Growing up, the most I knew about Newfoundland is that you pronounce it like understand, and that it runs a quirky half hour ahead of the rest of Canada on Newfoundland Standard Time. As an adult, Newfoundland has been on my radar for a few years, since I was living in New Brunswick going to nursing school. The unique landscape (there are 3 distinctly different geological zones), the friendly people with awesome accents, the tradition of fiddle music, jigs and reels, that are sure to get even the stodgiest of old feet a tappin’, and the fantastic wildlife – think puffins right up close, heaps of whales just off shore and right around your boat, seals, and many other birds – is more than enough of a draw. Mix in a wealth of history that includes Vikings and towns with whimsical sounding names like Gaff Topsail, Happy Adventure, Goobies, Little’s Hearts Ease, and Come by Chance to name a few, and you have the recipe for a fantastic adventure.
Where: St. John’s, Avalon Peninsula, Trinity, Elliston/Bonavista, Twillingate, Terra Nova National Park, Gros Morne National Park, Burlington with ma mama!
When: August 1st-11th, 2017
How: rental car. There is basically no other way to see things in a timely fashion as public transport is limited and hitchhiking, sketchy. If you want to maximize your time even more, you can fly within the province. Although it is not a big province, the roads are atrocious (see note below), and if you want to do Labrador too, your options are fly or ferry across.
Budget: Apart from the rental car which will run you around $900 minimum for a 10 day excursion, it is quite affordable. There are very nicely run hostels which will keep you well under $50 a night and if fish and chips is your jam, then supper will run around $10. Many places offer breakfast included. When we went, all the National Parks and monuments were free, so that made things cheaper, but even so, most attractions are not terribly costly.
1. The puffins in Elliston – there is a huge colony here and if you are very patient and still, they will come right up and investigate you.
Elliston also bills itself as “the root cellar capital of the world” and has a touching sealers memorial. Nearby Bonavista has a terrific ice cream shop, Sweet Rock, a number of tasty restaurants, and Cape Bonavista is a beautiful viewpoint for whale watching, puffin watching, and sunset watching.
Heads up – there are 2 roads that lead to Elliston, both the #238. The one from Bonavista is quite decent, the other, off the 230 …. awful! It’s more roundabout to go through Bonavista, but the better road is worth it.
2. Gros Morne National Park– this will go down as one of my absolute favourite places I have ever visited because of the natural beauty and the variety of scenery. I strongly suggest taking the boat trip on Western Brook Pond; book in advance, dress warmly, and enjoy the entertainment!At least two nights are recommended here. Parks Canada provides several excellent and free guided walks.
3. Terra Nova National Park – a beautiful park with coastal and inland elements. Lovely lookouts, lakes to swim in (although they seem to call them ponds in Newfoundland), hikes, and animal sightings. I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem. One to two nights here is good.
4. Trinity and the Skerwink Trail
An adorable village with a few great coffee shops in the area, ice cream, entertainment, and a beautiful and not too difficult coastal hike – what’s not to like?! One night and 2 days is enough here.
5. Avalon Peninsula – a hidden wonder, so close to St Johns. The roads are awful, but there are some really wonderful sights and tiny shops. Highlights: Cape St Mary’s Ecological Reserve, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve (a UNESCO site), whale watching in Witless Bay Ecological Reserve (we used Gatherall’s tour company and were satisfied), and the beach at St. Vincent’s where whales come up extremely close to shore due to the drop-off beach.
Two nights in the area recommended to deal with the roads as well as the variability of the animals.
Truth be told, I loved nearly ALL the places we stayed. Great breakfasts, very clean, extremely welcoming, unique, and well-situated could describe all of them. I often use a mix of booking.com, Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and researching the internet and booking directly with the accommodation. In recent trips, I’ve heard some sketchy things about booking’s practices and I don’t like that they siphon off 30% so I prefer to book directly where possible. Newfoundland is actually one of the few remaining places where a number of places are not on commercial accommodation websites such as booking and many B&B’s can be found through a google search. There are so many cute B&B’s, hospitable and enjoyable hostels and Airbnb’s, and lovely inns that it seems silly to stay anywhere big or commercial.
Without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order:
- A saltbox house Airbnb – the owner of this particular house has now retired, but I would recommend staying in a “saltbox” in one of the small villages if possible. These creaky old queens often painted in bright colours invoke the ghosts of fishermen past and make you yearn for a simple and cozy life.
- Lilac Inn B&B – Glovertown – proximal to Terra Nova National Park and the delicious restaurant at the Inn at Happy Adventure.
The proprietors of this charming B&B, a 1919 Victorian build formerly owned by a sea captain, are Keith, a Brit transplanted to Canada, and the elusive Eileen, who we heard about but never did actually see. Not to worry, Keith could charm the socks onto and back off of a donkey and kept us all well-entertained over breakfast, which was very tasty. The rooms are wonderfully decorated, clean, and very comfortable. Rooms (3 in total), run $110-128 Cdn per night, which I can assure you was worth it. Keith also went out of his way to secure us a dinner reservation at the nearby Inn at Happy Adventure (see below).
- HI Skerwink Hostel – Trinity
WOW. Now THIS is how a hostel should be done! HI hostels are often well-done but this one is one of the best I have ever stayed at in my >10 years of hostelling in over 30 countries. Clean, great common area, tasty breakfast, well-appointed kitchen, passionate and helpful staff, and they have recycling and a garden! It is located just up the street from the beautiful Skerwink Trail. You can also camp here for $15/night.
- Hi Tides Hostel – Twillingate
Also a WOW hostel. Tastefully decorated, clean, small, with yummy, make and serve yourself berry pancakes available for breakfast, located right on the shore in beautiful Twillingate. Proprietors Joelle and Mandy are friendly locals who are also big on promoting and participating in the local arts scene.I should also say that Twillingate was an enjoyable visit although it poured the first day we were there, which completely nixed any outdoor activities. However, we got our toes tapping at one of the local pubs with musician Mike Sixonate, I took a yoga class with the wonderful Nina, and we visited a couple local museums which were quaint but interesting. This is also the jumping off point for Fogo and Change Islands, which have some beautiful scenery as well as one of my favourite artists, Adam Young. (I should also note that I was very impressed with all the amazing artists of all types that Newfoundland has! See more HERE).
- Ome – Burlington
If you want a beautiful, quiet, taste of small-town Newfoundland, the gorgeous ‘glamping’ tents of Ome are exactly what you’re looking for. The brainchild of comedian Shaun Majumder, a Burlington native, it was created to enrich the local economy. The little touches are beautifully quaint and you will feel nothing but welcomed here. You can borrow kayaks, go for hikes, and generally relax and soak in nature. We had the most stunning sunset, one of the best I’ve ever seen, PLUS a rainbow at the SAME TIME here!!I’d recommend bringing your own snacks because there is not a whole lot on offer in the nearby vicinity and chances are you might not want to leave the comfort and charm of your little tent!
- Sugar Hill Inn – Norris Point (Gros Morne National Park)
Fantastically helpful staff and clean, well-appointed rooms. A good breakfast was included. Honestly, I often shy away from eating at the on-site restaurant (I think I feel that they don’t try as hard or something?!), but I am quite glad we ate here. Though on the pricier side of things, our meals were very tasty, and we felt very spoiled by the attentive staff. Best of all though? Complimentary, self-serve laundry!!
St John’s has a remarkably delectable and varied culinary scene. We were pleasantly surprised by all that was on offer. Of course, there are local delights, heavily featuring fresh seafood, such as cod tongue, which we left for the more adventurous traveller, but there are also a number of other taste sensations.
1. The Inn at Happy Adventure – located near Terra Nova National Park and featuring a beautiful view out over the cove, this restaurant specializes in delicious, locally caught seafood. YUM!
2. India Gate – Duckworth St, St. John’s
Quite tasty Indian food, although a bit pricey. Very friendly staff.
3. Mohamed Ali’s – St John’s
I quite enjoyed their falafel. This place was started by two Palestinian refugee brother-in-laws. Reasonably priced.
4. Sweet Rock Ice Cream – locations in Trinity and Bonavista.
It’s ice cream. Do I really need to say more?
- Auk Island Winery in Twillingate. It saddens me to say this, because I love wine and want to give kudos and support to endeavours that bolster the local economy but this felt commercial, impersonal, and almost tacky. There was a nominal tasting fee, which was not waived with purchase of a bottle as the majority of wineries do, and maybe I’m ruined by BC wines, but none of the wines really stood out to me. They have an extensive list of all berry-based wines, and I wonder if maybe they ought to just concentrate on really perfecting a smaller selection. Twillingate is well worth a visit, but I would recommend skipping the winery.
- Rising Tide Theatre – not an avoid so much as a pick your show carefully. This is an institution in Trinity, open since the 1970’s and the theatre is adorable. In the show that we saw, the actors were quite good, but the story, which was basically a life story of a famous NL musician called Harry Hibbs, seemed to drag and a couple theatregoers left during admission. At almost $30 a ticket, I have to say, I expected more.
My biggest caution to you: THE ROADS!! The potholes are legen-wait for it-dary. Indeed, a 2012 CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) poll found that 5/10 of the worst roads in Canada are located in Newfoundland. Even the TCH (Trans-Canada Hwy, aka Hwy 1) has potholes. Potholes! In a highway! That cause you to have to brake suddenly so as not to ruin your rental car! Ugh. Nevermind the other main roads (ie the main road around the Avalon Peninsula), and just forget about the smaller roads. Go slow. Be alert. Don’t drive at night, if possible (this also helps you to avoid moose, which cause an inordinate number of accidents every year). And even if it just looks like a wee, small one, I guarantee you, it’s not! It will grow exponentially in the split second it takes you to approach it, and it will be at least 2 feet deep to boot. If there was ever a vacation to splurge out on a fancy sports car…. this is not it! Go for the SUV, it is best on these roads. Consider yourself sufficiently warned. 😉
Also, though you may be going in summer months, pack a hat, pack gloves, pack a warm coat, and some warm layers. Although we had days in shorts and t-shirts, the weather is changeable and always cools off at night.
Finally, the Newfie souvenirs are among some of the nicest I’ve come across. Beautiful art work, warm woolly socks and gloves, pottery, and much more are among some of what’s on offer. Budget to bring a few things back for sure.
Any questions? Send me a message or comment below!