“The Rock” – as Newfoundlanders call their island home – is one of the loveliest places on earth. Soaring cliffs drop into the sea, often with tiny fishing villages caught in a little cove beneath them.
A herd of caribou may appear beside – or in -- the road; a moose might stop munching aquatic plants to watch you pass; puffins dive under your kayak and whales play in the water, cavorting around icebergs the size of office buildings.
Lovelier even than the land and seascapes are the people. Friendly, generous, hospitable and filled with upbeat good humor, they give new meaning to the phrase ‘salt of the earth.”
While we’d been to Newfoundland many times and toured most of its remotest corners, until our recent trip we had never driven up the small peninsula north of the capital city of St. John’s, ending at the tip of Cape St. Francis.
What began as a morning drive to explore the little fishing towns turned into a day’s adventure, as we stopped to visit the little local museums and walk along the beaches and headlands. We took time to follow each little road to the cove where it ends at the sea, many of them un-marked by signs. It’s impossible to get lost here, since every road leads to the water. The small peninsula showed us much of what the province offers, but in smaller scale.
The first village north of St. John’s is Logy Bay, immortalized in a favorite Newfoundland song. The fascinating Logy Bay Museum makes a good starting point for the day, with displays on household life, fishing, dairy farms and other facets of local life that illuminate the history and culture of these tiny fishing communities. A cobble beach lines the cove, a good place to hunt for beautifully rounded water-worn stones.
Torbay is the largest town on the peninsula, with its own history captured in the displays of its museum. No sign leads to Flat Rock, under its soaring headland. The entire coast is a series of tall headlands separated by little coves, some rock ledges and some pebble beaches. Don’t be surprised to see whales spouting in the water off Flat Rock.
North of Torbay, a small sign says “Big River Falls” and of course we stop. The trail was not obvious, so we asked two little girls walking beside the road licking ice cream cones.
“Climb over the chain by the bridge,” they told us; we did and found the trail following the river down toward the sea. The trail follows it past a series of rocky pools to a shaley (and slippery) ledge overlooking a beautiful double waterfall, where the river shoots through a narrow cleft in jagged black rocks and drops into an inky pool.
The harbor at Pouch Cove (pronounce it “Pooch”) is so steep that it’s hard to imagine hauling boats up long cleated ramp. A wheezy motor runs a windlass to help, and if you’re there when a boat comes in, you can watch from above. This is one of Newfoundland’s oldest settlements, documented early as 1611, and settled because of this steep and dangerous harbor, which made it harder for pirates to plunder the village. The Bark Pot Restaurant made a good lunch stop before we followed the road to the tip of the cape. Although the classic tall tower is gone, it is the only lighthouse we’ve seen with a helipad on the roof.
Doubling back to Pouch Cove, we headed west to Bauline, where the road drops into a little cluster of buildings under a cliff. Waterfalls cascade into the sea across the harbor, and the East Coast Walking Trail leads to beautiful views of the coast.
Portugal Cove is the landing point for the ferry to Bell Island, where there are walking trails, an underground tour of the mines, a light house, World War II gun sites, a few shops and a bakery. The car ferry leaves every 30 minutes for the 20-minute crossing. We saved that for another day, and instead watched the boats come and go from the Beachy Cove Tea Room, where they serve “Tea by the Sea” from 1:30 to 5:00.
After a day in these rugged little fishing villages that cling to the shore, it seemed almost incongruous to return to the luxury of our sumptuously decorated room at Leaside Manor in St. John’s, with its mega-sized bath and double whirlpool tub. This 1920s home is now a boutique hotel, rich in architectural and decorative details including leaded windows, beveled glass, parquet floors and paneled walls. It’s a class act, and breakfast at the big table with the host and fellow guests is a quick course on the best things to do and see in St. John’s.
For information on St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula, contact Destination St. John. In fact contact them about anything, because they are quite possibly the most accommodating and helpful tourism office on earth (709-739-8896 or 877- 739-8897).