Friday, August 8, 2014

Exploring Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula - Part 1

St. Anthony's harbour 

I know I'm writing lots about our trip to western Newfoundland, but I always enjoy reading other people's blog posts about interesting places so I thought I would continue on with the series. I've covered food, accommodation, and icebergs and in the next two posts I wanted to tell you about a few of the best activities from our trip there. I've divided my post into the two main areas we visited - the St. Anthony area on the northern tip that I'll talk about this time and Gros Morne National Park half way down the peninsula that I will cover in my next post.

The northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula felt really remote and ... well northern.  The trees are stunted and in some places won't even grow because of the long cold winters and the strong ocean winds.  The plants that grow there are hardy ones that can also be found in alpine and arctic areas.  My mother was familiar with many of the shrubs and wildflowers from her numerous trips to the Rockies and the mountains in British Columbia.

Being off the beaten path and a little remote has its advantages though, as there weren't many people up there.  It was such a treat to be alone on the beaches and hiking trails and being able to stop anywhere to take photos.  Which I did!  Like the one of the roadside gardens below.  

Here's another clue that you are up north.  We saw gardens (fenced off to keep out the moose) all along the northern part of the peninsula.  They put their vegetable gardens along the roads instead of beside their homes because it is not only warmer inland, but also there is more soil as you move away from the rocky coast.  

We also saw komatiks or sleds everywhere which are used to transport things in the winter.  They are built with runners so they can glide over the snow and ice and were originally pulled by dogs, but now are usually pulled by snowmobile.

And there were still remnants of snow in the gulleys.  Nothing makes you feel like you are up north than seeing snow in July.  It was still early spring up there as the sea ice only broke up on June 20th.  Crazy, eh - that was only a few weeks before we went there.  This area routinely has polar bears float into town in the spring on ice pans.  

We loved the slower pace of life in northern Newfoundland and some of our favourite days were just spent puttering around pebble beaches, looking for pretty stones, searching for fossils, following trails, and watching the ocean.  We would simply follow a road until you couldn't go any further ... until you ended up at places that looked like this.

So apart from the puttering, there were five main attractions we enjoyed (you can click on the place name to go to the official websites):

1.  L'Anse aux Meadows

L'Anse aux Meadows is a Viking village.  How cool is that?  You can tour the reconstructed buildings, the archaeological remains, and a museum displaying the 1000 year old artifacts that were found in the area.  L'Anse aux Meadows was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site soon after it was discovered in 1960.  

I should warn you that much of the interest in exploring L'Anse aux Meadows is the wow factor of seeing the oldest European settlement in the New World and especially the whole Viking thing.  It is a bit more of a cerebral wow than an actual wow.  Only a few artifacts have been found and there are only three reconstructed buildings as the original village was very small and was used for less than a decade.  We still enjoyed it though and are glad we visited.

2.  Norstead Viking Village
Just down the road from L'Anse aux Meadows is Norstead Village, a replica of a Viking port of trade.  This is where you can see and live the Norse life with a complete village in operation including a church, a blacksmith, and a boat shed containing replica Viking ships.  One of the ships on display is the Snorri, a 54 foot replica of a Viking knarr, that was used in 1998 to sail from Greenland to L'Anse aux Meadows.  

To be honest there was more going on here than there was at L'Anse aux Meadows.  In particular, we enjoyed seeing the actual size of ship the Vikings had used to sail across the open ocean.  Yikes, they were a very brave lot!  We also enjoyed seeing one of the women demonstrate nalbinding kntting which is an ancient single-needle form of knitting used by the Vikings.

3.  Grenfell Historic Properties (in St. Anthony)
Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940) was a medical missionary who not only set up the first hospitals in the area, but helped the people improve their lives by establishing schools, orphanages, fishing and lumber coops, and small industries.  One of the more popular ventures was encouraging the women of the area to make hooked rugs that were a means for them to earn incomes for their families.  The hooked mats were sold around the world and have since become collectors items.  Grenfell also engaged in extensive fundraising efforts through writing books and going on lecture tours. He is a much admired and esteemed man in Newfoundland.

The Grenfell Historic Properties are located in St. Anthony and include an interpretive centre which gives information about Grenfell's life, the impact he had on the area, and there is a shop that sells handicrafts.

You can also tour Grenfell's house that is located on a hill overlooking the town and harbour. Grenfell and his wife had it built shortly after they were married. The house was decorated with many elements of northern life such as polar bear furs and antlers. There were also examples of the hooked rugs on display.

The Charles S Curtis Memorial Hospital is part of the whole Grenfell experience given that it was the Grenfell Mission that established a hospital in the area and Charles Curtis was Grenfell's successor.  It might seem surprising to visit a hospital to see art, but this hospital has a beautiful rotunda decorated in clay murals made by Jordi Bonet in the 1960s.  The murals are modern art at its best and depict the life of the people in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of the panels are more abstract and some clearly show fish, birds, snowshoes, trees, and native people all done in beautiful muted grays, browns, blues, greens, and red.

4.  Northland Discovery Boat Tours (in St. Anthony)
We really enjoyed the boat ride we took to see whales and icebergs. What's not to like when you see both a 200 foot high iceberg and a minke whale swimming underwater along side the boat in the same trip.  You can read more about the icebergs here.  

5.  Dark Tickle (in St. Lunaire - Griquet)
Yep, it's known as The Dark Tickle Experience (I'm not kidding, that's what they call it).  I should mention that a tickle is a passage of water between two land masses.  That being said, who wouldn't wouldn't want to shop at a store called Dark Tickle.  This is one of the main places that makes jams and jellies from local berries and you can find Dark Tickle products all over western Newfoundland.  There is something special about going to the source though.  You can watch them making the jams and see huge bowls of local berries and lots of handicrafts. We brought home lots of jam and not one, but two winter hats for me.  I know crazy, right, buying winter hats on your summer vacation. 

And shopping at Dark Tickle allows you to have yummy things like this on your toast - bakeapple jam (on the left) and partridge berry jam (on the right).  Yum!  

Stay tuned for the Gros Morne highlights coming soon (well more likely soonish).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

3 Places to Stay in Western Newfoundland

I'm gradually writing up all the wonderful things we saw and did in Newfoundland and today I wanted to share with you three of the best places that we stayed.  About half the time we chose to stay in cabins to save on costs as we could make our own meals, but the rest of the time we stayed in bed and breakfasts and hotels and three in particular are worth mentioning.  So here they are (with links to the hotel websites if you click on the names).

1.  Quirpon Lighthouse Inn

Quirpon Lighthouse Inn is located on a 6-kilometre island off the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.  The island is rugged and treeless and covered in arctic and alpine plants.  We happened to arrive in the perfect storm of mechanical problems as the brand-new boat and zodiac both had engine problems and the ATV was mired up to its axles in mud.  So we were taken in a small boat from the dock on the mainland across the bay to the south side of the island and then we walked the 51/2 kilometres to the inn and lighthouse on the north side of the island.  Fortunately, we are all good hikers and enjoy working up an appetite so it worked out fine.  And we got to see a good part of the island in the course of hiking.

The historic lighthouse, lighthouse keeper's house, and guest house are beautifully situated on a rocky point of land called Cape Bauld.  There is nothing so magical as spending your evening listening to waves crashing on the rocks and your day listening to whales spouting and icebergs cracking. 

The lighthouse was built in 1884 and is still in operation today.  We were fortunate to see it both in clear sunny weather and in thick fog that rolled in over a 15-minute time period (yes I timed it).

The exteriors of all the buildings were painted in a classic red and white colour scheme which provided the perfect contrast to the blues, grays, and greens of the island and ocean. The lighthouse keeper's house was built in the 1920s and still had that vintage look to its rooms.  While the.dining room, kitchen, and living room had a quaint cozy feel to them, the bedrooms felt a bit dated, but were clean and functional nevertheless. 

You are literally forced to relax on Quirpon Island as there is no cell phone, internet connection, or TV.  The day consists of meandering, pondering, and puttering.  We hiked all over the northern part of the island, sat for about an hour and watched a whale feeding, saw an iceberg collapse, and watched the resident foxes cavort in the remnant snow drift.   Meals were served communally which alowed for long chats with the other guests (from Australia and California) and the staff who work at the lighthouse inn.  The owner of the lighthouse inn, Ed English, and his brother-in-law Angus, were full of energy, interesting tales, and knowledge of the area and were great additions to our stay.  We all agreed that visiting Quirpon Island was one of the highlights of our trip to Newfoundland.

2.  Entente Cordiale
We drove to Entente Cordiale directly from the airport in Deer Lake.  We knew we wanted to stay by the ocean on our first night in Newfoundland and fortunately this hotel was only 21/2 hours away making it possible.  The hotel is located in the tiny community of Portland Creek at the end of a quiet road on several acres of ocean frontage.  Entente Cordiale got us into the Newfoundland pace of life - a pace that is a little slower, more relaxed, and encourages you to spend time appreciating things like a pretty sky and the sun highlighting the grass on the sand dunes.  

The rooms were decorated in a traditional style right down to the handmade bedding.  Each bed had a hand-sewn quilt and knit comforter.  The minute we opened the door to our rooms and saw the lace curtains gently blowing in the ocean breeze I knew this would be one of our favourite places to stay.  Nothing like having fresh ocean breezes blowing across you while you sleep and gazing along the beach and dunes while you eat in the dining room.

Entente Cordiale is located about five minutes north of the Arches Provincial Park and about a half-hour drive from the hikes and activities at the north end of Gros Morne National Park.  

3.  Inn at the Cape
We stayed at Inn at the Cape for the two nights before coming home.  Our last time watching the ocean waves, exploring beaches, walking along clifftops, admiring sunsets .... (sniff, sniff).  None of us wanted to leave Newfoundland, but this inn gave us a good dose of ocean to end our stay.  Not only was our room pretty with loads of space for a table and chairs and our luggage, but the setting was beautiful as well.  We had a sun porch attached to our room which the husband couldn't get enough of and has now decided our next house must have one. He thought it divine to spend his evenings in the sun porch reading while drinking a glass of beer, looking out to the trees and hills.  And my mother's room led to a porch that had amazing ocean views.  

The food was fantastic.  Everyone ate at the same time together in the dining room and the food was served buffet style, and man oh man was there ever a lot to choose from.  At dinner there were four salads and about six main dishes along with veggies and fresh rolls and then several desserts to chose from.  It was all well prepared and delicious.

The Inn at the Cape has lots of things to do in the area if doing things like collecting pretty rocks, going for walks along the rocky beach, and looking at amazing 300 feet high cliffs are what you like.  Fortunately they are exactly what I like to do so we loved it there.  The Inn at the Cape is on the Port aux Port peninsula which I learned was settled primarily by Acadians and to a lesser extent by french-speaking Basque fishermen and is one of the few areas in Newfoundland where many of the people speak French.  The schools had French names and the signs had French before English and we spoke to one woman who had a French Newfoundland accent.  I've been to Acadian communities in Nova Scotia (you can read about one of my visits to an historic Acadian site here), but had no idea that some of the Acadians had settled in Newfoundland as early as the 1770s. 

So there you have it - three outstanding places to stay in western Newfoundland.  I'd go back in a heartbeat to any one of them.