• Danik Bates

Tales from Newfoundland: the beautiful landscape

Updated: May 7

It’s the middle of summer and I woke up to beautiful clear skies. The sun was shining over the bay. It was the first day on the island after arriving very late during the night after flying from Hawaii to Saint John’s, Newfoundland in Canada. I had two connecting flights in Vancouver and Toronto to reach the easternmost of the island, flung out in the North Atlantic Ocean and crossed 7.5 time zones in the process. On my journey I had a fantastic breakfast in Downtown Vancouver as I did the journey in twenty-one hours, now waking up, Vancouver seems a long way. It’s true, it’s 7,461km (4,636 miles) at the other end of the Trans-Canada-1 highway, the main road which starts and finishes here in Saint John’s and goes right to Victoria on Vancouver Island. There are many landscapes on that road which people will drive by. Ocean, valleys, mountains, prairies, lakes, swamps, fields, forests before meeting the ocean again.

Today marks another chapter of trying to conquer the Trans-Canada-1 highway. On a week’s visit I would drive the length from Saint John’s to Deer Lake (taking in side trips of course). I have been waiting a long time to come to Newfoundland and explore the beautiful landscape.

Waking up in my motel in Conception Bay after a few hours of sleep. I arrived late the night before which meant I actually got to see the sunrise before my head hit the pillows. The sun’s first beams of the day spread warmth over the island before they cast their glow anywhere else in North America. I was so far out into the ocean that the thought of the rays touched down here while the rest of the continent remained in darkness for a little while longer.

It was time to hit the road. I had a long drive ahead of me. As soon as I got out of the area and headed westwards, there were not many settlements to see. There were a few rest stops, a few small towns to pass by on my journey which would see me drive 684km (425 miles) to Rocky Harbor on the west coast. It wasn’t long that the view became tree after tree. Trees littered the skyline. Lots of ponds (well, they are lakes but the locals call them ponds) were to be seen. I was cautious for the whole week as there were a lot of moose and bears around here and I didn't want to hit one of them. In the end I saw one moose and one bear and that was an amazing experience. The bear was a cub which I saw in the Gros Morne National Park. It was dusk and it was a good job I saw him otherwise I could have smacked right into him. The cub looked at me with his eyes and then just walked on, into the forest, not to be seen again.

My first stop on the long drive was Dildo, which was about six miles off the beaten track from the road. It had to be done, who would call a settlement Dildo?. I didn’t spend much time here but I stood by the roadside, looking out over the bay. Not a sound. Not a sign of life. All was peaceful. Everything was fantastic. Forty minutes later I stopped again for another stupid place name (or a silly sounding one to us British). I discovered Come-by-Chance but seriously, don’t let me explain this one to you guys.

The drive was a fantastic one across the island. Not many cars on the road, to be honest there would be some hours where I would only spot two or three cars. When I stopped it would be for lunch, or a tea break (I drank so much tea on this trip to keep me going) or to stop to capture the beautiful landscape. The more I drove into the centre of the island, the more dense the forests were becoming. At one point I was driving through Terra Nova National park which was simply stunning.

I passed place names like Gambo, Gander, Grand-Falls Windsor and Deer Lake. Nothing too grand in the name, just short, pleasant and sweet. All offered the services needed for road trippers and hikers who were going across the island. No fancy shopping malls, sports stadiums, etc, just small settlements with food and gas on the roadside before folk would drive on and continue with their journeys.

A flock of geese flew over me as I drove westwards and disappeared into the sunset. I had been driving all day but I was near my destination. Turning off at Deer Lake I headed up the 430 towards Rocky Harbor. The road goes through the southern end of the Gros Morne National Park and this is where I saw the bear as mentioned earlier. The road went up and down mountains, it was a beautiful sunset drive. It took the sun forever to set. Then I saw it, one amazing view with the sunset in the background. I had to pull over in this parking lot which overlooks this fjord. Mountains, trees, dotted the surrounding water. I got out of the car and just stood there. The sounds of crickets could be heard, maybe an owl in the far background. Apart from that no sound was to be heard. It was like the Earth had come to a sudden halt. Time had stood still. It has been a long time since I had an experience like this. This was the moment I fell in love with Newfoundland.

During the week I drove through various other parts of Newfoundland away from the main highway which the road keeps communities together. Before the highway there was a railway line but it became too expensive to maintain and to ship goods from mainland Canada to communities towards Saint John’s. Whilst in Gros Morne National Park, I checked out the Western Brook Pond, a massive fjord north of Rocky Harbour. The trees became more sparse in places as I hiked from the main road to the lake (this fjord does not connect to the sea nearby). Then on a boat going through the fjord, the mountains got higher, the trees got heavier but the peacefulness of the area caught my attention. I wish I could live here instead of dealing with the hustle and bustle of city life back home.

Check out the blog post on Western Brook Pond here

Then there was the Baie Verte Peninsula located in the central north, a good hour north drive from the highway. This is where I spotted female moose on the roadside but the landscape was just trees until we got to the sea. Here fishing communities remain. Settlements with French names which meant French fishermen settled here until they left and then were taken over by English fishermen. Here I felt a long way from home but it was also here that we learnt a lot of the history of the island, the culture, the food.

Check out the post on Baie Verte Peninsula here

It was later on in the week and it was time to head eastwards, back along the main highway littered with ponds and trees each side, still looking out for the wildlife. However I diverted southwards and drove for miles on end through the Burin Peninsula. The further south I drove, the less trees there were. The lakes were now the size of actual garden-size ponds in places. The southern tip was a barren landscape. This must be because of the harsh southerly winds off the ocean in the winter months. The rugged coastline was more visible from the road. I spent a few days down this end of the island and despite the landscape being more rugged than the rest of the island, I still found peace. There were not many souls to be had. I even crossed over to the island belonging to France which was an hour’s boat journey, Saint Pierre and Miquelon which was also of a similar landscape.

It was time to head to my final destination at the end of the Trans-Highway-Canada-1. I learnt that over the years the island was and still is home to many. Vikings, Palaeo-Eskimos, Maritime Archaic Indians as well as the English, Irish and French have claimed the land as their hunting ground or home. Arriving back to where the trip started at the province’s capital, St John’s several days ago, I also discovered the city has the title of North America’s oldest English-founded settlement with about 500 years of history going on here. Despite being flung out on the east coast, separate from the rest of the province, the city has a European, cosmopolitan feel as I discovered on our last night as we hit the city. It was so much different to the peaceful isolation I found on the rest of the island.

Check out my post on St Johns's here

Could I live here if I didn’t want to be bothered by the problems of our planet. Yes. Did I find peace and harmony here? Yes. Could I hike for months on end in this beautiful paradise. Yes. The island is one of the most beautiful places I have come across and I was very glad I made the effort to come here. I fell in love with the place. It's unspoilt, not many tourists, a great sense of local community and the beauty. Nothing beats beauty. It could even beat the beauty of that of the Rocky Mountains in Western Canada.

As mentioned I was in Hawaii and Vancouver on my way to Newfoundland. Those places are far away and how far away I felt. But my next stop would be home, in London, UK. That was at the other side of the ocean, several hours flight away. I stood by the water in Saint John’s at the Terry Fox memorial and just looked out eastwards for a few moments. I knew I was on the other side the following day. But the memories from the year before, on the Dingle Peninsula in Western Ireland, which is directly opposite Saint John’s, I remember saying to myself at the time as I stood at Ireland’s most western-point, that I would be standing in Saint John’s doing the same thing. It was a strange moment but I have stood directly at the same spot looking at each other but a few months apart….if that makes any sense at all. It did to me. The ocean is big but not big enough to keep me away from enjoying this beautiful landscape.

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