Newfoundland. The Rock. In many ways, the final frontier in Canada, at least as far as provinces are concerned. Reachable only by sea or air, a North Atlantic island in its truest form, rich with unique people, culture, landscapes, and heritage. It is a province I have wanted to visit since I was young, and it felt like the appropriate cap on a year spent in the Maritimes.
We opted to travel the long way, driving up through Cape Breton and taking the ferry from North Sydney to Port Aux Basques on Newfoundland’s southwest coast. After a relatively calm seven-hour overnight ferry, we arrived on Newfoundland at 7am. It was foggy. Densely foggy. There is a lookout about 10km north of Port Aux Basques, the promise of brilliant scenery. We stopped and could barely make out the mountains, the ocean on the other side unknowable. The scene was bleak, ominous, foreboding. It wasn’t what I had expected.
In many ways, the thematic commonality of this trip was expectations. Developing them, understanding them, managing them, knowing what to do when they let you down, or are exceeded. As a relatively ardent traveler living in a world where informational entirety is available with a brief Google search, its challenging not to hold future trips on a pedestal that is unrealistic, or to constantly derive comparatives from other trips. “I’ve spent time driving around other islands in the North Atlantic (Iceland, Scotland, etc.),” I thought to myself. “I must have an answer to this!”
Our trip consisted of an ambitious driving itinerary. In eleven days, we planned to visit Gros Morne, one of the crown jewels of the beautiful National Parks system established by this country, drive up the western coast following the Viking Trail, head back down to Twillingate and use it as a jump-off point to visit Fogo Island before returning back the way we came (unfortunately for drivers, there is no loop option available, no matter how far you go, you need to turn around at some point if you intend to drive back).
One of the most anticipated moments for me was visiting the legendary Western Brook Pond, where you could board a ferry and head out into the ‘pond’ – at a maximum depth of 165m it differs from my general categorization of the term by quite a substantial amount. The pond is surrounded by soaring peaks up to 600m in height, providing one of the most iconic views in the province, one I’ve seen in travel literature and on Instagram countless times. I couldn’t wait. Immediately upon arrival something was awry, the captain wasn’t sure whether the fog was too dense to head out of harbour. With a fully booked boat the next day we had little wiggle room, but finally at the 11th hour they announced that we would go out. An impenetrable fog hugged the mountains closely, refusing to reveal the jewels contained beneath. There was a moodiness about the trip that was almost eerie, creating a certain ambience that differed from my expectations. Halfway through, realizing that the fog was not going to let up despite the best attempts of the sun to thwart it, we turned around, my disappointment palpable, but not defining. It was just, different.
This moment was the first in a series that challenged my expectations. That epic view was to be one of the highlights of the trip for me, until it wasn’t. Another would be our boat trip from Twillingate – the promise of a late iceberg season combined with whale sightings all over the bay of whales in great numbers. Two hours later, back at harbour, no icebergs, no whales. Disappointment. Our two big adventures not even coming close to the lofty expectations of which they were comprised in my mind.
However, like any trip, we soon realized that the best parts would be the ones where there were no expectations at all. Rather than the glass being half full or half empty, don’t even consider the glass at all. Our drive up north to Raleigh was riddled with excitement as from the highway we glimpsed an iceberg floating close to shore, Labrador in the background. Pulling over I thought my dad was joking when he said he saw a whale. But he wasn’t. Wait, not one! Not two, holy shit, three whales! Swimming along close to shore, putting on a private show we hadn’t paid a dime to see. Nature at its finest. Or the giant iceberg we found hovering in one of the bays further north, greeting us as we crested the hill like a welcome friend that we didn’t know we had. Our excitement was unmistakeable as we clambered over the rocky shore for a better view, unknown to us at the time that this would be the greatest iceberg (and whale) sightings of the trip.
Or take Twillingate. Despite the fact that the boat tour was a bust, after a trip to a microbrewery and a flight of beers on a sunny patio, we discovered a network of trails, unknown to us, scattering the landscape in all directions, an alternate route back to our Air BNB, one that provided us with hours of stunning vistas, surprises at every turn, a truly breathtaking sunset, and one of the best adventures of the trip.
Or a misty morning spent on Fogo Island, the light fog and rain creating a perfect ambience that matched the unique and distinguishable vibe of the small island. Walking around exploring little fishing villages, popping into boutique restaurants featuring small menus that would rival the best food in Toronto, a passionate group of people who had come from Fogo, traveled the world, and thought, no, there is something special about that place, returning and bringing their passion back with them. As something of a foodie I did not expect to dine as well as we did on Fogo, or on Newfoundland as a whole. Again, expectations are a funny thing.
On the last morning, as we followed the final length of the Trans-Canada Highway towards Port Aux Basques, our journey coming to an end some 2700km later, the sun rays penetrated the dense low lying clouds, illuminating the Codroy Valley in all of its glory. Finally, we saw the grandeur of the mountains that we had missed the first time around, the sheer volume of the lush green foliage adorning these giants like hands reaching up to the sky. We returned to the lookout where we had begun eleven days prior, taking in the 360-degree panorama that had been invisible during the first segment of our journey, the vibrant green mountains domineering the skyline to the east with the clouds casting small playful shadows on the calm open ocean to the west. In many ways, the comparative between this and our initial view felt like a perfect analogy for Newfoundland. At first glimpse, it might seem cold, cut off, unknowable, but put in energy, give it time, and beauty will be revealed in a manner you never could have anticipated.
It’s becoming more difficult to be surprised in this world of 24-hour cycles of blunt inundation of information (should you choose, voluntarily or otherwise, to subscribe to this notion). To me, this makes the surprises all the more special. Cherish the unexpected, enjoy it while it’s there. When you reflect back on it, these are the moments you remember. They are what makes travel exciting, and for me, what makes life worth living.