Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Newfoundland: East to St. Johns

By Charles Shugart Jr.

Newfoundland: East to St. Johns

Most of Newfoundland’s long coastline was carved by glaciers that left behind hundreds of bays, inlets and peninsulas, so the main highways are often several miles from the water. To explore the coastline, I traveled along secondary roads. They were not very good, usually, but at least they were all paved and passable for any kind of rig you bring to the Rock.

After driving up the entire length of the west coast to the northern tip of the island, I had retraced my route back to Deer Lake and again joined Trans-Canada Highway #1; I was eastbound to the capital city—St. John’s

Fellow RVers can relate to the following: sometimes highways can be more fun than you might expect. For example: One day I went exploring down a peninsula. First, I took Highway 320 which became 330, then I turned onto 332 until it joined 330 (again), then I turned off at 331 until I got to 335, then turned onto 333, then 334, then to 333 (again), then to 335 (again), then right on 331 (again), then right on 340, then to 344, then left on 340 (again), left on 345, right on 346, right on 340 (yet again). No, I’m not making it up, and I wasn’t even lost. I got to my destination without any trouble, and had a few chuckles along the way.

While exploring the many little routes that lead to fishing villages at the ends of the roads, there often were additional streets I thought must surely lead to the real end. Not necessarily. When I’m seriously exploring villages, I ignore all maps and signs and keep going until the road truly ends. Many side streets in Newfoundland are actually long driveways and end in somebody’s garage: “Hello, my name is Charlie and I’m lost.”

Nooks and crannies
The north side of Newfoundland is laced with rugged peninsulas and highways that explore many of the coastline nooks and crannies. The Bona Vista Peninsula offered not only close-up views of the rocky shoreline, but the towns of Trinity, New Bonaventure, Catalina and Red Cliff. As usual for many of these side trips, I dropped my trailer and went exploring with just my truck. That made it a lot easier when I was following the numerous little “driving paths to nowhere.” Turning around on a 20-foot-wide dead-end street while pulling a trailer is a challenge that, after trying to do it once, you never want to do it again.

Trinity was another of those picturesque fishing villages. I walked all the downtown streets (there were only two of them) and then drove to the other side of the harbor, along the dirt road that ended at a lighthouse. The sightseeing was fantastic all the way.

A bit further along one of the many peninsulas-within-a-peninsula was the essentially untouched village of New Bonaventure. It was oozing character! After walking around town, I drove out to an old church on a hill, took a few photographs, and then picked and ate blueberries from the lush ground cover until my fingers, lips and tongue were blue. I had to share my blueberry patch with a local woman and her daughter, but I was happy to do so.

At Port Union, I stopped at a fish and chips place for, well, fish and chips. The friendly owner/cook/business manager and chief bottle-washer told me that in 1992 the extreme decline of the cod fishery—because of years of uncontrolled over-fishing—caused the closure of the fish processing plant. It put 1250 people out of work. For a small town that was a devastating blow! This economic tragedy happened throughout the province.

Along the very scenic Cape Mary is a gannet bird colony. From the top of the cliffs I looked down at tens of thousands of nesting birds. Gannets are large fish-eating birds that dive head-first into the ocean with enough force to carry them several feet under the surface. If they don’t spear their prey at first, they often will flap and paddle even deeper in their search. The birds in this colony were either squawking while landing, or squawking while taking off to search for food, or feeding their squawking babies, or just squawking for the hell of it. The raucous cacophony of sound was fascinating.

At the quaint port village of Brigus, I happened to arrive on the day of their annual Blueberry Festival, so I joined the party, along with thousands of people from all over the province. Of course, I sought out some homemade blueberry pie. It was delicious, as expected. Later I saw a couple of hundred people standing in line, waiting for a ticket booth to open in four hours. Wow! What in the world could this be, in a tiny village in one of the many remote corners of Newfoundland? So I asked one of the dozens of smiling faces waiting in line.

“Dance,” the man told me. “They’re only selling 600 tickets and they’ll go as fast as people can open their wallets. If you don’t get in line early, you’ll miss the dance.”

Wow! (again), talk about local interest. 600 people? Now that’s a dance.

I spent a few more minutes talking to the family as they waited in line. “What do the people around here do for a living?” I asked.

“Some fishing. Shrimping and lobstering are still pretty good, although cod will be bad for several more years. Some mining,” he continued, “also wood chips and some agriculture. And stores and things.”

Then I drove on to Grates Cove and the John Cabot’s Rock “Site.” Giovanni Caboto (he was an Italian) carved his name on a rock after making the historic landfall in 1497. A few years before I arrived, some thieves posing as university archeologists had stolen the rock. There I was, staring at the place where the famous rock used to be. Sigh.

Traveling around the “Irish Loop” of the Avalon Peninsula, the weather cleared. There was no rain and only a little wind, and blue skies with sunshine—my kind of traveling weather. The peninsula was mostly absent of trees. My first day driving south along the loop I saw a small herd of caribou—a few females and youngsters. Seeing wildlife is always exciting, and although the tundra-like appearance of Avalon Peninsula was bleak, it was also very dramatic.

There is so much wild and rugged beauty along the entire coastline of Newfoundland, and so few people—except in the half-dozen fairly good-sized towns—that almost everyone lives in a place with a million-dollar view. In California, you’d have to be very rich to afford a property equal to what most Newfoundlanders have. The houses are modest, but the views are stunning.

Capital city
Coming into the capital city of St. Johns I was again tricked by the highway signs. I’m one of those trusting individuals who expects signs to actually give me the simple information I need, something like, “St. Johns—turn here” Staying on the main road took me right past the city.

Fortunately, getting lost while driving only presents temporary setbacks because, when I’m lost and know it, I stop and ask directions. No wandering through the desert for 40 years because I’m too proud. Besides, getting lost often leads to unexpected discoveries, like interesting garages.

The capital is a very picturesque port, and Old Town, which is near the water, is still the center of activity. When I pulled up to the dockside Visitor Center, there was a fancy-looking, smallish cruise ship from Montreal—very French. After leaving St. Johns they would be sailing up the east coast and into Hudson’s Bay, then down to Churchill, Manitoba. I envied them their journey.

Leaving the center I drove to the other side of the harbor—the ugly side (I had to be on the ugly side to photograph the pretty side). Especially interesting was the famous “Jellybean Row.” Note: there are a couple of locations going by the same name. I’m referring to the old one consisting of a couple dozen houses that seem to be clinging onto the rocks. They are brightly painted and of differing colors, hence the “Jellybean” reference. Best seen from the opposite side of the small bay.

As I was setting up my tripod, the cruise ship glided by, hung a right turn, and squeezed through the narrow harbor opening and out to sea. Bon voyage.

St. John’s is on a hillside, so I had dropped my trailer and was doing my sightseeing without it. Those explorations took me to an old and historic fortress at the top of a hill, guarding the harbor entrance, then on to yet another tiny, photogenic fishing harbor, and finally to the “easternmost point in North America.” I knew that because a sign told me so.

Having had a delightfully rewarding visit to Newfoundland, I left St Johns and headed leisurely back to Port aux Basque to get the ferry to Nova Scotia. My last memorable experience on the “Rock” had to do with a sign I saw along the highway, dealing with commercial trucks and the weigh station ahead. It said:

“When lights are flashing, scales are closed.”

So long, Newfie-land. I loves ya.