Looking back, I actually don’t remember what first drew me to Newfoundland, but I’m so glad I made the trip. An island at the end of the world, I spent 8 days driving around with only the roughest of plans, exploring rugged coastlines, seeing exotic wildlife, and having most places entirely to myself.
Flying into St. John’s, I pointed the car south and drove around the Avalon Peninsula, starting with the lighthouse at the easternmost point of North America. The peninsula is also home to one of the largest seabird colonies in the area, with tens of thousands of nesting gannets, razorbills, and seagulls.
Driving northwest along the Trans-Canada Highway, I started seeing signs for towns with names like Come By Chance, Salvage, and Deadman’s Bay. The trees were stunted and twisted, the products of many harsh winters. It was mid-May and the weather had warmed up a bit since then, but I still spent the day driving through one chilly rainstorm after another. About half way up the coast, I turned a corner and saw an enormous iceberg not far out to sea, bigger than most houses. These ice giants break off the Greenland Ice Sheet and float down the Labrador Current, slowly melting back into the sea after more than 10,000 years of being frozen. Another reminder of how far north I was and just one of several I’d see over the course of the trip.
A remote island off the Newfoundland coast, Fogo is a place in transition. This spec of land in the North Atlantic relied on the cod fishing industry for hundreds of years before its collapse in the 1990s. As with many small communities across Newfoundland, the collapse hit hard and many people struggled to find new work. Today, Fogo is an island in transition. Zita Cobb, after a successful career in the fiber optics industry on the mainland, moved back to her home on the island and founded a nonprofit—Shorefast—that is working to bring tourism and the arts to the island. With Canadian architect Todd Saunders, the foundation built several artist studios on the island. Made with local materials as much as possible, the modern and minimalist structures mimic the simple wooden structures that have been built on the island for centuries. The main feature of the island, however, is the Fogo Island Inn. Proceeds from this luxury hotel are reinvested in the island community and most of the furniture and textiles are created by local craftspeople. The hotel is an expensive stay, with rooms starting at about $1500 per night, but I got a taste of the experience with a lunch in the dining room overlooking crashing waves and icebergs for a fraction of the cost.
Continuing my journey northwestward, I headed towards Gros Morne National Park. I wasn’t able to hit a few highlights of the park due to early season conditions and my messed up knee, but even so I saw enough to know that I’ll definitely make a trip back again soon. It’s not often that I get to see caribou right by the side of the road.
Puffins and whales. The two last things I wanted to see on Newfoundland and the Bonavista Peninsula had both in spades. I took a whale watching tour and when we didn’t see many (early season), the captain offered to take me out again that evening for free if I wanted. He’d seen a sperm whale in the distance and wanted to try to get a closer view. No luck with that, but a handful of humpback whales made the near-freezing rain and choppy waters worth it. I spent two evenings down at the puffin nesting site and even though most were a bit too far out of reach for my lens, they were still fantastic to watch. Much, much smaller than I’d imagined, these guys were really clumsy on land since they spend most of the year out at sea. For many of them, it was the first time they’d been back to land since they first left after hatching.