Touring Newfoundland and Labrador
Black flies and moose rolls on the road in Newfoundland and Labrador
Words— Jeremy Freed
"We’re out of the moose rolls and the mussels, and the arctic char isn’t in season right now," my server informs me jovially as I sit down to dinner at the Lightkeeper’s Cafe in St. Anthony Newfoundland. It’s taken a day’s worth of flights, and a 40-minute drive through the thick pine forests and buggy-looking lakes of northern Newfoundland to get here, and while I hadn’t planned on ordering the moose rolls, now that I know I can’t have them, I kind of want them. I order the fried cod with scrunchions instead, with a Quidi Vidi 1892 ale, and both are delicious.
After dinner I sit on a bench next to a lighthouse, watching the waves crash against the rocks and feeling more relaxed than I have in a long time. I need to live closer to an ocean, I think.
I have to get an early start to make the car ferry to Labrador, so I’m on the road as the sun is coming up, eating a ham and egg sandwich behind the wheel as I keep a vigilant eye out for moose. My server at dinner last night told me he used to regularly spot a dozen or more on his drive home from work, but that numbers are down in recent years thanks to increased hunting. I make the ferry with lots of time to spare and zero moose sightings.
Aboard the Qajaq W, I make myself comfortable on deck and keep an eye out for whales and seabirds, binoculars at the ready. I glimpse a pod of dolphins, their black dorsal fins breaking the waves just off the ship’s bow.
After driving off the ferry at Blanc Sablon, I follow the highway north along a high pass with endless green forests and lakes on either side, and the Atlantic in the distance. There would be any number of beautiful places to stop for and enjoy the view along the way, were it not for the black flies that swarm around my head as soon as I get out of the car. One of them bites my lower lip and my mouth swells up like I’ve been punched.
The next morning the air smells like woodsmoke and sea, and it’s blissfully quiet. Battle Harbour is a former fishing village on a tiny island in Labrador that’s been converted into a boutique hotel and historical site. Now, people like me come here to play at living as the Labradorians for generations, jigging for cod and foraging berries on the rocky hillsides.
"Well, this is it, the easternmost point of the North American continent," says Peter Bull, Battle Harbour’s Executive Director/head bartender/occasional tour guide. After a harrowing speedboat ride and a brisk hike, we’re standing at Cape St. Charles, a mossy bit of rock jutting out into the Atlantic. "People ask me if you can see England from here and I say, ‘No, but you can see whales.’" I laugh. It’s a good joke, I tell him, but it won’t make any sense written down.
Back on the Labrador mainland, I make a stop at the UNESCO Heritage Site in Red Bay for lunch and bit of local history. Red Bay was a 16th-century basque whaling station, and the remains of it—including period clothes, tools and ships—have been dug up all over the area. I take a boat ride out to Saddle Island, where the most important the artifacts were found and wander around, trying to imagine what it would have been like to be a 16th-century basque sailor. This place, with its barren rocky ground, giant whales and swarms of biting flies, must have felt like another planet. An iceberg sits on the horizon, glinting bright white in the sun as it rolls in the waves.
After riding the ferry back across the Strait of Belle Isle I wind my way south along the coast towards Gros Morne National Park. The shimmering Atlantic spreads out as far as I can see on my right. This is one of the most spectacular drives I’ve ever seen, but I’m too busy monitoring the roads for moose to fully take it in. BE MOOSE AWARE says one giant yellow sign. I have not sighted a single moose in five days, which is probably for the best, but I’m still a bit disappointed.
I make it to Gros Morne in time to take a quick hike before sunset. The path runs through a marsh along the seaside, and then through a thick, mossy forest, before emerging at a rocky beach. I sit for a while watching gannets and terns diving for fish in the surf, the sun setting slowly over the water. There’s not another person in sight.
I’ve got the entire day to explore Gros Morne before I head to the Deer Lake airport to catch my flight home tonight. It’s overcast and warm as I set out from the visitor’s centre. The trail switchbacks through dense, muddy woods, and I’m sweaty and out of breath by the time I get to the top. As soon as I exit the trees the weather changes in an instant, wind howling, rain falling sideways, stinging my face. It’s not good weather for enjoying the sweeping views of the valley below, but it’s strangely satisfying to be up here, unsheltered, at the mercy of the elements. Standing on the side of the mountain, pelted by wind and water, the minutiae of my normal life feels very far away. It’s a feeling I’ve become familiar with on this trip as I take in one breathtaking vista after another, sitting on one beautiful beach after another, breathing the brisk salty air with just the seabirds to keep me company. I wish I could take some of this solitude home with me tonight, back to the world of traffic, pollution and the crushing pace of city life, but of course, I can’t. I look out over the valley, tired, wet and happy, and try to remember this feeling.