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Life in Newfoundland

Favourite spot on the East Coast Trail?

Being asked to name one favourite spot on the East Coast Trail is like being asked to name one favourite movie. I’ve seen so many great movies and hiked so many great trails, it’s not easy to give just one answer.

Because I’ve hiked the entire East Coast Trail many times over, I know it like the back of my hand and I have many favourite spots, a favourite spot on every individual trail even.

Still, when I’m asked this question, I go with Torbay Point, one of my favourite spots:

Beautiful Torbay Point, located on Cobbler Path – East Coast Trail

You can see why I like it right? A wide-open headland in an ocean of fog…

When it’s not foggy, Torbay Point is beautiful too, a headland in a regular ocean, with spectacular views all around. In spring you can marvel at the sea ice and icebergs floating by, summer brings whales close to the cliffs, and at any time of year this headland is just a magnificent place to see the sunrise and sunset, and even the stars at night.

For me specifically, Torbay Point is a favourite place because it’s close to where we lived. Precisely halfway between where we lived and where Marije worked in fact, so it was always easy for me to stop at the trailhead and walk out to the ocean to see what was going on that day.

If you want to go there and have a look for yourself, please do, the walk from the Outer Cove trailhead to Torbay Point is not that long: it’s #5 on my list of Easy hikes on the East Coast Trail.

Now tell me, what’s one of your favourite places on the East Coast Trail?

Stories about capelin and whales

With so many capelin and whale stories in the news these days I can’t help but look back to some of my own favourite encounters over the years.

The 2011 capelin season was a particularly good season and I remember it well. Capelin rolled in great numbers on Middle Cove beach and for weeks on Outer Cove beach, until nobody even showed up to watch or catch them anymore:

June 29, 2011: More capelin on Middle Cove beach
July 21, 2011: Capelin are still rolling on Outer Cove beach

The 2013 capelin season was pretty successful too, lots of rolling on Middle Cove beach and tons of whales feasting on capelin along the East Coast Trail, much like they’re doing this year:

July 6, 2013: 2013 capelin are rolling on Middle Cove beach
July 13, 2013: Capelin Watching / Whale Watching

Watching whales is one of my all-time favourite things to do, out on the east coast I usually enjoyed them from the East Coast Trail but on occasion also from a tour boat in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve:

June 17, 2012: Running with Humpbacks
June 28, 2012: Humpback in Middle Cove
July 26, 2013: Beat the heat, see a whale

Please join the Capelin Calendar

With the first week of July behind us, people are getting curious about what’s keeping the capelin. They’ve already rolled on a few remote beaches but as always, people want to fill their buckets close to home, and for many people that means close to St. John’s.

When I still lived in Newfoundland, I checked Middle Cove beach every day and reported my findings on the Capelin Calendar. Even when there were no capelin yet these updates drew a picture of the latest situation and encouraged others to share their observations too.

Ever since I moved away from Newfoundland the Capelin Calendar has relied on the continued efforts of the awesome ‘capelin community’ and I’m happy to say that to this day reports of capelin are still coming in and thousands of people check the Capelin Calendar every week.

My question to you is if you would please join these active capelin watchers, so that together we may cover as many beaches as possible.

If you’ve got some free time today, please stop by the beach to check for capelin and share your observations on the Capelin Calendar so that others may benefit from your updates, and you from theirs.

Here’s how to check for capelin:

  • When you’re at the beach, talk to people. Find out if anyone’s seen any capelin today or if they’ve heard about capelin elsewhere.
  • Check the coves and bays for the presence of seabirds and whales, both feed on capelin and both will stick around when capelin are present. Gulls are often visible from a distance, circling above the water and diving down: a great indicator that something is stirring beneath the waves.
  • At the beach, try to see if capelin are swimming near the surf. When capelin gather in shallow water like this, seabirds, seals and even whales can approach the beach very closely. This wildlife spectacle is the last stage before the capelin commit to their fate and actually roll onto the beach, a show that sometimes repeats itself for several days in a row.
  • Even when capelin are not currently near the beach, check the beach for capelin spawn: these big masses of tiny eggs are often pale yellow in colour, and found among the gravel and sand near the waterline. The presence of eggs means the capelin have recently rolled, and may do so again soon.

After your visit to the beach, please leave a comment with your findings on the Capelin Calendar and be assured that your observations are read and appreciated by thousands of curious capelin watchers.

Sunny hike on La route de mon grand-père

On the Port au Port Peninsula, ‘la route de mon grand-père’ (trail of my grandfather) connects the towns of Mainland and Cape St. George, climbing up and over the towering cliffs and limestone barrens between them and offering unforgettable sights to those who seek out the edge.

During our recent stay on the Port au Port, my mom and I walked a small part of this trail. To avoid a long climb on the Mainland side we parked our car about halfway between the two towns and used a well-used access trail to reach the coast.

While the day started out cool and hazy, the sun soon broke out and pushed the temperature to an unexpected 26 degrees Celsius. Yes, I know 26 degrees isn’t exactly ‘hot’, but for a spring day in Newfoundland it was bizarre and it even gave me a sunburn.

Here are some photos from the hike:

Hazy start to our day – Route de mon grand-père

View towards Boutte du Cap – Route de mon grand-père

When I reached the coast I looked down to the beach and for a moment it took my breath away:

Towering cliffs – Route de mon grand-père

While the scenery is obviously spectacular, it was the act of looking down that took my breath away. After nearly 3 years in BC and PEI I just wasn’t used to these heights anymore; my GPS informed me I was looking down from 158 m above sea level.

Emerald beach – Route de mon grand-père

Looking down from tall cliffs is good for more than scenery of course, and soon enough I spotted a whale swimming below me:

Minke whale – Route de mon grand-père

From this height I was easily able to follow the whale even below the water surface for a while, until it dove down too deep.

Further out at sea I saw big groups of harp seals, still surfacing and diving as a team, just as they did the day before. Here they are swimming in formation again, all on their backs this time:

Harp seals in formation – Route de mon grand-père

After watching this live wildlife show for a while we returned the way we came, reaching our parked car 3 hours after we started. If you ever find yourself on the Port au Port Peninsula, give this trail a go, I highly recommend it!

So many icebergs is showing an incredible amount of icebergs right now, so much in fact, it’s hard to see the map underneath in some places:

Newfoundland on June 28, 2017 –

Great Northern Peninsula on June 28, 2017 –

Baie Verte Peninsula on June 28, 2017 –

The Kittiwake Coast is probably the ‘bergiest’ place to be right now:

Twillingate and Fogo Island on June 28, 2017 –

Bonavista Peninsula on June 28, 2017 –

Comparing IcebergFinder’s findings with the Canadian Ice Service‘s iceberg chart shows some puzzling differences, but still if I could somehow visit the Kittiwake Coast this week I’d be one happy camper:

Iceberg Analysis Chart of June 28, 2017 – Canadian Ice Service

For photos of these icebergs have a look at the Newfoundland Iceberg Reports public group on Facebook, as many of its members post iceberg images there daily.

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.

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