tower (the wind, fortunately, was at my back climbing the hill, which made it much easier). From the top, I hiked Ladies’ Lookout trail to Cuckold’s Cove and down into Quidi Vidi Village. The smells, sounds, and sights of the ocean and wind were with me the whole way – it may sound like I’m whining about the wind, but I’m not – it was part of the experience and I enjoyed it. There’s a brewery in Quidi Vidi where they’re happy to sell you a beer (I skipped the tour) while you overlook the decidedly small and unbusy harbor. Their 1892 Ale is very good – it leaves you knowing you’ve had a beer! I stopped briefly at Mallard Cottage, a 250-year-old house/antique shop with an interesting interior and lots of “stuff”. A pleasant walk back along Quidi Vidi Lake brought me past HM Penitentiary and into downtown St. John’s. Had lunch at a fairly upscale-looking place called “Get Stuffed”. The pan-fried cod with Scrunchies was outstanding. I had no idea what a “scrunchy” was, but I liked them (I later found out they’re small cubes of deep-fried pork, or so I was told). If you’re looking for eating/drinking/shopping, a good location is the parallel streets of Duckworth, George, and Water. I also spent a couple hours at The Rooms (open until 9 on Wednesdays), the provincial museum/art gallery/archives, which was worth a visit and has some interesting exhibits on local history (both natural and otherwise) and local artists. Dinner was at Velma’s, where I tried something called “fish and brewies”, a combination of cod and ship’s biscuit, which I found quite tasty (at least at Velma’s; I had it one other time at another place and felt like I’d swallowed a bowling ball). Dessert, at O’Reilly’s pub, consisted of a couple local brews (Black Horse and Yellow Belly), where I also heard some pleasant Irish-influenced music (a guy singing, self-accompanied on guitar, no cover charge).

    Day 2 (Bay Bulls boat tour-Cape Spear-Fort Amherst-downtown):

    At breakfast today (and yesterday), other guests raved about the O’Brien’s boat tour from Bay Bulls, so I followed their advice and went (about a 40-minute drive) on the 11AM boat. I called ahead to get a spot; may not have been necessary, but the boat was quite full. The day was sunny and warm, but out on the water it was quite chilly: the only time I wished I’d brought an extra layer along from the B&B. Our 2-hour tour took us up close and around an iceberg (it was right there in the bay), and it was an impressive sight (I’d never seen one) – more than just a block of ice, the colors and lines and curves were fascinating. Boat went on to Gull Island, home of thousands of birds of many varieties, including auks, puffins (very cute), many kinds of gulls, etc. Also saw a couple sea otters. Saw other icebergs in the distance. A most worthwhile voyage, followed by lunch at the restaurant right near their dock (lobster sandwich). The drive back took me through Goulds, where I went to Bidgood’s store and picked up some provisions for a later picnic. I stopped briefly at Petty Harbor, a small fishing town with a museum (closed until July). My destination was Cape Spear, where I toured the 1839 lighthouse to learn how the keeper and his family lived. This was followed by a picnic lunch on the cliffs overlooking the ocean and a stroll around the paths to the easternmost point in North America. I continued South a bit from the lighthouse on the East Coast Trail then returned. This is a windy, beautiful place. My last stop before returning to St. John’s was Fort Amherst, where there is a lighthouse marking the southern end of the St. John’s harbor entrance, directly across from Signal Hill. There are nice views back to St. John’s from here; it’s at the end of the road, past some houses perched on the cliffs. Dinner was at Ches’s, where I had fish & chips. It was good, but I think I had better later.

    Day 3 (Ferryland-Brigus South-LaManche-St. John’s):

    Drove down to Ferryland; this was one of my favorite places in Newfoundland. The archaeologists had the day off (back on Monday they said), but the visitor’s center and the site itself were well worth a visit anyway: it’s an excavation of an English settlement from 1621. There are many impressive artifacts on display at the visitors’ center and the self-guided tour was very informative. The ruins and digs are in the middle of a small, still-active fishing harbor. It was another beautiful, sunny day, so after a couple hours at the site, I walked out farther on Ferryland Head to the lighthouse (about a 30-minute walk from the visitors’ center, but one can drive about half that distance if desired). The lighthouse actually serves picnic lunches which they bring to you after you’ve found a nice spot on the cliffs to enjoy your meal. Today a large iceberg was kind enough to get stuck just offshore for our viewing pleasure, and small chunks of it were breaking off and drifting away on the current. Some seals were also enjoying the sun at the base of the cliffs. The combination of history, scenery, iceberg, and food made this a really unique experience. Drove North, passing through a small fishing village called Brigus South, which has a wharf, a natural harbor, and a few houses. Parked at the end of the road and found a picnic table on a small headland – could have hung there for hours, but continued on to La Manche. The shortest trail to this abandoned fishing village (it’s not accessible by road) starts at the end of a dirt road; this road is identified by a green sign reading simply “La Manche”, and it’s about 2KM south of the entrance to LaManche provincial park. Park at the end of the road, and the trail is to the right. The trail took me to the abandoned village, over a suspension bridge, and then on to a place called Doctor’s Cove. The whole hike was probably 4-5 km round-trip at the most. Once you reach the town, the scenery is breathtaking and the ruins both there and past the bridge really make you wonder about how people managed in such a spot. This is a hike I’d do again in a minute. After returning to St. John’s I dined at Taste of Thai, which was surprisingly excellent.

    Day 4 (Geo Center-Signal Hill-North Head Trail-Battery-Torbay-Flatrock-St. John’s):

    Walked from B&B up Signal Hill Rd. to the Geo Center museum. The 30-minute orientation tour was useful, and the exhibits held my interest: I focused on the Newfoundland-specific things, including a Titanic exhibit, which was well-done if a bit myopic. Spent a couple hours total at this museum then walked the rest of the way up Signal Hill, mostly so I could walk down via the North Head trail to the Battery neighborhood. This is a stunning trail, windswept and with great views of sea cliffs, Signal Hill, etc. The weather was again gorgeous, despite the wind, but a few clouds were hinting that something was coming. The trail included several acrophobia-inducing spots, one of which provided chains bolted into the cliff face to hold onto, which helps one avoid being blown off the cliff. The trail ends at the Battery neighborhood, a hilly maze of narrow streets and homes, and a mix of dereliction and luxury – but all very picturesque and livable. I could have spent more time exploring this neighborhood, but one path I found worthwhile was a footpath up the hill to Fort Wilberforce (I’m pretty sure that’s the wrong name, but it’s close), where there were gun batteries from 1800 until WWI. From here I walked over to Duckworth St. and Water St. to pick up a few things I needed for the rest of the trip. After a brief nap at the B&B, I drove north up the coast to Torbay and hiked a short but pleasant trail called the Fr. Troy Trail, which follows the inlet around from the south side to the north (assuming you start where I did; the starting point was labeled as such on a St. John’s map I found at a bookstore at the Toronto airport). Along the trail one encounters cliffs, a beach (rocky, like most in Newfoundland), a wharf, and views. I turned around near the east end of the inlet on the north side, where there is a Newfoundland Pony farm; several of the horses were being herded along the clifftop trail to another pasture, and they are quite good-natured (and rare: apparently only a few hundred exist worldwide). From Torbay I drove north some more to Flatrock (at the beach you’ll see why it’s called this). Flatrock is another lovely fishing community – many of these consist only of houses, but Flatrock adds a church, a community center, and a Catholic grotto, which has a marker memorializing a visit by Pope John Paul II. Route 20 continues north to Pouch Cove, where it becomes a dirt road: I’d have loved to have taken it, but it was too rough for a rental car, so I reluctantly headed back south. The plan was to detour to Portugal Cove, but I missed the turn and ended up back in St. John’s. Dinner was at Kelly’s on George St.; there are at least 3 good reasons to visit Kelly’s: the beer selection (decent) and the fish & chips (about the best I’ve had outside England).

    Day 5 (St. John’s-Port Rexton-Skerwink Trail-Trinity-Port Rexton):

    After a homemade fish cake breakfast, I set off on the 3-hour drive to Trinity. It rained much of the way, but stopped well before I reached Trinity. Along the way I spotted a moose near the Trans-Canada Highway. My B&B for this night and the next is actually in Port Rexton, just a few minutes beyond Trinity. I checked in then picked up some victuals at the convenience store on Rte 230 for my hike on the Skerwink Trail, which can be accessed just a few minutes’ walk from my B&B (Fisher’s Loft Inn). This absolutely gorgeous hike is a 5.3-km loop around a headland, most of it atop high cliffs overlooking the sea, but descending to a beach at one point. The trail passes sea stacks, goes through gnarled forests, and provides (of course) great views of the ocean, the coast, and the town of Trinity along the way. For animal life, I saw an eagle, fox dens (complete with bits of uneaten rabbit outside the doors), and plenty of “evidence” of moose (though the actual animals were being shy). Something to note: if you take this trail, you may see a sign reading “inland” (if you’re along the coast) or “lookout” (if you’re along the inland side). These both indicate what is essentially a shortcut that cuts off a large chunk of the trail, including some of its best scenery. Don’t take this unless you need to shorten the hike for some reason (OK, I didn’t take it, so maybe they were giving out free beer along the way and I missed it, but I don’t see how it could be as good as the actual trail along cliffs). After the hike I drove into Trinity (about 10-15 minutes from Port Rexton) to visit some folks I’d met in St. John’s who have a place there. Trinity must be the most perfect little town I’ve ever seen – everything very well-kept, in an exquisite setting, with a couple churches, museum, restaurant, etc. I didn’t end up spending enough time to satisfy my curiosity here, so I guess I’ll have to return. Having heard rave reviews of the dinners at my B&B (which is also a restaurant), I decided to splurge and enjoy a really nice meal – and it was one of the most wonderful meals I’ve had anywhere – fresh, local, tasty, and perfectly cooked (the main dish was salmon). When I registered for my stay, they asked if I’d be joining them for dinner and then they asked about food allergies: there is no menu, you get what they’re cooking that day, for $53 (inclusive of appetizers, soup, salad, bread, main course & sides, dessert, etc., but not including beverages).

    Day 6 (Port Rexton-Bonavista-Elliston-Maberly-hiking trail-Trinity-Port Rexton):

    After breakfast, off to Bonavista. First stop was “The Dungeon”, a fascinating natural feature that’s essentially a collapsed sea cave with 2 tunnel entries from the ocean (this is viewed from above). I’ve never seen anything quite like it, with a little beach at the bottom and the sea coming and going from the 2 natural tunnels. It’s easy to find if you’re on the road to the lighthouse, as I was. The lighthouse itself and the visitors’ center were worth the visit, both for the history and the natural setting, with the sights and sounds of the ocean and several icebergs in the distance. This is supposedly where the English-sponsored explorer John Cabot landed in 1497, so they have a statue of him there. A small island just a few feet offshore used to have a foghorn as well as a house for its keeper (as if the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula wasn’t tough enough to get to), but the weather washed away the house and now the foghorn is back on the peninsula. All in all, the lighthouse area is a great place to relax and watch the scenery. Next up was the short drive back to Bonavista town, where I toured a replica of Cabot’s ship (worth seeing) and had lunch at a place called “Skippers”. This is right next to the Ryan Premises, a museum-like collection of buildings left from a family fishing (and other businesses) enterprise that was in business from the 1850s to the 1970s. This provided an interesting look at life in a typical Newfoundland fishing town and I probably could have spent more time there, but other things were higher priority. I drove south to Elliston, where I picked up a town map at the visitors’ center and set off for a place to see Puffins “up close”. On the way there from Elliston I stopped at Sandy Cove, where there is an actual sandy (vs. rocky) beach – the only one I saw in Newfoundland. I was told the beach was quite crowded the previous weekend, when it had been warmer, and people had been swimming. It was deserted today, although the weather wasn’t bad (15 C, mix of clouds and blue sky). There is a small ice cream stand at the beach, where I got some ice cream – at which point I realized it’s not just serving ice cream. Despite its size (smaller than my bedroom), it has a menu larger than that of many big full-service restaurants – very puzzling, and I don’t know where they kept all that food, but fine ice cream. The puffin-watching site is a short walk through a series of 2 or 3 almost-islands (think of an hourglass shape, but with 3 chambers, walking through the narrow parts to continue on) ending in a real island just a few feet away. This island was filled with gulls and puffins, all busy fishing. I found this a superior viewing spot for these birds when compared to the boat trip. Also spotted a half dozen icebergs bobbing in the ocean, and another big one just poking out from around a headland to the south. So I decided to go in search of a better view of that particular berg (why not?): I drove south to the end of the road, which is in a town called Maberly. I parked there and set off on the Maberly-Little Catalina Trail, in search of the iceberg. This is a thrilling trail along the cliffs – islands, sea stacks, surf, birds (including an eagle), hardy plant life, streams becoming waterfalls into the ocean, etc. I hiked fast for about a half hour and found a better view of the iceberg past Flowers Cove and at the end of another headland. The trail is a bit muddy in spots, but well worth it! I reversed course then drove back to Trinity and met some people for dinner at the dockside marina restaurant; saw a moose on the way down. The pan-fried cod was delicious. Back at my B&B, I watched it get dark over the ocean as fog enveloped Fox Island, while enjoying a bottle of Newfoundland cloudberry wine (sweet, good for dessert).

    Day 7 (Port Rexton-St. Philips-St. John’s):

    Due to rain and fog, decided not to revisit Trinity and instead headed back to St. John’s (3 hour drive), with the plan to visit Bell Island (near St. John’s). It was very foggy the whole way, but started to clear as I neared St. Philips, where I stopped for fish & chips at “By the Beach”. This was fabulous, and tied with Kelly’s for the best fish & chips I had on the trip. It’s in St. Philips, right across the street from the ocean. I had a marvelous view, initially of Bell Island, but then the fog came in and covered it up. So I took that as an omen, and skipped the Bell Island ferry, instead going back to St. John’s where I checked into my hotel then saw a few things around the city that I’d missed earlier: I’d wanted to see the inside of the Anglican Cathedral, and I suppose I could have, but there was either a wedding or a funeral going on, and I didn’t want to “crash” it. The Catholic Basilica, however, was open and unoccupied, except for a woman sleeping in the back pew and a few workmen. It’s fairly dark inside, but still worth seeing, with some interesting stained-glass windows and historical carvings – a good way to learn a little about the history of the area. Commissariat House (my next stop), occupied for 150 years from 1821, is a beautifully restored home, and my tour guide (actually, I was again in a situation where the guides outnumbered the visitors – there were two of them, one an apprentice) was very knowledgeable. The house is connected to the British military, who were responsible for many of the historical “sites” I encountered all up and down the coast in Avalon: a lot of gun emplacements (batteries) to defend against the French and Dutch, then later as defenses during WWI and WWII. To end the day I walked along the harbor and gawked at the ships, stopping to ease my thirst at a very pleasant pub called Duke of Duckworth. I had my final dinner of the trip at Classic Café East, with a nice view of some ships departing the harbor.

    Day 8 (St. John’s-home)

    My flight left at 7:30AM, so I got to the airport around 6 to return my rental car and catch the flight. No problems, other than the fact that an absolutely wonderful trip was over.

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    Scottvan--Great trip report. As we will be leaving on Tuesday for two and a half weeks in Newfoundland, I was particularly interested in your observations. We'll also be staying at the Fishers' Loft in Port Rexton.

    You took many of the trails to and from Signal Hill, and I'd like to try some of them as well. However, I haven't been able to find a map on-line showing the various trails. Does such a thing exist, or is there one available at the Parks Canada site at Signal Hill?

    Secondly, is the Skerwink Trail a circuit which leads back to Port Rexton or does it end in or near Trinity?

    It's our second visit to Newfoundland, and we'll be revisiting some places as well as finding new sights to see and things to do.

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    laverendrye --

    Hope you enjoy your trip! I picked up a map of the Signal Hill area at the visitors' center (a bit downhill from Cabot Tower, opened at 10AM the day I was there). It shows the various trails and was helpful. I don't know where else to get one, but it may be available elsewhere. It doesn't show all the way back to the Battery or all the way back to Quidi Vidi, but it was enough to make it hard to get lost.

    I hiked the Skerwink trail as a loop from the B&B; the staff there can tell you how to get to the trail, and soon you'll reach a sign that directs you left for coast and right for inland; it can be done in either direction. I ended up back at the B&B without too much trouble. The trail provides views of Trinity but does not actually go there.

    Happy trails.

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    Scott, what a wonderful trip report!! A real pleasure to read! and it brought back so many wonderful memories of our trip there.
    You really did it up good and saw so many of the great sites.
    I loved LaManche hike..it was well worth it ..

    You were smarter than we were. We hiked UP from the Battery to Signal Hill.. why didn't we think of hiking DOWN ?

    I'm glad you had such a good time. Reading your report makes me want to go back!! Perhaps next year.

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