Definitely going to have to make this version a bit more concise since I’ve left it for so long. Pieces of this I wrote as we went, and pieces I accidentally left for many many days, so here’s my best effort and getting ya’ll caught up.
We peeled away from Memorial University first thing in the morning, after raiding all the fridges in all the lounges to steal their ice for our cooler. Then hit the road for the northeast peninsula of Newfoundland.
About three hours later we arrived in the historic village of Trinity, home to a population of about one hundred and twenty throughout the winter months. We landed at the Visitor Information Centre and from there headed out on a private guided tour of seven historic buildings throughout the town. Once again, moments when we love the off season.
The entire town of Trinity feels like a massive museum. We strolled between reconstructed merchant and blacksmith shops to original homes from the late 1800s, passing by current residences of the locals along the way. It was a picture perfect little town, even with the fog rolling in.
After our tour we found a tiny little diner, based out of a local B&B and were treated to a very Newfie homemade lunch by the owner, Darleen. We sat down in a gorgeous little wooden walled room, with low cozy ceilings and a view of the church and graveyard. We decided to satisfy our French Toast craving and then try a more traditional dish: fish and brewis (pronounced ‘brews’), which is essentially a plate of mashed up bread soaked in broth, mixed with cod and potatoes. It was definitely interesting. Darleen then brought out some cheesecake for us to try, topped with the rare, Newfoundland and Labrador berry, the bakeapple. Delicious.
From Trinity we headed up further north to Bonavista, a much larger sprawling town which still carriers a traditional Newfoundland fishing port feel but lacks a downtown core or much organization at all, making it less charming than Trinity or Brigus. But we are most definitely spoiled.
We checked into our B&B (you could see ice bergs in the bay from the window in our room) and then headed out into the fog to scope out the harbour. About fifteen or sixteen massive icebergs basked in the last of the afternoon sun on the harbour off the town. Pretty unreal.
The Bonavista lighthouse was our next stop, a charming building still in operation, clinging to the windy and cold cape. We explored the area by foot and by car and were stunned by the gorgeous rock formations jutting into the ocean and the ice bergs scattered through the various little coves. Pure magic.
Bonavista Lighthouse, Newfoundland
We scoped out some dinner from the very limited options in town and headed back to the B&B for a lazy evening.
The morning started off with Marie, the keeper of the house, preparing us a tasty breakfast accompanied by her huge spread of over forty homemade varieties of jam. We got to try everything from partridge berry to bakeapple to apricot to turnip to tomato prune to dandelion! Such a fun treat.
Then we headed through the most ridiculously obnoxious fog and rain back across Newfoundland to Rocky Harbour, near Gros Morne National Park. At one point I was driving with about 80 feet of visibility in front of us due to the encroaching fog. I had just sped up to over 100 km to merge onto the highway and the most intense rain was pounding the van. We hit a slick spot wrong and I ended up hydro planing without a lot of control for a fairly long distance. It was definitely sketchy, and the intense rain stayed with us most of the way across the island.
Along the way I received an email that required me to pull over the van and whoop for joy, running around the parking lot we had chosen screaming “Oh my god! I got the job!” in the middle of nowhere Newfoundland. Because yes, I just landed a job of my dreams as the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. I am over the moon.
Once we pulled into Rocky Harbour and settled into our campsite we decided it was time to find a celebratory dinner. Down we went to the water front to scope out the local fish market. A pound of mussels was only $1.39! So we got that and a lobster (which Charissa had the lovely job of killing, because I wouldn’t let her boil it alive). She named it Larry…. Not sure how I feel about naming things we are going to eat. I thought we drew the line at icebergs but apparently not. We cooked up this seafood feast at our campsite and dipped it all in fried oil and garlic. It was heavenly.
Then we went for an after dinner stroll up Berry Hill for some gorgeous views over the landscape of Gros Morne National Park and the sunset. It was still light out by the time we got down the hill so we jetted out to Lobster Point for a little run around the coast and lighthouse there as the sun slipped behind the sea. Then back to the campsite where we shared a celebratory bottle of wine over a campfire and danced around like children playing duck duck goose.
Sunset from Berry Hill, Gros Morne
We woke up early to rain pounding on the tent, rolled over in our sleeping bags and went back to sleep, and then woke up properly an hour later once the rain had passed. Hit the road and headed to the south end of Gros Morne to the Green Gardens trail – 14 km that is supposed to be one of the most renowned trails in the park. When we had stopped at the Visitor Information Centre on our way into the park the previous day we had been told that one of the paths was closed because of a landslide so we wouldn’t be able to complete the whole loop. At the time I was pretty stoked because I had been looking for an excuse not to have to go the whole way. But a conversation I had had with my closest friend back home, who is also an avid hiker and adventurer, a couple of days previously was nagging in the back of my mind. He was convinced that we should tackle the full loop, and I suppose he had convinced me too (thanks a lot Cameron for installing a love of adventuring outdoors in me). So landslide or no landslide, I was committed.
The first couple hours of the hike led us through a fairly arid, dry and not incredibly exciting landscape down from the ridge we were on toward the water. And when I say down, I mean down. Hundreds of stairs down. The kind of down that you don’t want to go back up, down. Once we hit the ocean we were on the actual “Green Gardens” portion of the trail. Tall grass covers the plateau on which the trail meanders, cliffs jutting down to the ocean on one side and climbing up to the mountain from which we came on the other side. The world at right angles. We walked along the path, winding by the cliff side, enjoying the views of the cliffs ahead and behind.
A snail friend we met on the trail
At one point along this trail we came across a flock of sheep that had wandered away from a nearby farmer’s fields. Mama sheep with lambs in toe led the way on the path for a substantial distance, looking back over their shoulders every so often to snicker at us with their unimpressed bleats. At one point we stumbled across a whole crowd of them, with one small black lamb that made Charissa jump up and down with glee. His Royal Cuteness made quite a fuss with his rowdy “baa-ing” for his mum, who was clearing grazing too near the cliff’s edge for his liking. The sheep were definitely the highlight of our hike so far.
Note to my parents: Up to this point you have been very tolerant of my adventurous nature. When I called to tell you we had nearly died from falling off a cliff in a snow storm, you chuckled and said you were glad we were okay. When I told you we had almost hydroplaned into oncoming traffic you said “drive safe”. Now I think I’m just getting cocky and digging this adventure stuff. But I promise I will be safe. Yes, I do remember when I was a kid and you told me to follow the rules, to not go places you were advised not to go, and not to cross running rivers…. I remember it all. And I really respect all that advice, I do. But it’s just…. I really like adventure. So I’m sorry if this trip has terrified you. I am being careful even if it sounds like I’m not. And I love you dearly. But I probably should have advised you to read this blog while seated, because the amount of times Charissa and I have looked at each other on this trip and said “Our parents would have never let us go on this trip if only they knew we would be doing [insert stupid idea/crazy drive/mistaken turn/adrenaline rush here]”… Well, it’s a lot.
Onward we continued, over a couple of fairly sketch landslides (but not THE landslide we had been warned about) which required some clinging to the side of the cliff, although luckily at this point we were quite close to the shore so any falls would have been slightly less treacherous.
At one point, Charissa, who enjoys climbing over landslides and such things a little less than I do, suggested that it might make sense to go back since if we couldn’t get through the landslide it would only be worse the further we went. Of course, she was totally right. But my face at this point was painted with a giant grin. I think at one point I looked back at Charissa and said “This is so fun! It’s like an obstacle course.” I tend to recall that she was less than amused. But I was pretty gung-ho on continuing on the trail and gambling that we could get through the landslide, and Charissa conceded.
Green Gardens Trail, Gros Morne
So up up up we went away from the shore and hiking up a mountain that was definitely as high as the first one. Hundreds of stairs later we were at the top and rewarded with the sun peaking out from the clouds and a pretty spectacular view. And then down down down we went again and bam, hit a river. We didn’t know about the river part. Of course we had seen it on the map but figured if it was a big deal that the folks at the Visitor Info Centre would have let us know. Either that or perhaps (as Cam suggested when I was telling him this story on the phone later) we could just learn how to read a map… Because when it says “ford” by the river, we should really know that means there ain’t gonna be a bridge.
Anyway, it wasn’t so bad. Just a rushing river. This one was actually pretty easy. We took off our shoes and found the point with the most rocks jutting out and the shallowest water levels and clambered across. Success. Then up up up another mountain with hundreds of stairs (you get the idea) and this time with a quick glimpse of a moose. And the down down down to another river crossing, this one slightly more perilous.
Charissa suggested that we take the exit that wouldn’t require the river crossing and would just land us further up the road, from where we could hope to hitch a ride back to Sienna. But as I said, I was committed. This one was definitely a little bit more daunting. Charissa ended up higher than waist deep in water and as I watched her cross she was almost pushed over by the force of the water a few times. Naturally, we were totally ill equipped and were just carrying our cameras and phones in our backpacks without any added protection. So if Charissa or I went in, so did our valuables. Needless to say, we both made it across… Despite one of us bring totally soaked from the waist down. Luckily we had brought infinite changes of clothes (and let it be stated for the record that those had been selected over bringing a proper lunch, we only had a couple granola bars each and had eaten a pretty meager breakfast), so Charissa had dry pants and dry socks.
And then, surprise, we went up up up again. At the top of this hill we could see the van in the distance and I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Sieeeeeennnnnaaaaaaa!” Our legs were aching and we dragged our feet the last two clicks to the car where we promptly collapsed. For people who haven’t gone on a hike of that difficulty, well, ever, we were pretty proud of our 6 hour and 20 minute time including two river crossings. The suggested hiking time was 6-8 hours so we were pretty stoked that we were on the bottom end of that, despite feeling like death.
Oh and what about the landslide you ask? Pffffft, it was nothing. We literally climbed around it in about two minutes flat. And this folks is why you shouldn’t listen to authority: badass adventure time.
We fully intended to squeeze in another hike up to the Tablelands but we were totally tuckered out so just headed back to the campsite for a nap, a simple dinner, and an early bed time.
We started our day for a walk to Western Brook Pond which is actually the entrance to a gorgeous river running through a canyon. However the majority of it is only accessible by boat and tours haven’t started quite yet so unfortunately we were only able to see it from afar.
We headed back to Tablelands, about a forty five minute drive out of our way, fully intending to check it out. However, once we got there it was raining, I had a splitting headache and we were both exhausted. We figured a better decision would be to nap. And so nap we did, fully intending to hike after. But when we woke up it was still miserable out and we were still exhausted so we decided the Tablelands wasn’t for us. Yes, we had ended up driving 45 minutes out of our way just to nap.
Instead, we decided to just head down toward the ferry back to a Nova Scotia. Five hours of driving, one terrible dinner later and we were at the ferry about five hours early. We turned the back of the van into a bed and had a nice long nap, again, before making our way onto the ferry and heading back to Nova Scotia overnight!
Woot! Do I get points for keeping that day so short? Three paragraphts. That’s got to be a record.
Our first day back on the mainland! Woke up super early to get back off the ferry after having had a surprisingly decent sleep given the conditions and headed out to the Fortress of Louisbourg. Of course we got there about forty five minutes before it actually opened so bummed around the trails by the Louisbourg lighthouse for a little while.
Once into Louisbourg we spent some time exploring the parts of the reconstructed town that were open, strolling through the streets, and trying the authentic hot chocolate which was used medicinally back during the 1800s when the settlement was in operation. Then we got to partake in a “Time Traveller” tour of the fortress, following costumed soldiers, servants and ladies around from house to house, learning what it was like to live at Louisbourg in the 19th century.
Louisbourg Fortress, Nova Scotia
Musket firing, Louisbourg
From there we headed to Cape Breton where we set up tend at Broad Cove then went for a hike before tucking back in for the night.
Okay. Short and sweet. Here goes.
We drove all the way around Cape Breton. It was so foggy every where and rainy in places. Hiking was out of the question. At least not hiking with views. We went on a couple short hikes, but decided anything longer wasn’t worth it given the weather. We drove all the way back around Cape Breton. Nothing had changed. Still miserable. We figured we’d have to just save Cape Breton for another time and headed to PEI a day early.
Drove over the Confederation Bridge, which we were both all too excited about, and landed in Charlottetown for our first night. We stayed at a sweet little B&B, the Spillett House, near the heart of downtown. Our first evening we ate at the Gahan House: fish cakes, lobster, PEI potato fries and calamari. And of course a sampling of their beers, as per usual. The amount of beer I have consumed on this trip is bordering on obscene.
The next day, our first full day on the island, we drove around the eastern shore of the island along the coastal drive. Unfortunately the weather still wasn’t in our favour and it was pretty overcast and occasionally spitting. But despite the cloudy skies we still found PEI to be so beautiful. It’s quaint homes and gently rolling hills felt so peaceful and welcoming even in the gloomy weather. We both found our dream house, multiple times as little blue farm houses, with white trim, red doors, and wraparound verandas dot the landscape every few miles. Point Prim, just outside of Charlottetown, was particularly lovely.
Point Prim, PEI
We drove through a few smaller towns along the way, and stopped off at a couple of beaches and dared down onto the dunes only briefly before being scared back into the van by the wind. All along the way the red colour of the beach rocks and farm fields stole our hearts. On the north east part of the island we attempted to run down to another beach, but the wind and the cold made our hopeful flip flop covered feet shiver painfully so we bee-lined it back to shelter. There were also no open bathrooms since it’s still the off season and everything is pretty much closed down until at least June. Now normally I wouldn’t mention this because it’s not something I think you really need to know, but in this case, it’s vital. Obviously, without bathrooms being available, and a long drive in the boonies ahead of us, we had to make use of a good ol’ bush. Again, not something normally worth sharing. But it was Charissa’s first time squatting!! I have never high-fived someone before after they have relievde their bladder, except maybe my dog, but Charissa definitely deserved it.
On our second day in PEI we spent the morning moseying through the streets of Charlottetown, poking our heads into a few gift shops. It’s a really cute city, albeit quite small, but most definitely charming. Stone buildings make up the core of the town, with a couple gorgeous large churches towering over the tulip studded boulevards. Colourful rows of wooden houses, reminiscent of St. John’s, peacefully line the streets.
We then drove up toward the north end of the island where we would be staying our third night. First stop: the Anne of Green Gables House which served as the inspiration for much of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing. As a kid I had always been a big fan so it was really neat to see the farm and home where all the tales originated from.
By this time though it had started to pour and we realized our plans to stroll through the beaches of the provincial park in Cavendish were a bit of a wash out. But we figured we would make the best of it and visit every possible indoor attraction we could get our hands on. So we made stops at the toy store, the preserve company, a weird soap shop that made us watch a terrible thirteen minute video about their store, an art gallery that was way too fancy for us to be able to afford anything, and the most delicious cheese place, all scattered around the countryside. The cheese place is actually worth telling you about in more detail. We walked into the little shop attached to the farm and finally after waiting for a few minutes in the rustic little room, admiring the 1600 wheels of cheese in the back, a jolly man sauntered in, pulled out a massive platter of cheese from behind the counter, and no questions asked just started carving us large samples of the many varieties of Gouda. We were each treated to about eight different tastes of cheese. The man was just so excited to share this work he clearly loves so much. We ended up taking some onion and pepper cheese as well as some smoked peppercorn for the road. So delicious; this Gouda basically melted in our mouths.
Once we had run out of things to do in the rain in PEI we headed to the Northside B&B and curled up in bed and watched a movie (there really isn’t that much to do in PEI in the rain). We ended up driving back down to Charlottetown, which is only about 25 minutes away across the island from Northern PEI, to grab some supremely tasty curry for dinner.
The next morning, after breakfast, we headed to check out the Provincial Park, but the weather kept us from seeing much more than a couple quick glimpses of the beach. Decided it was time to head for the sun. To New Brunswick!
Naturally, we stopped on the way to the Bay of Fundy in Moncton to grab some lunch, and beers, at the PumpHouse brewery there. They sell a couple of their brews around the country, but the majority are only sold in house. Seriously, best stout I have ever had. So solid. Charissa and I, what with all of our tasting of #beersonbeersonbeers, have started to verge onto beer snobbiness. It’s treacherous terrain. But I honestly think our hashtag for this trip shouldn’t have been #xcanada2014 but something more like: #thegreatcanadianbeertour, #allthebeers2014 or #xcanadabrews. By the end of this trip we will have tried over a hundred beers, easily. Oh good lord.
Once we arrived in the Bay of Fundy National Park we got our campsite all set up and then went for a short hike at Point Wolfe. We ended up down on the beach, our shoes sinking into the mud left behind from the outgoing tide. I decided I didn’t want to walk back via the beach and suggested that we instead climb the cliff that was between us and the trail. So Charissa and I clambered up the somewhat slippery bank, relying on the branches and roots we were grabbing on to to keep us from falling. Once we reached the top, about forty feet up, it was a fairly sheer drop on either side of us with only a small area to walk on, so we very daintily scampered back to the trail. I thought Charissa wouldn’t be too stoked with my off the beaten track tendencies yet again, but she said “Climbing was so much fun!” Phew.
Low Tide, Bay of Fundy
Then we set off for the tiny town of Alma just outside our campsite where we wandered out onto the never ending beach at low tide until evening encroached.
Since then we’ve explored the rest of the Bay of Fundy, Quebec City and Montreal. More to come on that pronto!