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Life in Newfoundland

A walk to Bell Cove on Bell Island

Just a 20 minute ferry ride from Portugal Cove, Bell Island is one of those places that always finds its way onto my vacation’s todo-list when I’m visiting St. John’s.

This past July, Marije and I spent a beautiful summer day there.

On previous visits to Bell Island I always visited the cliffs on the north side of the island, exploring the pleasant trails in the lighthouse area. This time however, there was a sign saying the trail was closed due to unstable cliffs…

Eastern Head cliffs near the lighthouse – Bell Island

Thankfully I had my drone with me so we were able to have a good look at the cliffs without walking along the edge. Anyway, because we got turned around on this side of the island we decided to drive to the south side to see if we could find a coastal walking trail there.

A quick look on my phone revealed a coastal trail along the cliffs towards Bell Cove. Right near the trailhead at the end of Belle Road, we had our first ‘cool sighting’, a small iceberg adrift in Conception Bay:

Iceberg in Conception Bay – Bell Island

Look closer and you’ll see a little ship next to it, so even though this iceberg is classified as small, it’s still a sizeable chunk of ice.

The trail to Bell Cove is pretty straightforward, wide enough for 2 and without much elevation changes. As I briefly walked back to the car to get a second lens, Marije continued ahead and she soon had a commanding lead:

Trail to Bell Cove – Bell Island

You can see her atop the green hill on the right side. 🙂

On my way to catch up with her I passed Front Bell Cove, one of the scenic highlights of this trail, basking in the evening light:

Front Bell Cove – Bell Island

Back Bell Cove is pretty too, and just a little bit further:

Back Bell Cove – Bell Island

Aside from a kayak or boat there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way to get to these two beautiful beaches but still, they look lovely from the trail above.

After returning to the trailhead we quickly made our way back to the terminal, where we were the second-to-last car to fit onto the ferry!

Sunset view of the cliffs on the way back – Portugal Cove

Until next time, Bell Island. 🙂

Summer iceberg on Cape Spear Path

You never know what you’re going to find on the East Coast Trail, is what I usually say, but on a sunset hike this past July I was pretty sure I was going to see an iceberg, as I had spotted it shining in the bay earlier that day.

Marije joined me up to the lighthouse but not on my hike, since she had her sights set on some whale watching from the cliffs.

As I set out from the trailhead I was happy to be on the trail again. Something just lifts your spirit when you leave the crowds behind and venture into the wild, and that’s exactly what Cape Spear Path offers in summer: cliffs dotted with whale watchers, then empty trails beyond.

The start of Cape Spear Path – East Coast Trail

With a smile on my face and a spring in my step I quickly made my way south, I wanted to complete this hike around sunset, which was already on its way.

Scenic views to the south – Cape Spear Path

Shortly after reaching the highest point on the trail I got my first clear look into Motion Bay, where the small iceberg was glistening in the evening sun:

Small iceberg in Motion Bay – Cape Spear Path

The iceberg was so close to shore I was able to fly out to it, getting a much closer look with my drone:

Aerial view of the iceberg – along Cape Spear Path

You can see it’s just a tiny little thing, no more than 4 metres tall, but still I love seeing these gems along the trail. There was a small pond in this iceberg too (like the one on the Irish Loop), there’s a picture of it at the top of this story.

As I was taking in the view I noticed there were some whales around too, I guess it’s true after all, you never know what you’re going to find… 😉

On the oceanside of the trail I saw 2 finback whales repeatedly diving and surfacing, while on the bayside near the iceberg there were 2 humpback whales, a mom and her youngster, both feeding and attracting a flurry of gulls:

Mommy humpback, coming up from a dive – along Cape Spear Path

As fun as these whales were to watch, the sun was getting lower and lower, so I had to fly back and start my return hike. Here’s one last shot from the air, showing the evening light washing over the East Coast Trail:

Sunset light on the barrens – Cape Spear Path

When I got back to the lighthouse I found Marije on the cliffs, just as happy as I was, she had been watching finbacks and minke whales right below her:

Marije, just after sunset – Cape Spear NHS

You can probably tell, we both had a great time! 🙂

Minke whales in Cape Broyle Bay

Looking for signs of whales along the Southern Shore Highway and all its little side roads this summer, Marije and I both pointed out the window after spotting a dorsal fin slicing through the water near Admiral’s Cove.

Since I know a little walking trail at the exact spot the whale surfaced, we parked the car and set out to a point on the cliffs right near the action:

Walking out to the cliffs – Cape Broyle Bay

It didn’t take long to see the whale again, in fact we soon counted 5 minke whales feeding on capelin near the cliffs…

Watching the whales swim by – Cape Broyle Bay

Minke whale near the cliffs – Cape Broyle Bay

Minke whale snout – Cape Broyle Bay

As you can see we didn’t need binoculars for these whales, but we did bring pair to check for signs of whales further out the bay. Searching the cliffs on the other side I saw something exciting: hundreds of birds in a frenzy at Lance Cove beach on nearby Cape Broyle Head Path, a sure sign of rolling capelin!

Because it was so ridiculously warm and muggy that day we knew it was going to be a tough hike, but a chance to see the capelin roll on the longest sandy beach on the East Coast Trail was just too good to pass up, so off we went:

Walking up the sun-dappled East Coast Trail – Cape Broyle Head Path

As is usually the case with Cape Broyle Head Path, the hike was as hard as it was rewarding. For our troubles we had the beach all to ourselves, and it was lined with large schools of capelin, some rolling, some casually cruising along the calm surf:

Beautiful Lance Cove beach – Cape Broyle Head Path

Capelin at Lance Cove beach – Cape Broyle Head Path

To top it all off there was a minke whale here too, lunge feeding off the beach right near Marije:

Lunge feeding whale off Lance Cove beach – Cape Broyle Head Path

Yes, that little red dot on the beach is Marije. The water around the whale is black because it’s filled with capelin, you can even see some smaller schools of capelin swimming closer to and even onto the beach. 🙂

Luck of the Irish Loop

The Irish Loop is a scenic coastal drive on the Avalon, it starts just south of St. John’s and connects many small towns and harbours along the way. I’ve driven it over a hundred times to get to the southern shore sections of the East Coast Trail, and I always enjoy it. 🙂

This summer, as luck would have it, humpback whales arrived on the Irish Loop just days before Marije and I arrived in Newfoundland ourselves. We were waiting for the ferry bound for Port aux Basques when the first report came in on the Whales in Newfoundland page: humpbacks were feeding just off St. Vincent’s beach, one of the best places to see them on the island!

When after much anticipation we finally got to the Avalon, we happily spent the first two days of our vacation down south, grinning from ear to ear as whales casually cruised by the crashing waves of St. Vincent’s beach, snacking on capelin:

Eye of the humpback – St. Vincent’s, Irish Loop

Feeding on capelin near the beach – St. Vincent’s, Irish Loop

Humpback whales feeding near the beach – St. Vincent’s, Irish Loop

At times, one particular humpback would surface making a deep rumbling sound you could feel in your gut, very impressive…

Of course there’s more to the Irish Loop than whale watching at St. Vincent’s, there’s also lots of wildlife in other places along the way, for instance, check out this moose going for a swim in La Manche:

Swimming moose – La Manche, Irish Loop

A nice way to cool down on a summer day 😉

We also spotted a couple of caribou on the barrens, here’s one enjoying a bit of a rest & chew:

Caribou resting – St. Shott’s, Irish Loop

Then of course there’s the scenery, south of Cappahayden there’s a vast expanse of barrens that can make you feel like the world is still wild and empty:

Clouds and sunshine on the barrens – Irish Loop

Out on the coast there are the beautiful green cliffs of the East Coast Trail:

Summer on the East Coast Trail – Brigus South, Irish Loop

This sunny little town is Brigus South, with the cliffs of Brigus Head Path visible in the background.

This year we were even lucky enough to still see some icebergs on the Irish Loop! Usually these glistening Arctic giants are strictly spring visitors, but the 2019 season was so prolific there were still bergs left by the time we got there in July:

Aerial view of an iceberg – off Renews, Irish Loop

I just love when icebergs come with a pool. If you view them from a distance you can’t always see if they have one, but from up on the cliffs, or in this case from up in the air, it’s always a happy discovery! 🙂

A whale watching vacation in Newfoundland

Planning a vacation around whale watching in Newfoundland is fairly straightforward, you just have to understand a few basic things about our whales:

  • in summer, capelin gather near our shores in vast numbers
  • hungry whales come to Newfoundland to feast on these capelin
  • whales will follow capelin right up to the cliffs and the beach

Because our whales get so very close to the coast it pays to know your way around the local hiking trails, they can get you right on top of the action, allowing you to easily spot the whales from land:

People watching a humpback whale from the cliffs – East Coast Trail

For those of you not quite ready to venture out on a coastal hike, there are easy-to-reach spots too where whales are seen close to shore, like the cliffs of Cape Spear and the beach at St. Vincent’s:

Humpback whale feeding near the beach – St. Vincent’s

These last few years around St. John’s, capelin have been showing up in July (check the Capelin Calendar for other locations), so for this year’s vacation Marije and I planned our visit in the first 3 weeks of July, right around their expected arrival, and I’m happy to say we were right on time:

Capelin on the beach – Middle Cove

Capelin in a humpback’s mouth – Cape Spear

A whale of a show, right?

As time allows, I will share more photos and stories from our summer vacation in the coming weeks. 🙂

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