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Life in Newfoundland

Port aux Basques to Port au Port

When the MV Highlanders docked in Port aux Basques last month, I stood on the top deck, quietly taking in the sunrise and breathing in the crisp Newfoundland air. Fresh air wasn’t on the list of things I had consciously missed about living on the Rock, but when I breathed it in I embraced it like a long-lost friend, I knew I was home, if only for a little while.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy living on my newly adopted island home, PEI is a great place to live with much better weather to name just one thing, but it is not Newfoundland. To this day I still miss hiking the East Coast Trail, seeing whales below the cliffs, bumping into moose in the forest, and losing myself in a sea of capelin. Newfoundland is very dear to me, and this is why I was happy to be here if only as a visitor.

Our first stop after Port aux Basques was Rose Blanche, a small outport east of the ferry terminal, reached after a scenic 45 km drive through a typical Newfoundland landscape that was a sight for sore eyes even under a cover of grey clouds.

In ‘Roche Blanche’ we soon found our way over the eponymous ‘white rocks’ that led up to the old stone lighthouse:

Rose Blanche lighthouse – Rose Blanche

After some time on the lighthouse trails and a short walk through the harbour, we got back into our car and headed for the Port au Port Peninsula, which we hoped to reach before sunset.

On the way there, we got out often and explored nearly every scenic highlight on the map, Cape Ray was one of the first stops:

Ocean, cliffs, lighthouse, marsh, and mountains – Cape Ray

When we reached the Codroy Valley most of the clouds had gone, and we basically had nice weather for the rest of our day:

Long Range Mountains – Codroy Valley

Mom, beach & mountains – Codroy Valley Provincial Park

Blue sky lighthouse – Cape Anguille

By the time we reached Cape St. George on the Port au Port Peninsula we had already driven a fair distance, and all the while I’d been giving and receiving the ‘traditional’ Newfoundland wink and nod. I’d become used to greeting people this way while I lived here, but everywhere else in Canada it just gets you a funny look in return. Because it’s a hard habit to break it felt great to finally get a proper response again.

We spent the sunset at Cape St. George, on the beautiful cliffs of Boutte du Cap:

Cliffs of Boutte du Cap – Cape St. George

While I had hoped for little more than red sunlight on the cliffs, our eyes were soon fixed on the water which much to our surprise was teeming with wildlife:

Minke whale & northern gannets – Boutte du Cap, Cape St. George

At first we couldn’t believe our luck at seeing just 1 whale swim by, it was still May after all, but soon enough more whales popped up, minke after minke, then humpbacks too in the distance.

While I was watching a grey seal cruising along the shoreline below us, my attention was grabbed by a large group of harp seals putting on a show:

Harp seals hunting in a large group – Boutte du Cap, Cape St. George

For over an hour we watched several groups of harp seals swim around the Cape, some had only a dozen animals in it, others were as large as 80 animals, with more animals below the surface perhaps. It was hard to see what they were up to exactly but they showed all the signs of a hunting party, pushing prey ahead then diving down to feast and coming up much further out, splashing and jumping around. There were at least 6 separate groups operating around the Cape, going back and forth, chasing mackerel or herring or who knows what, they were feeding right alongside the minke whales.

The whole thing reminded me of the sea lions I saw so many times on Vancouver Island. They too would move in large packs and feast when the herring were in.

Newfoundland sea ice, mid-June 2017

Looking at yesterday’s satellite image it seems there is finally some development for those waiting for the sea ice to melt:

Newfoundland sea ice on satellite – June 16, 2017

The Great Northern Peninsula is no longer clogged with ice, with the exception of some small pockets in individual coves here and there. The Kittiwake Coast however, is still pretty much blocked, the ice comes and goes with the wind now, no doubt worrying fishermen and tour boat operators there.

Just imagine being faced with a scene like this every morning:

Ice in the harbour – Raleigh, Great Northern Peninsula

Sure it’s pretty but that’s of no use to people who make a living out on the water. That icy photo was taken in Raleigh, less than a month ago during my stay in western Newfoundland. Raleigh is in one of those pockets that is still blocked by ice today…

Iceberg hunting on the Great Northern Peninsula

We’re nearing the end of our stay on the west coast of Newfoundland, and I’m glad to say we’ve already achieved everything we came for.

These last few days we’ve been touring the Great Northern Peninsula, visiting every little harbour we can get to. We’ve seen dozens upon dozens of icebergs, they’re present everywhere we go, albeit in the far distance. From some viewpoints we’ve seen as many as 33 of these distant giants, a spectacular sight if you’re carrying binoculars. The icebergs closer to land are less numerous, so we’ve only seen a handful of those.

Sea ice is still present in many areas, very scenic but also problematic for the local fishermen and tour boats. Here’s a shot from Cape Norman that shows the sea ice:

Sea ice all the way to Labrador – Cape Norman

On the wildlife side we’ve been incredibly lucky as well. We’ve seen humpback whales, minke whales and killer whales, harp seals, grey seals and harbours seals, moose, caribou, and many smaller mammals, and of course all kinds of birds above sea and land.

For more details, check out the frequent updates I’ve been adding to my whales and iceberg sightings pages.

Winter wonderland, in May

We were supposed to be in the middle of iceberg country by now, but the weather had other plans for us. Upon leaving Cape St. George we received an ominous snow warning for La Scie, our next destination, and special weather warnings for many other areas on the west coast as well.

Faced with ice pellets, freezing rain, and up to 35cm of snow in LaScie, we decided to cancel our stay there in favour of safer accommodations closer by. It’s not that I don’t like snow, it’s our rental car with all-season tires that has difficulty dealing with these serious amounts.

After a one-night stay in the snowy but relatively balmy Corner Brook, the worst of the weather is behind us now and we are currently in Gros Morne National Park. In spite of the weather, we are having a great time, here’s a picture from the road:

Snow on the Tablelands – Gros Morne National Park

Home for a visit

After an absence of nearly three years, today I’m ‘back home’, back in my beloved Newfoundland, if only for a brief visit.

My mom and I arrived in Port aux Basques early this morning, we’re here for a 12 day visit, touring much of the west coast of the island on a quest to see moose and icebergs, two things I’ve been missing for quite a while now.

Within our very first hour on the Rock I was reacquainted with two things I hadn’t actually missed: black flies, which were as annoying as ever, and potholes, that have somehow gotten even worse. Of course, one look at the scenery was enough to make me forget all about those pesky critters and bad roads, even with less than stellar weather:

Old stone lighthouse – Rose Blanche

Today I saw lighthouses, barrens, mountains, marshes, beaches, cliffs, snow, sunshine, hundreds of seals and even whales, yes whales, swimming right below me at Cape St. George, on my very first day on the island!

While I will obviously be quite busy in the coming days, I’ll try to post an update every now and then, certainly on my whale page and iceberg page when I see anything, but I’ll share most of the pictures after I finish the trip in early June.

Please stay tuned, I have a feeling this is going to be an excellent trip!

Iceberg underneath a starry sky

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to visiting Newfoundland this month, there are so many icebergs right now and I want to see as many of them as possible!

Until that time, memories will have to do, so here are some photos from a cool night in May 2012, on beautiful Stiles Cove Path.

There had been icebergs in Pouch Cove every day that week, and while I’d already taken my fair share of pictures, I wanted something special for my next shoot, so out at night I went:

Iceberg underneath a starry sky – Stiles Cove Path

That’s pretty special, if I do say so myself… I only hoped for a field of stars above the iceberg, but I got a galaxy and a shooting star as a bonus!

That bright fuzzy thing near the top is the Andromeda Galaxy, when you’re out at night you can’t really see it with the naked eye but it does often show up in my night photos. The same goes for that faint shooting star, somehow I always manage to get them near the edge of the frame, oh well, it’s a nice shot regardless. 🙂

The lens I used for the above shot wasn’t nearly wide enough to capture the Milky Way  sparkling overhead, so for that shot I got out my fisheye lens, which is so wide it curves the horizon itself:

Milky Way over the iceberg – Stiles Cove Path

Yep, that’s me in the picture, who can resist taking a selfie with an iceberg and the Milky Way?

As night slowly turned into dawn, I left the cliffs of Pouch Cove and hiked out to Stiles Cove itself to see the sunrise:

Distorted sunrise – Stiles Cove Path

As the sun peeked over the edge, the morning sky distorted its appearance, making it look like a squashed orange. Those dark spots on the sun are actual sunspots, many times the size of earth. After a few minutes the sun was strong enough to light up the cove:

Sunrise in Stiles Cove – Stiles Cove Path

Ah, fond memories,.. and I’m sure I will soon make some brand new memories when I arrive in Newfoundland!

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