In the footsteps of the Vikings in Newfoundland
Yes, before the British and the French, it was the Vikings first who arrived on North American lands, 500 years before Christopher Columbus! And this discovery only dates back to the 1960s, when a Norwegian couple unearthed the remains of a camp in northwestern Newfoundland, now known as L'Anse-aux-Meadows. Is it not incredible to imagine these Vikings coming from Scandinavia to venture further than Iceland and Greenland to this mysterious region that Erik Le Rouge's son, Leif Eriksson, named Vinland?
In late September, I was able to explore this part of Newfoundland for four days to discover the Viking Trail. It is the most important tourist route that extends from the Gros Morne National Park to the Anse-aux-Meadows. There is 450 km of varied landscapes along the ocean and the Long Range Mountains.
The access point to the western region of Newfoundland is the Deer Lake Airport, which has some funny ways of translating the baggage. Luggage Claim becomes the baggage claim. Well, it still highlights the effort. We will not spend the night in Deer Lake, but 30 minutes drive from the airport, in Corner Brook. It is the 2nd largest city after St John's, located at the mouth of the Humber River, famous for salmon fishermen.
It is also home to a paper mill, the largest employer in the region. After a night in the cozy inn and a nice breakfast, we headed down the Humber River to Gros Morne National Park, with the famous mist of Newfoundland covering the summits. Fortunately, it will not last. The sun is already pointing the tip of its nose to allow us to discover the breathtaking panorama of a part of the Gros Morne National Park.
It is a hilly landscape covered with boreal forest with the Tablelands on the bottom this strange ocher plateau. We go to the visitor center to understand the different parts of the park. We can really spend several days there for the diversity of its landscapes and its immense surface. It is not for nothing that it is classified World Heritage by UNESCO for its exceptional beauty and its geological wealth. It is a result of the collision of the continents.
En route to Norris Point at Bonne Bay Marine Station, a research center operated by the University of Newfoundland, we learn more about lobster. We even see the rare blue lobster, which owes its color to a genetic deficiency. It is from the same marina that the tours depart to admire Bonne Bay, the stretch of sea between the Tablelands and the Long Range Mountains.
After lunch in Norris Point, at a lovely café with great sandwiches and soups, we take Route 430 back to the center of the park. We reach the Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, built in 1808 to provide maritime traffic safety. We learn about the difficult life of cod fishermen. Moreover, France held fishing rights on this coast throughout the 19th century.
All colonization was forbidden, but fishermen nevertheless came to settle there. They join the Micmacs, Native American people who were already there. A series of trails will take you to lookouts to admire the view of the ocean. But for us, it's already time to leave for a cruise on the Western Brook Pond, further north of the park. It is a must to do in the area!
To reach the wharf from where the boat leaves, we have to walk along a 3km wood path (about 40 min). The landscape is just incredible. We cross sections of funny stunted trees, called Tuckamore, then the bog with a backdrop of 650m high cliffs. The light changes, it's fabulous! We board the boat for a two-hour excursion inside the fjord. This valley carved by glaciers is spectacular.
It looks like the fjords of New Zealand, but purists say it's not a fjord. Because it's cut off from the sea by the peat bog and the seawater has been replaced by freshwater. Its water is one of the purest in the world. The cliffs are home to high waterfalls and funny rock formations like the tin man of the Wizard of Oz! You can take a guided hike. The shuttle will take you to the end of the fjord and the hiker can go to the summit and take the iconic photo of the fjord.
We take the path in the opposite direction by exclaiming again before so much beauty. We spend the night in Rocky Harbor for some and Norris Point for others. Western Brook Pond is located halfway between Rocky Harbor and Cow Head, but the Rocky Harbor area offers more accommodations. The Inn at Norris Point enjoys the best location, as the sunset and the sunrise over the bay are sumptuous.
A fishing boat comes back. It's so picturesque. Tonight, we participate in a group dinner. It is a great way to experience the best of local cuisine, with the delicate entry of fresh salmon crumbled on potato bed, the main dish of cod fillet in the delicious sauce and the decadent cheesecake. We end the evening at the hotel pub to attend the group show that features local and catchy music and humor.
The next day, we take the road of Vikings along the coast to join the Anse-aux-Meadows located 370 km north of the peninsula. Along the way, we stop at Arches Provincial Park where tides and erosion have dug holes in the rocks to form natural arches. The road is long but is beautiful. The lonely landscapes are bordered by the ocean and dotted with fishing huts and lobster traps.
We pass in front of Ste Barbe, a place of the departure of the ferry to reach Labrador that we see. Its ribs are only 17 km away. I highly recommend going for a night or two to visit Red Bay in Labrador, another UNESCO heritage site that tells the story of a whaling station. It's only a one hour drive from the ferry's arrival.
After a good seafood chowder at St Lunaire Griquet, we finally arrive at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, by the sea. Here the remains of a 1,000-year-old Viking encampment have been discovered. It would be the first European baby on the soil of North America. The reconstructed buildings are half-timbered huts covered with clods a bit like Hobbit houses.
The costumed characters remind us that we are in the Vikings and tell us anecdotes of their lives with passion. From May to early August, icebergs drift along the coast. We stop quickly at Norstead Village next door. There is a replica of Viking merchant harbor with more costumed interpreters telling legends and demonstrations of ax throwing among others. It is a complimentary visit to the historic site of Anse-aux-Meadows.
On the road to St Anthony, 40 minutes from the site, we make a stop at the shop that makes products based on the famous wild berries of Newfoundland bearing funny names like bakeapple, partridgeberry, and crowberry. We also meet the dogs of the owners who are none other than Newfoundlanders!
The next day, we wake up at St Anthony, a charming fishing port. It is the adopted city of Sir Grenfell, a missionary, and doctor who did everything possible to care for isolated and poor families at the end of the 19th century and built the first hospital of the region. We visit his restored house, from where a pleasant trail with a belvedere where he liked to have tea and admire the view of the bay of St. Anthony.
The Waterfront Interpretive Center traces its history. From here you can watch whales and icebergs in season. St Anthony is the capital of the iceberg. The season is the longest to watch these giant pieces of ice. This really makes you want to come back. A tapestry representative from the French Shore comes to present this 67m long work, in the tradition of the Bayeux Tapestry, which illustrates lobster fishing scenes in the 1880s.
It may not seem very interesting but think again, because the place itself is worth seeing. We did not have time to travel to Conche because this village is located at the end of the road 434 after 30 km of track. If you want to discover the French heritage and feel at the end of the world, you can visit this picturesque village of the French Shore.
In this stretch of coastline, the French fishermen come mainly from Brittany and Normandy. They came fishing for cod between 1713 when the French gave Acadia and Newfoundland to the English (but they will keep the right to fish). In 1904, the French exchanged their fishing rights with the British against land in Africa.
We take the road of the Vikings in the opposite direction to join the southern part of Gros Morne Park. Halfway we make a quick stop at Port-au-Choix, which comes from the deformed Basque name portuchua, a fishing port that is home to lobsters. Port-aux-Choix is also a historic site of Parks Canada, a site of the occupation of the first peoples who inhabited the region, before the Europeans. The interpretive center traces 6000 years of Aboriginal history. The landscape is strange, rocky beaches swept by the maritime winds.
We arrive at the end of the afternoon at Woody Point, located on the other side of Norris Point and Bonne Bay. The road that runs along the arm of the sea offers spectacular scenery, especially at sunset. Taste of Gros Morne will host another progressive dinner in this part of Gros Morne Park. Woody Point is home to a few restaurants, craft shops and bars with live music in the summer season.
We order cheese and cold cuts at the restaurant with a beautiful view of the bay. There is the main course with beef tenderloin and scallops. In a warm room where we sit on wooden barrels and then order the dessert. A traditional music concert awaits us and the famous Screech ceremony. You cannot leave Newfoundland without having your Screech certificate!
First, we have to wear a yellow fisherman's hat. The master of ceremonies must kiss us a cod on the mouth. Then we repeat the formula in English and we have to drink a glass of Screech, alcohol based on rum. But before that, we also had the spoon of cod liver oil.
On the last day in Gros Morne Park, we tread the earthly mantle! Woody Point is the access point to the Tablelands. You can also get to Woody Point more quickly by taking a Norris Point ferry. It is 10 minutes away instead of 1 hour. You can then take a taxi to the Park Discovery Center. The Tablelands core is one of the few places where the Earth's mantle is exposed.
These ocher rocks were pushed to the surface half a billion years ago during a collision of the continents. Very few plants grow on these orange mountains, except for the emblem plant of Newfoundland. It is the pitcher plant, a red-wine carnivorous plant that traps insects. A guide from Parks Canada teaches us about geology. This rock is actually dark green in the center of the earth, and the ocher color comes from exposure to the air.
It is almost unreal to say that you are walking on the earthly mantle. It's almost like being in the Utah desert with the sun shining in the sky. A strange feeling is invading us. It is less than 1 hour from Deer Lake Airport. It's already time to leave this truly unique region which was beyond my expectations.
Gros Morne National Park and the shoreline of western Newfoundland offer many surprises with such contrasting landscapes. There are impressive fjords, strange rock formations, beautiful bays, deserted beaches at the end of the world, cabins Quaint fishermen, fresh air, and icebergs. It is also a land steeped in history, from Vikings to natives to French fishermen. These remote and wild lands are truly a paradise for photographers, hikers and geologists.