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Life in Newfoundland

Puffin watching from the East Coast Trail

Every summer, the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve are filled with seabirds, and the most famous among them is the Atlantic puffin.

The best way to see these funny little birds is from one of the whale watching vessels that visit the reserve islands – from these boats you’ll see puffins on the cliffs, on the water, and in the sky all around you:

Atlantic puffin – Gull Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Puffins take off – open water, Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

Puffins everywhere – Great Island, Witless Bay Ecological Reservewit

While it’s not as easy watching puffins right from the East Coast Trail itself, it’s certainly possible if you put in some effort. Hiking trails with the best puffin encounters are those closest to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve where puffins have their summer homes. From north to south, these trails are Mickeleens Path, Beaches Path, Tinkers Point Path and La Manche Village Path.

The trick to getting close to puffins is to to sit down on the cliffs at a time when capelin are in the bay, like they are right now. Puffins and other seabirds that are present when you arrive will see you coming and swim away, but if you stay put, and remain motionless, new arrivals will take you for part of the scenery and get closer and closer until you have a real beak-to-face meeting with a puffin:

Atlantic puffin near the trail – Beaches Path

I had to be pretty patient to take this puffin’s portrait, but it was well worth the wait!

If patience and careful planning aren’t for you, that’s fine, there’s always blind luck: I’ve walked some trails where puffins were too preoccupied with fishing to care about hikers on the trail above, have a look at these guys hanging out below the cliffs of Cape Spear Path:

Puffin Party – Cape Spear

Whale watching from the East Coast Trail

On the East Coast Trail, summer is a fantastic time to go for a hike.

Yes, warm days do bring out the blackflies, but when the scenery includes whales swimming below the trail, you’ll soon forget all about those puny little insects.

To illustrate my point, here’s a photo of a minke whale surfacing below the Beamer in Flatrock:

Minke whale below the East Coast Trail – Father Troy’s Trail

Beautiful creature isn’t it? I was actually watching whales much farther out in Tor Bay when this gentle giant announced himself directly below me with a hissing ‘whoosh’, I was delighted to say the least!

Whales come this close to shore here because they’re following capelin, and early summer is prime capelin time. When you’re out on the trail this long weekend be sure to keep your eyes on the water, you never know what comes up next, maybe even right below you.

This next shot shows a humpback whale, a schoolbus-sized cetacean easily identified by its massive pectoral fins. Humpbacks are the most numerous whales along the East Coast Trail and I find it’s almost impossible to miss them when you go for a hike in peak season:

Humpback whale below the East Coast Trail – Cobbler Path

That brightly coloured thing next to the whale is its big white pectoral fin, it looks this way when it’s below the surface. I photographed this guy from the tip of Torbay Point and I swear I could have given him a high five had I jumped in!

For information about other whales you can see here, including recent sightings, check out my Whales in Newfoundland page.

2018 Capelin are rolling in Newfoundland

It’s that time of year again: capelin are rolling in Newfoundland!

Earlier today, capelin were caught in the act at the beach in Trout River, no doubt delighting visitors to Gros Morne NP just as much as the locals. The happy news was soon shared on the Capelin Calendar and in the coming days and weeks that’s where you’ll see many more updates and conversations about this and other spawning locations around the island.

Everybody enjoy the show and please join us on the Capelin Calendar if you can! 🙂

Update / June 21, 2018

Capelin have now been reported in Gros Morne, on the Port au Port Peninsula, on the Burin Peninsula, and on the Avalon Peninsula. Stay posted, join the conversation, or share your own observations on the Capelin Calendar.

The real reason to hike Spout Path

I’m often asked if the Spout is a good enough reason to hike Spout Path.

People ask because Spout Path is a long and difficult trail which takes a toll on your knees and ankles, and sure, I get it, if you’ve never hiked this trail before you want to know if seeing the Spout is really worth all that hassle.

I say YES, the Spout is worth it, and then some. Somehow, pictures and videos of the Spout never do this attraction justice, sometimes it just looks like a puff of vapour spouting from the oceanside cliffs:

The Spout – Spout Path, East Coast Trail

But on location, in person, this peculiar blowhole somehow manages to produce a big smile on everyone that comes to visit. Even better, the Spout offers a great way to refresh yourself after such a long hike, just stand downwind of the spray and let yourself cool off in its showery goodness.

And yet, wonderfully quirky as it is, the Spout is not the top attraction on this trail, as it has competition from a much larger attraction, and I mean that quite literally.

The real reason to hike Spout Path is this:

Sea Stack Cove – Spout Path, East Coast Trail

Yes, wow… An epic checkbox for your Newfoundland bucket list!

I’ve often spent my lunch break at this breathtaking sea stack, and whenever another hiker turned the corner I could easily see if they’d been here before. Seasoned hikers greet this sea stack with a smile, while hikers that are new to this trail simply let their jaw drop to the mossy forest floor, only picking it back up again to give voice to their amazement…

To give you some sense of scale, have a look at that little forest on top. There’s an eagle’s nest close by and one of the eagles often sits on top of this sea stack forest, yet when people stare at this scene they never seem to notice the eagle until I point it out to them.

If you ever feel the need to see something epic, work your way up through a series of more moderately rated East Coast Trail paths until you feel fit and confident enough to tackle the 25.4 km hike that leads you from Bay Bulls to the Spout and back, right past this jaw-dropper of a sea stack.

Bottle Cove Trail in Lark Harbour

Last year while planning a trip to Western Newfoundland I came across an inviting picture of Lark Harbour’s Bottle Cove Trail on my kitchen calendar. After I looked up where in Newfoundland Lark Harbour was (it’s 1 hour west of Corner Brook), I decided to add it to our travel plans.

Our very first hike on this short but sweet trail was just before a big snowstorm hit the west coast (just like it did this week). Thankfully, Lark Harbour was spared the worst of the storm but still the weather was cold and unfit for hiking, so we didn’t stay on the trail for very long.

One week later at the end of our stay in Newfoundland we were in the neighbourhood again and the weather had turned around completely, no more wind and snow but lots of sunshine and warmth instead, ideal for a hike:

Mom on the trail – Bottle Cove Trail, Lark Harbour

This trail is rated as easy to moderate, because it involves a little bit of climbing to get up to the viewpoint at the top:

Climb to the viewpoint – Bottle Cove Trail, Lark Harbour

If you’re careful about it the climb is pretty straightforward, and the view of Island Cove makes it all worth it:

View of Island Cove – Bottle Cove Trail, Lark Harbour

It’s said that this trail is particularly beautiful during sunset, something I look forward to seeing on my next visit! 🙂

ECTA Fundraiser in Petty Harbour – Maddox Cove

Coming up on June 2, the East Coast Trail Association is hosting their annual fundraiser to help maintain and protect the East Coast Trail, a great cause and a great time!

You can help the East Coast Trail by signing up for this event and hiking some beautiful trails with the company or support of your friends and family.

This year, there are 4 hikes to choose from, all near Petty Harbour – Maddox Cove:

Hike 1: Cape Spear to Petty Harbour

East Coast Trail near Maddox Cove – Cape Spear Path

Hike #1 covers all of Cape Spear Path and adds a short road walk to scenic Petty Harbour. This particular hike is found on bucket lists around the world because it’s the easternmost hike in all of North America, but even if it wasn’t, this trail would still be highly recommended. Starting out on the open cliffs at Cape Spear be sure to keep a look out for icebergs, and maybe even a few early whales. 🙂

Hike 2: Petty Harbour to Motion Head

East Coast Trail near Motion Head – Motion Path

This beautiful hike covers the first half of Motion Path, climbing up and over Big Hill (great views) before exploring the wide-open landscape along Motion Bay (shown above). When you’re making your way around The Bight, try to find the curious seals that are keeping an eye on you…

Hike 3: Family hike to Square Rock Gulch

Square Rock Gulch – Cape Spear Path

This shorter hike on Cape Spear Path sticks to a decidedly easier section of East Coast Trail to explore the hidden gem of Square Rock Gulch. If you have young explorers in your group you can even venture into the gulch where you’ll find a small cobblestone beach and a cascading waterfall.

Hike 4: Family hike around the harbour – Stroller Friendly

Sunny day in Newfoundland – Petty Harbour

This easy walk is limited to 50 people, including adults and children, and explores the wharf and traditional fishing activities in Petty Harbour itself. Guides from Island Rooms: Fishing for Success will offer two activities: a wharf walk and traditional fishing skills, including a visit to the touch tank at the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium!

Sign up for this event

For more information and sign-up details, visit the Trail Raiser 2018 page on ECTA’s website.

More photos and stories

For more photos and stories from my own hikes on these trails and the rest of the East Coast Trail, check out my Hiking the East Coast Trail page.

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