Gros Morne National park in Western Newfoundland is a geologist's paradise. The landscape is a testament of how our earth evolved from rock fjords bursting through the ice and Tablelands of earth's tectonic plates to become rugged and rocky mountains. This is the place to be if you want to be one with nature.
What's really difficult to control is the desire to stop every few minutes because of the wow factor telling you, "I must photograph nature!" This hits everywhere from how the wildflowers look on the side of Viking Trail Highway to the rocky outcrop on the coastline and the fishing villages with their colourful boats.
In early August I traveled to Gros Morne National Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's been on my travel bucket list since the first time I researched the area. I was immediately intrigued to visit the place which was the entry point for early European explorers to Canada. With only 4 days for the visit, here's how I covered 300+ kilometres of Gros Morne National Park and surrounding area.
View of Bonne Bay
Day 1: Deer Lake, Woody Point and Trout River
If your heading to Gros Morne then the easiest way to get there is by flying into Deer Lake Airport, from there pick up a rental car and drive highway route 430 which leads to the park. It is easily accessible from the airport.
My first destination was Woody Point, home of the annual Writers Festival. Taking highway 431 exit I arrived at this quaint coastal village, founded in 1830, from the airport within an hour. Surrounded by mountains and The Tablelands the views along the coastal drive were breathtaking.
Checking in at the state of the art Discovery Centre I picked up my park pass before taking a quick look at the exhibits showcasing the history of the area. The Parks' Canada employees are extremely knowledgeable and provided advice about what to see.
Where to Stay:
My accommodation for the night was booked at the Victorian Manor Efficiency Units, perched on a hill with views of Bonne Bay Harbour.
Tip: Reserve your car rental way in advance of your trip. Only limited number of vehicles are available for rental during the peak June to August touring season. Make sure you have a full tank of fuel as gas stations are far and few as you drive further out into the park.
Day 2: Tablelands, Rocky Harbour, Norris Point
Be sure to get up early for a tour of The Tablelands with the Parks' Canada geologist. Along with a group of 30 I listened intently to our knowledgeable and entertaining guide. The one hour guided hike provides amazing information about the site.
The Tablelands are the remains of an ancient ocean floor that existed 500 million years ago. Geologists love to study The Tablelands, which are predominantly made of peridotite, a rock that lacks the nutrients required to sustain modern plant life leaving a very barren landscape, because the Earth's mantle is exposed for all to see. Moss campion, serpentine sandwort and wormwood plants thrive in this toxic mineral laden rock.
Hitting the road for Rocky Harbour and Norris Point, I jumped back on route 431 to 430 arriving at my destination an hour later. Rocky Harbour is the largest community in Gros Morne National Park, centrally located for heading north or south in the park. The town was founded in the early 1800's and since then has flourished into a tourist destination. The harbour is full of great shops, restaurants and fishing boats.
Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, built in 1897, is one of the most spectacular places to visit while in Rocky Harbour. There is a trail behind the lighthouse to get a better view of the coastline, colourful and rocky. Inside the Lighthouse there are historical exhibits explaining the area's history and how people made their living from the sea. Parks Canada interpreter Bonne Lou regaled me with stories from the region making it even harder to leave this great location!
Tip: Make sure you travel with a good camera -- you will want to take photos of your journey. I brought along my Sony Cyber-shot DSCHX50VB, it had one of the most powerful zoom lenses I've used. The proof -- Taking a picture of a moose half a mile away and Norris Point from across Bonne Bay. Being compact and small it was a great travel companion.
Where to Stay:
My bed for the night was Fisherman's Landing Inn. From the outside the place looked a bit barren but once I entered the lobby and my room I was impressed with how modern and comfortable the room was.
For dinner I headed over to Black Spruce Restaurant, Neddies Harbour Inn, Norris Point owned by Bettina Lori and Herbert Schumacher. My hosts were able to teach me so much about the region. It was one of the best meals I've had on this trip -- with a focus on organic and farm-to-table ingredients in each menu item.
Day 3: Western Brook Pond, Cow Head
Western Brook Pond is definitely tops as one of my favourite places in Gros Morne, another formidable example of geological wonders in the park. There is a pleasant 40 minute walk from the car park -- 6 km round trip (20 min drive from Rocky Harbour) to the boat tour departure area run by Bon Tours. Hiking on the path to reach the boat, you walk along a fragile terrain of coastal bogs and low forested limestone ridges, all quite fascinating to see. If you're lucky like I was, you will see a moose or two en route.
Glacier carved Fjords cut a striking view from a distance, and then you see them up-close. Wow! 2,000 foot cliffs, cascading waterfalls and ancient rock formations are viewed from the boat. The natural wonders in Gros Morne never ceased to amaze me. The pond is completely landlocked and now fresh water based. Geologists have found bones of whales and other sea life at the bottom.
Where to Stay:
Leaving the Western Brook Pond I headed to my next destination on the Viking Trail highway, Cow Head and an overnight stay at the Shallow Bay Motel. The views of the coastline along the way are beautiful. Shallow Bay (as the name indicates) is a place of low tide during the day and then by evening it comes back in. Shallow Bay Motel has a full service dining room where you can order seafood, pasta or other dishes. Cow Head is also the home of the Gros Morne Theatre Festival where after dinner I was treated to a performance of "TWO" in the warehouse theatre, located just next door to the motel.
Day 4: Torrent River, Port Au Choix, and Arches Provincial Park
Leaving Cow Head in the morning I drove up to the Torrent River Salmon Interpretation Centre on Hawke's Bay. It's a remarkable place where you can see a state of the art exhibit of the history of the area before heading to a salmon viewing chamber. In the 1970s, the Department of Fisheries and Ocean along with the Hawke's Bay community worked together to restock the salmon in the river. Salmon always return to the place of their birth. Under the Salmon-Stocking Program about 50 salmon were introduced to the river and over time they have returned. Today their number has grown to over 4000 salmon.
I headed up the Viking Trail coastline to the historical town of Port Au Choix, a place where people have lived for thousands of years along the rugged coastline geologically made up of limestone rocks, which has preserved ancient artifacts. According to archaeologists four ancient cultures have been found at Port au Choix; the Maritime Archaic Indian, Dorset and Groswater Paleoeskimo, and more recent Indians prior to the arrival of European settlers.
The marine life is rich in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Even today many townsfolk make their living by the sea. The town has a colourful harbour full of fishing boats. I wasn't so lucky but many people have spotted whales frolicking in the waters.
While in town make a point of visiting artist Ben Ploughman, Ben's Studio gallery. You will see his work all over the Island, his artistic interpretations are beautiful and very unique, plus he had me in stitches with his storytelling.
Heading back south I stopped at Arches Provincial Park, located just north of Gros Morne National Park, experiencing a major love fest with the sea washed stones laying beneath beautiful arches. I couldn't stop picking them up and examining the patterns, colours and textures of the rocks. I would have loved to bring them home with me.
After leaving Arches Provincial Park it was time to head back to rest at Deer Lake before a very early flight back to Toronto. The landscape, the friendly people all draw you in. I'm definitely returning at some point in the future. With only 4 days in the area, I had no time to do any extensive hikes or go out on the water, so next visit I have to remedy that.
Tip: want to learn more about to Food in Gros Morne then check out my article Eating Well in Gros Morne National park.