The province of Newfoundland and Labrador is very wild and remote, with wide open spaces and solitude around every turn. It is a land of bogs and ponds, rocks and very sparse vegetation that is heavily influenced by the Arctic ocean and the wind, rain, ice and fog that come with it.
Landing on the south western tip of Newfoundland, we covered much of the province: we went up to the northern tip and across to the ‘Big Land’ of Labrador then across to the east of Newfoundland to Saint John’s and Cape Spear (the most easterly part of North America).
The weather was suitably variable and mean, apart from the first few days we were dodging freezing fog, roaring winds and torrential rain most of the time. The poor old van took a beating from the weather and after a few days of rain and hydroplaning, she was taking on water. About an inch every half hour or so accumulated at our feet so we had to have frequent bailing stops. The carpets have never been so clean!
However, the scenery definitely made up for the challenging weather, very different to anywhere else in Canada. The fall colors were coming out and made otherwise boring hillsides bright with color. A highlight was the Gros Morne National Park which has grand table topped mountains sliced by huge glacier-carved fiords. We hiked and took a boat trip up the fiords and the scale and stunning wilderness of this park was awesome.
At the tip top of the north-western peninsula sits the L’Anse aux Meadows national historic site which includes the remains and reconstruction of a village of the first Europeans in Newfoundland- the Norse Vikings. We hiked down to the site through a very pleasant mix of ice fog whipped by galeforce winds. When we reached the respite of the Viking village, we were surprised at how well the sod huts were insulated against the weather. We were greeted by parks staff in full Viking costume, bearded and in character- a pretty fun job for a government employee. Tax money well spent! There were people weaving, black-smithing and just generally acting like Vikings. There were no sword demonstrations but you could try the gear on and I have it on good authority that I make a pretty fierce Viking.
Eastern Newfoundland was more populated and was characterized by many small fishing villages clinging to the grey rocks in little coves. We stopped in towns with great names such as Conception Bay and Dildo. Tee hee. It was very quaint and scenic (should I mention the fog again?).
We crossed the ferry to Labrador and took the one main road in the province up to the end of the tarseal (aptly named the ‘main road’). The land is even more wild and barren and we were accompanied by a thick pea-soup fog for most of the time. You really do feel like you are on the edge of the earth here. Having just one road makes it pretty much impossible to take a wrong turn so we navigated easily to up Red Bay – the site of the largest whaling settlement in medieval times. We had cloudberry pie and the best fish n’ chips by a mile here and fell asleep to the deep bass of the fog horn.
The people of Newfoundland were all very friendly and happy- we got chased down by a stranger in a car who overheard us asking for directions and wanted to make sure we were on the right track. The Newfie accent is awesome but damn hard to understand sometimes, it sounds like a cross between a deep southern accent and an Irish accent. Think Brad Pitt in ‘Snatch’ but Americanized.
Our week in Newfoundland and Labrador was packed and very worthwhile. The scenery was stunning and the people friendly. In strong contrast to Western Canada, there is a lot of history and culture here and I have a fuller picture of the diversity that Canada encompasses.