When the Guardian asked me to contribute to their piece on the Best Travel Experiences of 2016, I didn’t have to think too hard about what I wanted to write about. I had some wonderful travel experiences last year, many were unusual, most were delicious, all in some way enriched my life and taught me something. That is why I love to travel, it feeds and nourishes me. One place unleashed my heart and refreshed my head. It reminded me that simplicity is best and that I should really get out and about (in terms of exercise) a lot more. That place was Western Newfoundland.
I have been to Newfoundland before. I love it there, an enormous island the size of Japan with just half a million people on it (versus Japan’s 127 million on a group of islands roughly the same size). There are many links to Irish culture (there has been a lot of Irish immigration over hundreds of years), and that was initially what attracted me. Curiosity and stories that I had heard and a desire to witness. Canadian friends had remarked at how similar they were to me, and how much I would love it.
I soon discovered that this was true, the culture crossover and the kindness and humour of the people all felt very much like home. It is is fun and easy and direct. In a place where people are few, people are open and easily connect. People are interested and interesting. Until now I had only explored the east coast, and I wanted to see west.
We made our way to Gros Morne. Gros Morne is a National Park, 180,500 hectares protected by UNESCO, an ancient landscape (part moonscape at times) where glacial action has gifted striking scenery. There is coastal lowland, alpine plateau, fjords, glacial valleys, sheer cliffs, waterfalls and many crystal clear lakes shimmering like mirrors. Then the sea alongside, peppered with cod (I was amazed at how quickly we caught one) as it pops and weaves in and out of inlets. Gros Morne feels raw and powerful, it is an excellent place to connect with the earth and reconnect with yourself.
Woody Point Lighthouse Picnic
The first Western Newfoundlander that I met was Ian of Taste of Gros Morne. We landed in Deer Lake airport, I was amused to see that the luggage carousel was after security, the only other place I had seen that was years ago in my home county when my brother greeted me by it.
We stopped by The Chocolate Moose Bakery to collect a picnic which had been prepared for us. It was packed with local produce, fresh baked partridge berry pie and Newfoundland craft beers. In lobster season (April to June) you can expect lobster in the picnic also. We drove to Woody Point and after a small meander through low scrub rich with blueberries, dark berries and scarlet red leaves arrived at a gorgeous old lighthouse. We ate our picnic there, over views and chat. It was still only just over an hour since we had landed and here we were. Ian knows everything about the area. He works with Parks Canada, is part of the local Search and Rescue and is Deputy Mayor, also! Those Western Newfoundlanders get stuff done and it is clear that community is an integral part of living there.
Hiking the Lookout Trail
After our picnic lunch we embarked on a stunning hike up the Lookout Trail, a short drive from the lighthouse where we had our picnic. A 5km loop leading to Partridge Berry Hill, the climb is steady through the woods and over rambling streams, greeted at the top by panoramic views of Bonne Bay, Gros Morne, the Tablelands and Lookout Hill.
At the top there is a couple of red chairs from where you can sit and watch it all. The hike was quiet and there was no one around, we met a couple of locals walking their dog but that was it. From the top over the hills we spied a herd of caribou nearby, unaware of us as the wind was blowing in our favour and they had not picked up our scent. The bear was nowhere to be seen and I was relieved. I was nervous, which was silly as bears here are more fearful of use and steer well clear.
Chowder and Gorgeous Views at Bonne Bay Inn
A perfect first day, we returned to the Bonne Bay Inn where we stayed the night. Darlene runs the hotel and bar here. My room looked out over the gleaming water, a big window at which I sat, and watched nothing at all and relished every minute of it. We finished the day with a hearty bowl of local chowder, thick and full of fish (including lots of lovely local cod). Remember those similarities with Ireland? They extend to the food too, we also love a chowder. I was asked if I wanted a small or large wine, I figured I had earned a large one. With a chuckle I was advise that I had ordered Bay size. Don’t you just love that? I do.
Ian and his wife Rebecca run terrific food tours, scheduled (starting from $65 per person all incl) and bespoke. The lighthouse picnic and hike on the Lookout Trail was one of their bespoke tours. www.tasteofgrosmorne.com
I stayed at Bonne Bay Inn and would highly recommend it. Perfectly located, comfortable and very friendly. https://woodypointmagic.com/
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I travelled to Newfoundland with Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism and Destination Canada.