Click here to see the map of Newfoundland   

Audrey writes:

On July 6th, 2008 at the campground near Sydney, Nova Scotia, we were up and packed by 7:00 a.m. which has to be some kind of record for us.  It took 20 minutes to ride to Sidney Harbour to catch the ferry to Newfoundland.  At the terminal, we were ushered right to the front of the ferry line-up beside a guy on a new KLR who had just done a lap of Labrador.  He had a Horizons Unlimited sticker on his bike, so we knew we'd have motorcycle adventure riding in common, and we were not disappointed as we exchanged travel stories.  The cars were loaded onto the ferry first, which surprised us, as they usually let bikes go on to fill in the small spaces.  There was plenty of room at the back for us, though, and we tied the bikes down with some chains that the ferry company supplied.  We sat on the boat in anticipation of Newfoundland, Canada's most easterly province, and an island.  Technically, the name of the province is Newfoundland and Labrador, but since we wouldn't be visiting the Labrador part, it was just Newfoundland, aka 'The Rock', to us.  Anyone in Canada can tell you that in Newfoundland, things always happen a half-hour later.  If a T.V. show (The Beachcombers, for example) was announced for 9:00 p.m. we knew it would be 9:30 in Newfoundland.  I never questioned it - I just grew up thinking that they were just a bit behind.  Besides, what did a place so far away, more than 6,000 kilometres from Alberta, have to do with us?   How I learned that the emphasis on the name Newfoundland was on the syllable 'land' I have no idea.  I just remember hearing that Newfoundlanders may not appreciate people emphasising the 'New' syllable.  And what about their capital city, St. John's?  Apparently the locals would also not appreciate people calling it St. John, a city in New Brunswick.  So, these were some of my preconceptions about Newfoundland, and as the ferry rolled into port, I found myself practising so that I wouldn't make any huge faux pas:  Newfoundland, Newfoundland.  St. John's, St. John's.

The HU KLR rider is ahead of two bikes with sidecars and trailers

Riding on the ferry for 6 hours gave us a chance to catch up on our reading and writing, a gift of time.  Ekke tried the Newfoundland baked cod for lunch and it turned out to be very tasty.  And it didn't come from a blue box that said "Captain Highliner", which was usually the way we got our fish.  Eventually the gentle chug-chug of the ferry halted and we docked at Port-aux-Basques harbour.  We rode off onto a beautiful island, with sparkling ocean waters meeting rocky coastlines and trees everywhere.  A free map was available at the tourist information centre, and we rode some wide open roads past green rolling hills to a provincial park campground near St. George.  The $13 price tag seemed quite reasonable for this pretty little place in the woods near a lake.  But it was quite primitive, with pit toilets, a bit of a hike to get water, and then having to boil it to use it.  The road north the next day took us over gently rolling hills and wound through beautiful valleys, past quaint fishing villages beside deep ocean inlets.  Our destination was Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A bit of rough road never deters us, so we picked a campground that was off the beaten path, Lomond Camp, down a 10 kilometre gravel road.  We were rewarded with a lovely, isolated green area near a huge blue inlet.  Our time was short in Newfoundland as we had to be back in Calgary by the middle of August, so today would be the day to see what we could of the park.  After unloading our gear, we took a delightfully winding road on the lightweight bikes, past inlets, up and down hills, and through forests to the Discovery Centre.  Our plan was to hike up to the lookout for a view of the inlet, but a park warden convinced us to go see the Tablelands instead, a unique geological environment where the mantle of the earth became exposed a few hundred million years ago.  The action of the continental plates coming together had squeezed this part of the earth up, like mustard oozing out of a sandwich.  Coincidentally, the rock was yellow in colour, resembling the mustard, and we had a great hike through this barren environment.  After a walk on an ocean-side boardwalk at Trout River it was a pleasant ride back to camp, past the small villages on a twisty road through the mountains.


Riding to our hiking trail

Having fun hiking in Gros Morne National Park

Trout River, Newfoundland

A moose scampers into the woods as we approach

One really unique part of Newfoundland is the 'Viking Trail', a road following the coastline heading north.  Not a lot of people know that a Viking settlement was discovered here in the 1960's, at L'Anse aux Meadows (pronounced lansee meadows by the locals) in northern Newfoundland.  It was really out of our way - a whole day's ride to get there, but certainly worth the trip.  The dark blue ocean was on our left and every now and then we'd catch a glimpse of spray, and discover that there were whales swimming out there.  As we rode north, the trees got shorter, the landscape more alpine, and the settlements pretty much non-existent.  Ekke and I agreed that the vegetation reminded us of our ride up the Dempster highway to Inuvik, but that was so much further north.  Probably a testament to the chilly Atlantic winds.  The road was in good condition and all paved.  Tour buses would pass us like we were standing still.  Later we found out that L'Anse aux Meadows was on the 'Viking Cruise' route.  Cruise ships from, in this case, Boston, would drop anchor at the port in Corner Brook, further south, and passengers would take a day trip up to the archaeological site.  Then they'd cruise to Greenland and Scandinavia.  So we knew that St. Anthony, the town near the Viking site, would be touristy, and we were not disappointed.  Gift shops and fancy restaurants everywhere.  I couldn't resist buying a souvenir Viking helmet and ended up carrying that thing in my saddlebag for the next six thousand kilometres.  Good thing it was not authentic and just made of cheap plastic.  As we rode up to the lighthouse, something a lot more exciting caught our eye - an iceberg!  An iceberg, just bobbing along in the bay.  We had ridden our motorcycles to icebergs.  What a great country.

Ekke puts on his Viking helmet with horns

Another enormous moose

Iceberg near St. Anthony, Newfoundland
After a night of camping in an RV park we packed up a soggy tent and rode a few kilometres in the pouring rain on a small road beside the ocean.  To look over and see more icebergs in small inlets was a real treat, and we had to stop for photos.  With forests of stunted trees on our left and green boglands on our right, we rode into L'Anse aux Meadows.  The story of the UNESCO World Heritage Site was relayed through film and artefacts at the visitor centre.  In the 1960's Helge and Anne Ingstad hypothesized that the Viking explorers, possibly Leif Eriksson, et al, would have come further south after exploring Greenland.  For years they searched for evidence of the legendary 'Vinland', and eventually heard of some interesting 'hills' in northern Newfoundland.  There they uncovered Viking dwelling foundations and artefacts from 1000 years ago, confirming that the Vikings were the first Europeans in North America. So when someone tries to tell you that Christopher Columbus was the first European in North America, you can tell them, in the politest Canadian way, "Uh, well, listen to this…"

A wet ride to L'Anse aux Meadows, yes, that's an iceberg in the bay

The rain didn't dampen our spirits as we wandered around the field where the ancient foundations lay, re-covered by turf to preserve them.  Parks Canada had done a great job of building replica Viking sod huts and barns, complete with Viking actors in period costume going about the daily business of blacksmithing, tool making and cooking.  The site was very busy with cruise-ship patrons, and one of the site guides was eager to chat with us, as we didn't look like the usual tourists.  Delicious fish and chips awaited us at a warm and dry restaurant further up the coast, on the ride out.

Actors at L'Anse aux Meadows recreate a life from 1,000 years ago

A Viking home

For the ride south, we thanked our lucky stars for that Mountain Equipment Co-Op raingear we had purchased in Halifax.  The Gore-Tex liners in our motorcycle jackets worked to a point, but with heavy rain the outer jacket got pretty soggy, so it was a good idea to cover them for such a long, rainy ride.  The gas stations provided us with hot chocolates and a dry place to hang out for a while.  We met a fellow motorcyclist on a 2006 BMW GS Adventure.  Motorcycles are always good conversation starters.  Gros Morne Park was on our route down, so we camped there again, spending an extra day to take care of laundry and write the website.  I had some strange dreams at that campsite, though, where big slugs were climbing all over our tent.  In the morning we found big slug trails on the tent, so I hadn't been dreaming after all.  Uhggg.  After scrubbing off the slug trails, we started heading east, and the landscape reminded me of Ireland, with a lot of green hills and rocky cliffs.  Ekke's bike had a stumble and a backfire and then didn't want to restart after a fuel fillup.  Always an adventure with his R100GS, but he usually knows how to fix it.  He drained the floatbowls and all was okay after that.  Must have been all that precipitation.  Later that day, as we were riding along the Trans Canada highway, in a fairly isolated area, Ekke suddenly hit the brakes and did a U-turn.  He had recognized a motorcycle coming from the other direction, a brilliant feat when you think about it.  This turned into one of those neat coincidences, of which we'd had a few already (meeting Michael Martin in Germany, seeing Tom, Matteo and Vehsel on Kilimanjaro and on safari, running into Herbie in Cape Town).  The couple on the motorcycle turned out to be Carol and Peter from Revelstoke, British Columbia.  Not only did we know them from a Horizons Unlimited travellers meeting a couple of years earlier, but they were just returning from their year-long motorcycle trip and travelling home via Newfoundland.  Exactly what we were doing.  We stood on the side of the road together and shared stories about Africa (us), and South America (them), big grins on our faces the whole time.  Small world.  Carol gave us some good tips about where to see puffins, and soon we were on our way again, with promises to meet at a Horizons Unlimited meeting sometime soon.

Slug tracks from Audrey's nightmare

Arches along the coast

Peter and Carol riding up from South America

A refreshing drink of iceberg water

Twisty roads are great fun

Elliston was a cute little fishing village, with two claims to fame.  It was the root cellar capital of the world, and also home to many types of seabirds.  Ekke and I parked the bikes, put a couple of toonies into a donation box for sea-bird conservation efforts, and walked across turf and flower-covered hills to the edge of a cliff.  Across the water, on another cliff, were hundreds of puffins.  Their short stature and black and white colouring reminded us of the penguins we had seen in South Africa, but with a couple of differences.  These little creatures had orange beaks, orange feet, and could fly.  We sat on the edge of the cliff, entranced, watching them swoop down and come in for a landing with orange 'landing gear' down.  It was quite a spectacle.  We could have sat there for ages, but the root cellars were calling.  The cellars turned out to be some small mounds dug out of hillsides with wooden doors, and were just interesting enough for us to ride by and snap some photos.

Back roads to Elliston

Watching the puffins

Lots and lots of puffins

Coming in for  landing

Root cellar capital of the world

The great thing about motorcycle travel is that the travel itself is so rewarding.  People feel free to just come over and talk to you, and we enjoyed listening to those unique Newfoundland accents in this part of the province.  If you've ever seen the show 'Codco', you know what I'm talking about.  We rode to St. John's via more cute and historic fishing villages, the road winding beside rocky landscapes, roller-coastering up and down hills, beside great sweeps of blue ocean.  There were so many outports that we could have ridden a lot more, but it was all time consuming, and we had a ferry to catch in a couple of days.  The Pippy Park campground in a St. John's urban park (that's St. John's with an 's') was very busy but it seems they can always fit a tent in on a field.  The next day, Ekke wanted to hike to downtown, and I wanted to take the bus and save my hiking legs for when I got there, so we both did our own thing, Ekke arriving 45 minutes earlier than I did.  Buses were few and far between out on the edge of the city, but I did get a scenic bus tour of some suburban shopping malls.  Downtown St. John's was a delight, with colourful historic clapboard houses lining the streets.  Ekke found us a happening little coffee shop to start our day.

Riding to St. John's

The harbour walk was very lively, with people walking their ice-cream cones and boats a-plenty out on the water.  A whale-watching tour caught our eye and we decided to sign up.  The boat took us out of the harbour, and within fifteen minutes we caught sight of some puffs in the distant water.  Spouting whales!  I couldn't believe how close the humpbacks let us get, and we got some great photos.  It was just as exciting as seeing elephants from a motorbike in Botswana, but perhaps a little less dangerous.  When the light fog lifted, the tour afforded us great views of Signal Hill, Cape Spear, and the rugged Atlantic coast, and we couldn't have had a better experience.   

A whale watching boat cruise catches our attention

Thar she blows!

Ekke keeps his eyes peeled

A whale heads for the deep

Entering St. John's harbour after the cruise

Back on dry land, we toured the St. John the Baptist cathedral, built in 1699, and looking very European.  Nearby was a new attraction in St. John's, The Rooms, an art gallery and museum. The name refers to the simple gable-roofed fishing sheds or rooms that are prominent along the coastline but this huge building was anything but simple.  It was so big it could be seen from kilometres around.  It had an open concept and all the stairs and floors could be seen from a central courtyard.  But this was one of those situations where we had to make a decision.  The museum was only open for another hour, so did we go see what we could see, or just forget about it, knowing we couldn't possibly do it justice in such a short period of time?  We chose the former, quickly developed a strategy and rushed around from floor to floor, trying to get a sense of the place.  Past dioramas of ancient glacial landscapes, the Beothuk first nations people, plant and animal sea life, Canadian art, historic artefacts, and so on.  It was a sort of 'quantity versus quality' visit, but when we emerged into the daylight, exhausted, we felt that we had a sense of the history of Newfoundland.  Better than not seeing it at all, I think.  One very interesting temporary exhibit was Graeme Patterson's 'Woodrow', a recreation of a small, (now) ghost town in Saskatchewan, with stores, hockey rinks and grain elevators duplicated in miniature, coming alive with film and animatronics.  Ekke and I have both lived in prairie towns so it was a bit nostalgic, eliciting a yearning for home.  Our full day was capped off with a walk down George Street, known for its abundance of bars, and we settled on a lively Mexican restaurant for dinner.

Our walking tour of St. John's has wonderful sights and sites

Signal Hill is a great spot for sweeping views of St. John's Harbour, so we rode there after packing up camp at Pippy Park the next day.  The National Historic Site has had fortifications built in this location since the 1600's, with its strategic location.  It was also here that the first wireless signal came from England, a la Marconi.  We rode further up the coast, to Cape Spear, known for being the most easterly point in North America.  It was a great photo op, but the rocky, green, windy landscape made for some great walking above sheer cliffs which dropped down to the ocean.  Our whales were still out there, too, frolicking in the waves, but much smaller than they had been the previous day.  Our National Historic Sites passes allowed us access into the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland, and it housed a museum showing early 20th century lighthouse lifestyle.

Signal Hill

Downtown St. John's as seen from Signal Hill

St. John's harbour

Riding in downtown St. John's

Colourful clapboard houses

The most easterly point in North America, Cape Spear

The light house at Cape Spear

Next stop: The Dingle Peninsula in Ireland (See Chapter 22 of Europe trip)

Our route took us further down the Avalon Peninsula, to Witless Bay, where we touched the Atlantic Ocean from a rocky beach.  Our ferry for the mainland left later that night, but we didn't want to arrive in the dark, so we took a direct route across the peninsula, along some pretty isolated roads, past stunted trees and a myriad of ponds.  There was a choice to go out of our way on a paved road, or take the gravel road shortcut.  The shortcut was appealing, but so dusty, we were choked and covered in the stuff.  A thick fog also made for some interesting riding, and some bad planning had left us short of water, so cleaning the helmet's faceshields was not an option.  We were surprised to find a visitor centre open at night when we got there, and it was a great place to wait before getting into the ferry line-up.  Argentia had been a United States naval base in World War II, and there were some interesting displays of that time period.  Arriving at the ferry station about 9:00 p.m., exhausted after a long day, it was an easy decision to lay out our Thermarests in the ferry station, earplugs in to drown out the sounds of people chatting and children playing.  The ferry boarded at 2:30 a.m., and we slept soundly on the passenger deck.  Those Thermarests are quite handy in such situations.  Since we were on the east side of Newfoundland, at Argentia ferry port, the trip was over 14 hours long, another gift of time to read and work on the website as we chug-chugged our way back to Nova Scotia.

Beautiful riding in Newfoundland

The gravel road "short cut"

Our ferry awaits

An ill passenger is airlifted from the ferry (don't have the fish)

Map of our route through Newfoundland

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