Our first glimpse of Newfoundland! Entering the harbor
at Port aux Basques
We didn’t really know what to expect of Newfoundland even as we were approaching the island on the ferry from Nova Scotia. We knew about the crazy half-hour-later time zone, and had heard tell of whales, icebergs, and Vikings, but had no solid idea what day-to-day life or the landscape might be like.
Most everyone we talked to on the ship was heading straight from the dock to Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland’s best known attraction. The fine folks at the province’s Go Western Newfoundland had other plans for us though, and boy are we glad they did. They had several stops before the famous park on the itinerary they set up for us.
Had we blazed up the highway we would have missed some things that ended up being among the highlights of our visit, beginning with the town of Port aux Basques where we came ashore. Once again that good ole GypsyNester dumb-luck played in our favor, as Canada Day celebrations had been postponed for a night due to weather, and were just kicking off as we entered the town.
A crowd was gathering as a band set up in Scott’s Cove Park by the harbor, and vendors had booths with crafts and treats. We ambled about for a few minutes, getting introduced to Newfoundland, then walked up the hill for dinner at the St. Christopher’s Hotel. We were greeted like old friends by Lloyd Whitehorn at the front desk. Lloyd also gives tours of the area, so he was the perfect guy to give us a few pointers.
We had heard about fish and brewis before arriving on the island, and understood that this was a must-have meal if we were to get the full Newfoundland experience. Salt cod and hardtack are soaked, then boiled, chopped up, and combined for a plate of stick-to-your-ribs seafaring rations. The menu listed Fisherman’s Brewis, but we figured it must be the same thing.
But first we had to try the true delicacy of the North Atlantic, cod tongues. Fried tidbits straight from the fish’s mouth, served with scrunchions, deep fried pork fat bits. The tongues just tasted like cod, with a very slight gelled consistency. And everything’s good with a little pig fat on it. Scrunchions were also used to dress up the fisherman’s brewis.
Might not sound like gourmet dining, but it sure hit the spot after our crossing. Later in our trip we discovered that St. Christopher’s kept the fish and bread in bigger pieces than the more traditional versions. It seems that can be the difference between calling it fish and brewis, or fisherman’s brewis. After dinner we watched the Canada Day fireworks over the bay, then drifted off dreaming of what awaited us on this intriguing island at the edge of North America.
Sunrise found us learning much more about the island over breakfast of cod cakes and eggs with Stella Pittman, manager of St. Christopher’s.
She explained how so many folks miss the incredible beauty of the southwest portion of Newfoundland by driving through without stopping. She, and several others, told us about visitors who thought the island was small enough to see the whole thing in three or four days. Considering it is over six hundred miles from top-to-bottom, and end-to-end, that would mean non-stop driving. We sure are glad we booked the extra time to explore a little more in depth.
A Pirate’s Life for Me
On our way north we stopped off at Pirate’s Haven, in the tiny west coast town of Robinsons, where Paul and Ruth Gale took us on the ATV ride of our lives. They have set up a park with a campground, chalets, and a restaurant on a huge plot of land perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We rode the bikes, as they called the four-wheelers, to the edge for a view beyond compare.
The view from the hilltop chalets at Pirate’s Haven
Their park is an amazing project that they have taken on singled-handedly over the past ten years, and it rivals any public lands we’ve seen for natural beauty. Riding back for a bite at their restaurant we crossed the Robinsons River on a trestle from the old Newfoundland Railway that went out of service in1988. The Gales helped save the crumbling bridge and now it has new life for hikers, bikers, skiers, and snowmobilers as part of T’Railway Provincial Park multi use trail that spans the entire island.
WATCH: A rip-roarin’ ATV ride in beautiful Newfoundland!
Back at the home base Ruth served up lunch of delicious cod au gratin.
We got the feeling we were going to find out just how many ways there are to cook a cod.
Little did we know that we would soon be kissing one.
Riding in a Traditional Newfoundland Dory
Our next stop was Bay of Islands and Cox’s Cove. We met Darren Park, who runs Four Seasons Tours, for a spin around the bay in his traditional dory. Darren knows his home cove like the back of his hand and immediately took us to a nesting sight with two baby eagles. Two adult birds were standing guard and watching the water.
Then Darren gave us a show. He tossed a fish out for the birds, but before they could swoop down a seagull snatched it. The chase was on!
Mama eagle was not about to allow some gull to steal her baby’s food, so she honed in on the gull like a fighter jet. After a brief attempt to escape, the gull made the smart choice of dropping the fish. Mama picked it up and flew right over us to the nest.
From there we made our way to a few of Darren’s favorite fishing spots to try our hand at jigging a cod.
He made it look simple, just drop the line all the way to the bottom, (nearly three hundred feet!) then reel it up a couple turns and give it a few good tugs. Next thing we knew he had a big ole cod on the line.
WATCH: Eagles, cod jigging, wild land-and-seascapes and a visit to Darren’s fish cabin – all in a traditional Newfoundland dory!
Needless to say, it took us a bit longer to hook one, but we did get the hang of it and before long everyone had caught a good sized fish. We had heard about kissing the cod, and for some reason Veronica thought it was a great idea, so we puckered up and smooched our catches right on the lips. Later we learned that cod kissing is part of an induction ceremony for honorary Newfoundlanders. Well, this way we were ready for it when the time came.
After our lip smacking with the fish we were surprised by the salty taste left behind. We had to keep reminding ourselves that this was the ocean, because the bay looked for all the world like a freshwater lake up in the North Woods. At least until we started seeing jellyfish.
Once we were all successful cod fishermen it was time for a little sustenance, shellfish boiled in sea water. We beached the boat right in front of Darren’s fishing cabin and he grabbed a bucket of mussels and scooped some water from the bay into it. The mussels came from right there. At low tide he just walks along the shore and picks them up. With some fresh snow crab tossed in, and a few minutes on the stove, we were ready for a feast.
In Cox’s Cove we learned about the real Newfoundland. From people like Darren, who has lived there all of his life, and Joan Oxford of True North Tours, who invited us over to her house where we discussed all things Newfoundland…
Music, history, food, and traditions all went round the table. It seemed like no one we met was a stranger. Easy conversations were struck up with almost everybody. We found a great example of what to expect on the rest of our journey across Newfoundland.
Beautiful scenery, unbelievable fresh seafood, gorgeous water, and most of all, fantastic people.
We felt like we met a new best friend every day.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
YOUR TURN: Have we inspired you to visit Newfoundland? What’s your favorite part so far?