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Reprinted from PN August 2012

August is a great month to enjoy milder temperatures on Canada's Atlantic Coast.

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I spent two wonderful summer months in 2010 enjoying parks, cities, beaches, and much more in Canada’s Atlantic Coast provinces.

The article Oh, Canada! (April 2012 PN) covered the first part of this journey. That trip took me to spectacular locations in Canada’s maritime provinces such as Fundy National Park in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island National Park. The second leg of my journey took me further north to explore the natural wonders of Newfoundland.

Welcome to The Rock

A six-hour ferry ride from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, aboard the The Joseph and Clara Smallwood took me across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Port dux Basques.

I was greeted by the sight of rugged mountains, sea cliffs, and houses clinging to the shoreline. At first glance, I gained an appreciation for why Newfoundlanders call their island the “rock.” 

As I drove north to Deer Lake (166 miles), I was surprised to find the highway is well-engineered with wide shoulders and fairly gentle grades. I eventually turned onto the Viking Trail. The road meanders in and out of small fishing villages, along the coast, and through parts of Gros Morne National Park.

Gros Morne National Park

To get my bearings, I stopped at Parks Canada’s Discovery Centre in Gros Morne.

It’s a modern and accessible facility perched high on a precipice just above the town of Woody Point. The center’s huge windows offer spectacular views of the fjord of Bonne Bay.

A trip to this side of the park must include a drive through the Tablelands, a dry red and brown moonscape-like terrain, caused by the upward thrust of the Earth’s mantle due to plate tectonics. 


An accessible boardwalk is at Sandy Pond in Terra Nova National Park.

The startling geology of the Tablelands is best seen along Highway 431, the road leading to the small fishing village of Trout River. The town is known for its popular half-mile-long boardwalk and marine heritage museums. 

I headed north to Norris Point, a relaxing small town suited to adventure activities. This was the best place in Gros Morne for learning about the diverse marine ecosystem of Bonne Bay. It’s a masterpiece of glacial landscaping and for viewing the Tablelands from the water. Bon Tours (bontours.ca) offers wheelchair-accessible tours, including sunset cruises. 

In the heart of Gros Morne National Park is Rocky Harbour, the largest community in the area. I used this centralized location as my home base for exploring the park’s many attractions.

A short distance away is the Gros Morne Recreation Complex overlooking the picturesque Rocky Harbour. The site features a 25-meter pool with a shallow bay allowing easy access for people with mobility concerns. 

Mountains & Moose

The Viking Trail, north of Rocky Harbour, offers dramatic views of the Long Range Mountains. The views of rock, sculpted dunes, sandy beaches, and estuaries of the Gulf of St. Lawrence line the west, while the northernmost section of the Appalachian Mountains and deep “U” shaped valleys lie to the east.

The best way to see the Long Range Mountains and a “must do” for any visitor is to take the 45-minute trail and boardwalk beginning at the parking lot just off the Viking Trail.

It is constructed to traverse the wetlands and coastal bogs of the area. The trail is mostly flat and ends at Western Brooks Pond, a narrow freshwater fjord that cuts into the coastal range. With some advance notice, people with mobility challenges can secure a special wheelchair capable of assisting with the trek (pc
.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nl/grosmorne/index.aspx).

A good place to catch a glimpse of moose and beaver is at the Berry Head Pond just 3.7 miles north of Rocky Harbour on the Viking Trail. The pond is mostly forested and winds through a small bog and marshland. A boardwalk on the first portion of the trail allows people with limited mobility and those needing a wheelchair to enjoy the pond.

Salmon Haven

The great surprise of my trip to Gros Morne was visiting the Broom Point Fishing Exhibit that juts raggedly into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s a 15-minute walk on a flat dirt road from the parking lot to where I met Bill Bennett, a Parks Canada Heritage Guide.

Because of Bennett’s personal experience and good humor, he was able to describe a way of life that has come to pass in Newfoundland. The area showcases a well-preserved clapboard cottage and fish store overlooking the gulf, complete with original inshore fishing artifacts.

Visitors to Newfoundland are often drawn to the province because of the world-renowned freshwater fishing. So I traveled north to visit the Torrent River Salmon Interpretation Centre. The Torrent River is a haven for spawning Atlantic salmon. 

The centre features an underwater viewing chamber to see wild Atlantic salmon. The area also gives visitors an opportunity to observe salmon from an accessible viewing area atop Torrent River Falls. Here salmon attempt to leap the 10-meter falls as they head toward spawning areas farther upriver.

People with mobility challenges will be glad to know about Jack’s Pool, the only venue with a wheelchair-accessible fishing platform in Newfoundland (torrentriver.ca).

Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve

I made my way east to the Avalon Peninsula and Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve.

The reserve is one of the most spectacular and accessible seabird colonies in North America. To fully appreciate the complexity of the seabird phenomenon, visitors to the interpretive center should not miss a 20-minute DVD produced by the Discovery Channel.

For people who have very limited mobility, the center has installed two powerful telescopes on a nearby level wooden deck to scan the whirling clamor of nesting birds on 400-foot-high cliffs, ledges and overhangs of Placentia Bay. This is home to 70,000 birds, including northern gannets and razorbill. 

Just outside the center is a one-mile limited-access dirt trail to Bird Rock, a towering precipice 30 feet off the coast. It’s possible for some wheelchair users to travel about half the length of the trail before it becomes too rugged. The center rents binoculars for $3 to assist those attempting a closer look on the first half of the trail (www.env
.gov.nl.ca/env/parks/wer/r_csme/).

St. John’s

As I traveled into St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, I noticed road signs depicting moose and warning drivers to slow down.

The province has almost 120,000 moose, about one for every four Newfoundlanders. One night the evening news had six reports of moose-vehicle collisions, but no fatalities. I heeded the advice of locals, kept my speed to 55 mph and stopped when I saw moose, giving them the full right of way.

I spent three wonderful days just walking the streets lined with colorful historic row homes and treating myself to the culture and seafaring exploits of the city.

Sweet Sounds

Music is a big part of the character of people living in Atlantic Canada. In the evening, the music scene is evident along George Street, where I heard rock, bluegrass, and Celtic music emanating along this two-block stretch of bars and pubs.

For authentic Irish and Newfoundland music, and a good lunch, I visited the Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food on Water Street (rocketfood.ca). It’s known for handmade breads and decadent desserts.

I found a warm and yesteryear atmosphere and good conversation. I highly recommend this place for lunch. Local musicians play from late morning through early afternoon.

Even months after completing my trip, I listen to the music I found throughout the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland. The sounds are reminders of all the places I visited and the many friendly Canadians I met along the way.  

 

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