On the road again after spending a good chunk of time in lovely St. John’s, it was time to explore a little more – enter our Newfoundland Road Trip! Technically, “and Labrador”, although we did not make it all the way up to Labrador on this trip, not even close really, so that official title seems more symbolic than anything in this case.
No, the Newfoundland part of the province was more than big enough to keep us occupied for the final 10 days of our visit. In fact, when all was said and done, we didn’t even make it over to Gros Morne National Park despite that being the original plan. For that to happen, we had been kind of banking on some good weather luck, maybe some unseasonably warm spring weather that would clear the last of the snow off their hiking trails.
Alas, “unseasonably warm” is not a phrase that has come to mind throughout our month in Newfoundland. At all. Far more common have been:
“Holy shit, it did not look this cold from the window.”
“Are you kidding me with this wind?”
“My app says the freezing rain is supposed to end in about an hour. Probably.”
“Wake up! Wake up! I think I see some blue sky.”
But there’s something to be said for flexible schedules – throughout our time in Newfoundland we have been in a position to take advantage whenever it’s been even halfway nice (in truth, there are many things to be said for flexible schedules, this is just the most relevant one in this case).
Okay, ramble complete. On to our Newfoundland Road Trip (in April, he added, in hopes of lowering expectations). Our loose plan included several little fishing villages, obviously plenty of lighthouses (in Newfoundland, lighthouses are the equivalent to grain elevators in Saskatchewan) and, of course, lots of rocky coastline where the waves come crashing in violently and dramatically. Because, to distortedly quote the movie Knocked Up,
“I wish I loved ANYTHING as much as Laynni loves watching waves crash into rocks”
Newfoundland Road Trip Map
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When it comes to a road trip, Newfoundland is seemingly made for one. With so many places to visit in Newfoundland, plus relatively short distances (by Canadian standards) and a seemingly never-ending supply of intriguing quick stops, we were understandably excited to tour Newfoundland by car.
Of course, every driving tour of Newfoundland starts with St. John’s, the capital, home of the international airport and one of the most colourful and picturesque cities in Canada. Of course, we took it to a bit of an extreme as a road trip stop, spending 3 weeks in St. John’s checking out all of the best hikes, most of the top photo spots, some of the sights and a few of the bars.
But rather than try to summarize all the great things to see and do in St. John’s again, though, I’ll just direct you to our full post:
Spoiler alert: we liked it.
First stop, Dildo. How’s that for starting off with a bang? Ha. But, seriously, I mean, Dildo, right? I don’t really have to explain why we find this funny, although maybe it shouldn’t make us chuckle quite as much as it does considering, you know, we probably should have outgrown sex toy jokes a decade or two ago. But apparently we haven’t, so here we are.
In our defense, in 2019 Jimmy Kimmel spent 2 full weeks making Dildo jokes on TV and people seemed to love them. So it’s not just us. Plus, my sister Andie brought me a Dildo Brewing Company t-shirt back from her visit a couple years ago and I still wear it regularly so it only seemed right that we stop in.
Jimmy Kimmel eventually fended off Matt Damon to be named Honorary Mayor of Dildo (their first ever mayor, apparently) and bought a Hollywood-style sign that now stands proudly on the hill overlooking the village. Like the famous Hollywood sign but, you know, it says Dildo. Heh heh.
Anyway, we stopped in, saw the usual stuff, took the usual photos, nodded appreciatively at all the right things (old fishing boats, colourful houses, nice harbour, etc). Then moved on. Both literally, in the car, and mentally, onto a discussion about South Dildo and how they’ve spurned such a great opportunity to capitalize on the fame of their neighbour, by switching to some clever double-entendre name like Small Dildo, Bottom Dildo or Backup Dildo.
Now, those of you that also read our Day Trips from St. John’s post may recognize that as exactly the same joke I made then. The reasons for this are a) I still find it funny, and b) I’m not nearly creative enough to come up with an entirely new joke about South Dildo. Second Dildo? Quiet Dildo? Not Jimmy Kimmel’s Dildo?
Now you see why I at least considered quitting while I was ahead.
Yes, it’s a cute little village. Yes, the views of the harbour are quite nice. But what people really come to Cavendish for are the three little coloured fishing shacks – one yellow, one blue, one red – looking out over the beach and sea on one side and a tiny pond on the other.
On a sunny, calm day, the shacks reflect in the pond, creating a very cool image, and one that has become a bit of an Instagram phenomenon. Unfortunately, as with most of our Newfoundland road trip, it was neither sunny nor calm when we arrived in Cavendish. So, while the photos we got are still pretty cool, they aren’t viral-Instagram-cool. Not like those photos of me wearing toe socks.
This was our first stop on the Bonavista Peninsula, which marked the first time this trip we had actually been off the Avalon Peninsula. If you’re from out west, though, none of these names will mean much to you. Basically, the Avalon Peninsula is a big, rugged chunk of land surrounded by rocky coastline where St. John’s is. Bonavista Peninsula, on the other hand, is a smaller, rugged chunk of land surrounded by rocky coastline that does NOT have St. John’s on it.
Anyway, to Tickle Cove, the reviews of which had us pretty excited. And it was definitely turned out to be worth the detour. Although, rather disappointingly, the tickling takes place mainly in summer, since we didn’t experience even a little, not even from the local guy working on his tractor as we hiked the official path that ran right through his yard. However, the Red Rock Arch just past his shed was pretty amazing, if not at all ticklish.
Actually, the entire area was impressive – jumbled red rocks giving way to green rock along a surprisingly clear and defined line. And the massive arch, of course, with luminescent green water swirling below. The view across the blue water of the bay to the green hills of the neighbouring cape. Lots of colour, I guess is the point.
Interestingly, although the village is still tiny, we had the impression that quite a few places were new, like it might be an emerging destination (in very relative Newfoundland terms). Although gentrification might have to wait until they fix the “paved” road coming in that was positively apocalyptic, and not in a fun, “getting waylaid by witty bandits” sort of way, either.
Another short drive, another quick stop for a lighthouse and rocky coastline. There is even a big, looming church at the Batterton Path trailhead that looked even more suspicious than churches usually do because of the low clouds (don’t worry, we made it past safely).
From there it was out to the lighthouse – all white this time, no red stripes to speak of, oddly – then continued the loop to Brook Point where there were some (obviously) picturesque rock formations getting battered by big waves. Laynni was practically giddy. What was different about this spot were the multi-coloured layers of rock, like a children’s colouring book version of geology.
On the way back, we passed through Paddy Murphy’s Meadow – apparently famous as the subject of some song. Presumably an Irish one, but that’s about all I can tell you.
Loved Bonavista! Well, we loved the entire peninsula as a whole, I guess would be more accurate, and because we spent our nights in the town of Bonavista, all the other great attractions have gotten lumped in together in our minds. But the town is also very pleasant – surprisingly spread out but with lots of colourful wooden houses and businesses, a nice harbour, decent beach, you get the picture.
Plus, Chevrolet made us feel almost obligated to stop there on our Newfoundland road trip:
We stayed in a terrific AirBnB where we occupied an extremely fun “Maritime” house (i.e. wood, pastel, wartime design) in a very Maritime neighbourhood (i.e. within sight of a rocky beach and the ocean, a functioning boat visible out one window, the rotting husk of an older boat out the other). There was a nearby pond surrounded by a boardwalk, one outstanding sunset and, of course, not a tree to be seen anywhere.
There were also quite a few impressive sights just on the outskirts of town, starting with the aptly named Bonavista Lighthouse. Located just a few kilometres away at the point of the peninsula (as one would guess), the lighthouse is actually connected to Bonavista by an easy coastal hiking trail. Then when you get out there you can enjoy the campy red and white lighthouse, some dramatic cliffs, a small museum and, if you get very lucky, views of an iceberg right from shore.
That’s right, we were thrilled to spot our first Canadian iceberg (Antarctica was riddled with them), and without even needing to take a boat to see it. In fairness, it was still quite far out and, to be honest, looked pretty small and unimpressive from our vantage point. Getting up close on a boat would have surely improved the experience. But it did get extra points for both spontaneity and convenience, much like a grocery store checkout chocolate bar.
Then just a few minutes down the road we stopped off in Dungeon Provincial Park, where you can see a pair of rock arches in a rock “dungeon”, plus some good sea views. And just a little bit past that was Cable John Cove, filled with random and bizarre sea stacks and dozens of excellent photo spots.
As it turned out, however, the little nibble of an iceberg off Bonavista was just a sample to prepare us for a much better sighting the next day. We had been alerted to this new iceberg by the Newfoundland Iceberg Reports Facebook Group the previous day, although it had been much farther south, so we weren’t expecting to turn the corner into Elliston – famous for being Home of the Root Cellar! – and come face to face (so to speak) with a big white iceberg just hanging out in front of the bay, doing iceberg things* like it didn’t have a care in the world.
* Iceberg Things: stoically floating in the ocean while very slowly melting
Sandy Cove Beach (rocky beach, picnic spots, camping sites, snack shop) also had a smaller chunk of ice very close to shore that had presumably broken off the bigger iceberg farther out, probably having parted ways in hopes of establishing its independence, improving its self-esteem and charting its own path through the perilous world. Or maybe the two fell out over a nasty dispute about travel speed, direction and general core values. Or maybe it just melted too quickly and fell off. Either way, in the scheme of icebergs for photography purposes, this new one kind of sucked.
The original, though, well, it was like it decided to spend the morning posing just for our benefit. We had a pretty good look at it from the Elliston Sealer’s Memorial and then made our way to the Elliston Puffin Viewing Site – which is eventually home to a rambunctious colony of puffins, just not this early in spring. However, there were still hundreds, maybe thousands, of other seabirds there, mostly squawky seagull types that didn’t interest us all that much. Although there were so many, there may very well have been some rare, fascinating species flying around in the mix, too, but, really, how would we ever know the difference?
Anyway, the point is that the end of the peninsula directly across from Bird Island (I kid you not) just happened to be the perfect place to see this new iceberg from shore. And it certainly didn’t hurt having rocky islands, sharp cliffs and grassy hills handy to include in our extensive collection of iceberg photos. Plus yet another small chunk of ice that had probably also made a very recent break for it. We even managed to squeeze Laynni into a few shots.
So, to recap, we did NOT see any puffins, just a couple dozen wooden chairs made to look like puffins, but we DID see an iceberg. Then, on the instructions of a small, hand-painted sign of dubious authority we continued on to the “Maberly Scenic Loop” where we DID find a tiny, closed souvenir shop but did NOT notice any single thing particularly scenic about the loop.
Farther down the east side of Bonavista Peninsula is Port Union, named after the first fishing union of some sort, or maybe an important fish plant, or maybe just a particularly notable union of like minds, or maybe the first town actually built by a union, or some such thing. Either way, it seemed very official, very historic, with many old buildings and, apparently, may have transitioned to lumber production?
None of the information was clear. Mainly because I didn’t bother to read anything and just insisted that Laynni “give me the gist of it”. Which, apparently, that was.
Ah, little Trinity. Definitely the prettiest town we saw in Newfoundland. Truly a prototypical cute, colourful, historic seaside fishing village. As envisioned by us tourists, anyway. The beauty and charm of Trinity were only slightly marred by just how obviously aware of its own beauty and charm Trinity is.
From the picket fences to the crafty street signs to strategically leaning headstones in front of the church, Trinity knows just how to appeal to the Newfoundland road trip crowd. A bunch of eye-catching photo ops, a very walkable village, lots of quaint B&Bs, all backed by some easily digestible history. Like the white villages of Spain but instead of divisive Moorish roots and delicious tapas, you’ve got generations of surly fishermen and cod, so much cod.
We also hiked the nearby Skerwink Trail. If there is one thing Newfoundland is great at – besides frying battered fish and exceeding urban speed limits – it is coming up with memorable names for things. The Skerwink Trail was just the latest in a long line of names we’ve loved in Newfoundland – including but not limited to – Come By Chance, Mockbeggar, Blow-Me-Down, Joe Batt’s Arm, Leading Tickles, Crow Head, Toogood Arm, Hill O’ Chips, Goobies, Witless Bay the rather similar but not quite the same, Spurwink Island Path.
Anyway, Skerwink is one of the more famous trails in Newfoundland and it is easy to see why, as it packs in a lot of exceptional cliff edge scenery into a very short, manageable hike. The entire loop is about 5 kilometres long and will take around an hour and a half. There are a surprising number of hills, a couple of which are quite steep, but only about 100 metres of total elevation gain.
There are lots and lots of cool sea stacks, great viewpoints, ocean panoramas and eventually you can even see Trinity. However, if you are short on time or just not keen to hike the last (or first) half-hour on a somewhat dull forest road past a vehicle graveyard, we would recommend going clockwise (to the cliffs first) and simply backtracking after reaching the Trinity viewpoint (about halfway).
This way you get all the best scenery twice, from two different perspectives, and none of the disintegrating tractor parts. And a stop at the Port Rexton Brewery after is a good way to cap it off.
After spending another 4 hours or so driving across Newfoundland, our next stop was the famous iceberg alley town of Twillingate. Another lovely little town, although maybe a bit more spread out than we expected, but that meant an even greater variety of superb harbour viewpoints. When we weren’t fogged in, that was. Which was kind of rare.
No, on the whole, the weather wasn’t very kind to us in Twillingate, only occasionally varying between “fog as thick as soup”, “low, heavy clouds like a grocery bag full of water” and “hey, look, I think I see some blue sky… yes, no, oh, never mind, it’s gone”. And it snowed one night so, you know, that wasn’t great. But we had a very comfortable little AirBnB with ocean views (theoretically).
What WAS great, however, was the burger I had at the pub on Saturday night. Why do I remember it was Saturday night, specifically? Well, because the pub – the only pub in town, to be clear – is only open on Saturday. For, like, 8 hours or something. April in Newfoundland…
Crap weather or not, we still ventured out around Twillingate now and again. A short hike where the fog made the lighthouse even more atmospheric but the cliffs somewhat more abrupt and surprising. A brief hour of almost-sun when we did the French Beach / Spiller’s Cove hike past some fantastic coastal scenery. Laynni braving the cold, wind and fog and gingerly wandering from rock to rock among the tide pools in front of our place, rocking her huge, red, fuzzy sweater and leggings ensemble like a frighteningly large red bird scrounging for a free seafood lunch.
There was a lot of discussion about where our last stop in Newfoundland would be. Originally we had planned to head over to the west coast to Gros Morne National Park. However, while I’m sure we could have found some nice coastal hikes, postcard villages and ocean scenery, you can pretty much find that anywhere in Newfoundland.
And, as expected, we were a bit too early for the truly unique, standout attractions of Gros Morne – Tablelands, Western Brook Pond and the Long Range Traverse. Last we checked, all of them still had snow and/or weren’t accessible by boat yet, so adding 7-8 hours of driving to see the coastal stuff didn’t seem worth it.
Enter Fogo Island. A reputedly “odd” place that sees a lot of icebergs, one popular restaurant, several historic Irish villages and one bizarrely expensive hotel, the Fogo Island Inn (think Elon Musk before he smashed his piggy bank to buy Twitter kind of expensive). And, it turns out, a lot of foxes. Which didn’t affect us at all, one way or the other, except to catch my eye whenever one ran through our yard.
For more details, see The Ultimate Guide to Fogo Island: Art, Wildlife and Irish Stuff
It was hard to beat our first impression of Fogo Island – a fairly large iceberg sitting just offshore in Island Harbour. Actually, our very first impression was the Fogo Island Marine Interpretation Centre, a plain maroon building still closed for the season where we took a quick photo for use in a future post about the island. So I guess that wasn’t inherently memorable. But our second impression? Now we’re talking.
Thanks, once again, to the Newfoundland Iceberg Report FB group, we knew to head straight for Island Harbour where we found this icy beauty that seemed close enough to hit with a rock (unless you have a second-baseman’s arm like me, in which case you should probably just save the energy). Not another soul around, either, although, in fairness, if every house in Island Harbour emptied out and joined us at the end of the rocky point it’s a safe bet we could have all still fit easily into one iceberg selfie.
From there, it was on to Deep Bay for a short hike to a lookout and secluded artist studio. Only for a look, of course, nothing artistic – any small amount of creativity I once possessed seemingly dwindles with each new “Guide to” post I’ve written over the past year.
Interestingly, though, there are actually four of these architecturally unique and scenically impressive art studios spread out around the island to provide local artists with both inspiration and privacy (except when nosy hikers come wandering around their picture windows, of course).
Then on to the town of Fogo, our next 3-night home and yet another photogenic Newfoundland fishing village that seems just a bit more spread out than you’d expect, with very little structure or straightness to the streets, probably due to the rocky terrain. It also has a nice harbour and couple of taller rocky viewpoints. All of which were gloriously on show from the windows of our 1960’s AirBnB bungalow (along with periodic foxes).
The next day we visited Tilting, a tiny village settled by the Irish in the early 18th century that is classified as a National Historic Site of Canada. It was okay. More about the history and old style of building, I guess, than the photo ops, and you can probably guess where our interests lie. Maybe if we were there for the summer partridgeberry festival, we’d feel differently.
Oh, I almost forgot, Tilting is apparently also famous for having gardens. Although I’m not sure they can stake full claim to that particular innovation…
Then a hike near Joe Batt’s Arm (Was this where Jose Bautista’s “Joey Bats” nickname came from? Should I have known this?) past another art studio to eventually reach a statue of a Great Auk (an extinct bird species) staring longingly into the distance toward (allegedly) its counterpart in Iceland. Who knows, maybe if they hadn’t arrogantly believed they could handle a long-distance relationship there might still be annoying little auks running around.
On our last day, we woke up to sun (!!) so quickly got out for some more hiking, first up to Brimstone Head, from where we could see yet another iceberg in the distance. Brimstone Head is actually one of the official Four Corners of the Flat Earth. According to the Flat Earth Society. Who, presumably, have either concocted some extremely complex explanation for the way the horizon is, in fact, still visible in all directions from up there – along with, you know, rocks, beaches, ocean, islands, houses and cars – or perhaps just suffer from very selective peripheral vision.
Then up to the top of Fogo Head for top-notch harbour views, then up to Lion’s Head for even better views, connected by a quick stop at the grocery store to refill our water jug because, rather disconcertingly, the water on Fogo Island is literally brown. Like a-public-pool-at-the-end-of-a-hot-summer-day kind of brown. Showering in it still seemed to get the job done, although can either of us really judge at this point? It seems like the kind of thing you might need an outside perspective on. I guess we’ll see what my neighbour on the plane thinks on Saturday.
Newfoundland Road Trip Summary
Well, that’s about it for highlights from our inaugural Newfoundland Road Trip. We look forward to returning again at some point, hopefully in mid-summer next time, to try another Newfoundland driving tour to check out some of the fascinating terrain and villages in the far north, as well as the reputedly epic trails in Gros Morne National Park.
For now, though, we are very satisfied with everything we were able to see and do throughout this endlessly scenic province, especially considering how fickle April weather is (and was, and, presumably, always will be).
Until next time…
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