Preamble: One of my favourite ways to travel is to visit friends and go where they like to go. I had no desire to go to Newfoundland, to be truthful – there are so many places in the world I want to see and limited time and money to spend – but that’s where friends live. So that’s how I found myself staying in their small bungalow in Norris Point, a tiny town (not the main one) in Gros Morne National Park.
Newfoundland is a Happy Surprise
Prior to going, Newfoundland in my mind was a cliché of windswept rocky cliffs, pea-soup foggy weather and brightly painted houses (to fend off the grey). Instead, I found myself in an awe-inspiring place of big skies, ocean beaches, soft wind, mountain views and waterfalls. August in Newfoundland was a shimmering, happy surprise.
Driving up from Cornerbrook into the mountains of Gros Morne, the landscape expanded in front of us as a nature-lover’s paradise of fast-running rivers and streams, uninhabited views, hardwood forests, and sun! If you have driven up into Cape Breton, it feels a bit like that: driving further and further north into what feels like nowhere, but turns out to be an intensely beautiful and lush part of the world. It is remote, for sure, but the breathtaking surroundings, natural history and good-natured people are more than worth the time and effort to get there.
Gros Morne, at least on the Norris Point side, seems a place almost locked in a previous time. The village convenience store has hand-knit socks and mittens; there are kites and marbles for sale; crackers and chips that have been there for a while; and no drinkable coffee to speak of. The village itself is tiny and humble. It is like camp, in a way. There are fewer luxuries than at home or some parks and tourist areas, but the lack of things and its distance from ‘reality’ make it an oasis of calm and escape.
Don’t Skip the Lookoff!
Not far into the boundary of the park, we stopped at the identified ‘Lookoff’ point and, though it always feels contrived (to me) to stop where the sign tells us to stop, in my experience, Lookoff planners know what they are doing. We get out of our vehicle, and the view is honestly breathtaking. For as far as you can make your eyes see are rolling tips of the truncated upper region of the Appalachian Mountain Range. It is a place that feels sacred and private. The view is slight haze hovering the mountaintops in late day sun, and it is as if no one had ever stopped at this well-marked Lookoff and stood here before.
Southeast Brook Falls Hike
Our first unforgettable walk in Gros Morne is the short hike at Southeast Brook Falls. The perfect beginning to our visit to the park: it is a combination of a short, upward forest walk, dappled light on the mossy ground along the path, and a gorgeous waterfall view at the top. It was a very hot day, and at the top of the falls we waded in the slow-moving, shallow pool above the sheer drop of waterfall. I sat alone for a while in the middle of the stream on a rock, and that moment remains as though in stopped time – the view and sound of the falls below and the sense of grandeur is unforgettable.
The ‘Other’ Side of the Bay – The View from Norris Point
Gros Morne is unique from many National Parks as the Bay separates the landmass of the Park and the two small villages into two unique parts. Norris Point seems an incidental part of the park – and not just because of the Bay. Most visitors to Gros Morne likely don’t ever visit Norris Point. A ferry service going from one side of the Bay to the other (or town to town) is available throughout the day, but the main traffic and organized activities are centered in or out of Woody Point.
Experiencing Gros Morne with my friends at Norris Point was a decidedly non-tourist experience. I felt I was visiting like a local, benefitting from the local perspective of my park-pass owning friends – though also missing the tourist route and areas altogether. Their blue bungalow is a couple of kilometers north of the Norris Point Harbour in a small neighbourhood of bungalows, trailers, and hardtop roads with little traffic. When we arrive at the small house at the top of the hill, the distinct Newfoundland light shining through the weeds in the neglected front yard is golden and beautiful.
At the end of the road there is a often a Path
I know from experience and a curious nature that at the end of a road there is often a path. I woke up with the sunrise one morning, and it was a perfect chance to get out for a run and look around on my own. I also knew we had no coffee, and I was off on a bit of a hunt.
I ran down the hill from the house and followed the road along the water, around winding turns, I waved to people walking dogs who waved first, and then found myself running down more hill into the main area of the town of Norris Point. At the end of the road at the edge of a gift shop parking lot I found it – the path at the end of the road.
The problem with scouting an unknown trail on your own is that you don’t know what you’re in for. Well, I was in for a climb (and then some). The path at the end of the road went pretty much straight up (with switchbacks) for what seemed like 15 sets of stairways. By the time I reached the reward at the top, the sunrise lighting the Tablelands – lit ochre in the distance – my legs were rubber. But look: the picture shows the ferry terminal of Norris Point, Woody Point across the Bay, and the Tablelands with cloud shadow in the distance through the trees at the top of the path. It was worth the climb. Later I discover this trail to be Burnt Hill Trail, which you can find on the map – though it is much more fun to find by accident.
Étang Western Brook Pond
While our trip was less about being tourists than being with our friends in a place we could all be on vacation, I can’t imagine having gone to Gros Morne without going on the unforgettable ferry ride into the long fjord of Étang Western Brook Pond. It is an amazing experience from start to finish. To begin with, you have to walk for about an hour to get to the ferry, and the walk itself is head-shakingly stunning.
It is a long, flat marshland in, and it makes me think of descriptions I’ve read of the African veld. It is wild and open with a soft wind I haven’t heard or felt before. The sound crosses the Prairie-like space with a hush that makes me stop and listen, and stop and listen some more. Again, it feels sacred and private here, even though there are people ahead and behind me on the trail. Somehow, I am completely alone in this peaceful, rare place.
And then there is the ferry ride. To say that this is one of the most beautiful experiences I have had is not hyperbole. It’s simply true. The passenger ferry – full to the brim with people (I would get your ticket the day before, at least) – travels into the mouth of the fjord and up into the channel, and as it does one can’t help but feel like a Viking or early explorer. You feel like bursting into song. The cliffs rise above the water in front of you and, as the ferry moves up into the ‘pond’, waterfalls crash down the cliff from a height you can’t even think of.
If you have never been to Newfoundland, like I hadn’t, you may have been more familiar with ideas of Newfoundland through jokes than anything else. Like most clichés about places and people, they disappear when you experience something first hand. But there was at least one image that made me think old Newfie jokes: a “Cliff Area” sign pointing in two directions.
Long Sandy Beaches – in Newfoundland?
It never once occurred to me before going that Newfoundland would have beautiful, world-class, sandy beaches. Shallow Bay and the beach at Cow Head were such amazing beaches I was stunned. The water is warm and shallow, there are rocks to climb and sand bars to swim out to, and there is the massive expanse of both ocean and sky to lose yourself in.
Gros Morne (or Big Mountain) is a place to truly get away to. Find the time, find a reason, and get yourself to ‘the rock.’ You will be surprised to find Big Skies and a perfect place to relax and play.
Western Brook Boat Tour
Adult Tickets: $56 -$65, various trips daily. Youth and Children prices available. http://www.bontours.ca/tour/western-brook-pond-boat-tour/
Newfoundland “Bakeapple” Berries – something like Saskatoon Berries only they are bigger and smell like baked apples in the sun. They are for sale at roadside stands in July and August, and you will see people picking them in boggy areas.
Shallow Bay Beach – A long, arching sandy beach with warm water and rock features. Bathrooms and Picnic Tables. Paradise.
Beach Glass Hunting at Rocky Harbour
Places to stay: http://www.grosmorne.com/accommodations.html
Map of Gros Morne National Park: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nl/grosmorne/visit/visit7/b.aspx
By Wanda Baxter
Wanda Baxter has Masters Degrees in English and Environmental Design. She lives and works on an old farm just north of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and is an avid gardener and traveler. Contact her through her LinkedIn profile