I’m a Newfoundlander born and bred and I’ll be one till I die. I’m proud to be an Islander and here’s the reason why. I’m free as the wind and the waves that wash the sand. There’s no place I would rather be than here in Newfoundland.– The Navigators (The Islander)
From TLH to NF
It’s now late August and having completed our 1,600-mile Trans-Labrador Highway (TLH) journey, it’s time to see what Canada’s most easterly province, Newfoundland (NF), has to offer. The Strait of Belle Isle separates the island of Newfoundland from the Labrador Peninsula. To get there, we take a 17-mile ferry across the northern outlet of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which departs from Blanc-Sablon, QC (about two miles beyond the Labrador border).
We set our watches a half-hour (yes, half-hour) ahead to account for the time zone change. After carefully tying down our bikes (my KLR, Tom’s V-Strom, and Mike’s Ténéré) for the choppy seas, we explore the large ferry. In this nether-world of time, I meet Jason from Pennsylvania whose first motorcycle is the KTM 690 Enduro he’s riding. He has just camped his way across the TLH and will do so through NF, Nova Scotia (NS), and Maine—solo. Talk about jumping right into the deep end of the pool! I’m impressed.
Back to Our Roots
Disembarking from the ferry an hour and a half later in Sainte-Barbe (population 180), we head toward the oldest authenticated settlement of European origin in the New World: L’Anse aux Meadows. Located on the tip of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, it’s where the Vikings (probably including Leif Erikson) landed in the 11th century and built houses, a forge, and workshops. From there explorations to the south began.
The Viking longhouses (up to 75 feet long by 15 feet wide) were covered with turf taken from the peat bog and are similar to those in Norway from the same period. Near the forge, a deposit of iron slag was found, and the forged pieces located there (buckles, nails, rivets, etc.) are similar to those from Viking settlements in Norway. It’s evidence of the first iron smelting in the New World and suggests that boat repairs were undertaken here.
The discovery, first excavated in 1961, is so significant that it was one of the first cultural sites in the world added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. It’s such a unique milestone in the history of human migration, that, by itself, it’s good justification for journeying to NF, whether via the Trans-Labrador Highway or the more conventional (asphalt) way via the northbound ferry from Nova Scotia.
Speaking with our hosts at the Valhalla Lodge Bed and Breakfast (perfect name, eh?), we learn that in late August there is very little likelihood of seeing an iceberg, so we should enjoy the other features of this spectacular triangular island, like Gros Morne National Park to our south. Riding the western coast of NF has a Maine feeling to it, especially as we pass “Deadman’s Cove.”
Gros Morne National Park is a World Heritage Site because of its breathtaking scenery and extraordinary geological history. “Newfies” nicknamed their island “The Rock,” and Gros Morne (French for “large mountain standing alone”) shows why.
This granite extension of the Appalachian Mountains was formed 1.2 billion years ago, and the park’s geology clearly illustrates how plate tectonics and continental drift work, dramatically exposing the rocks of the earth’s mantle.