Summer Travel ’09: Newfoundland

Open hearts & warm smiles
Brian Banks

NewfoundlandGeorge Street Festival (July 30-Aug. 4) Royal St. John’s Regatta (Aug. 5) Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival (Aug. 6-8)/St. John’s It’s only fitting that North America’s oldest city long ago got its summer festival act down pat. As soon as August arrives, St. John’s rolls them out in order. The bars on George Street are always a focus of St. John’s nightlife, but during its namesake festival, the street plays host to five straight nights of thumping outdoor concerts. Next day, the city rises for a civic holiday and the rowing regatta at Quidi Vidi Lake—an all-day extravaganza that claims to be the oldest continuously running sporting event in North America. Bannerman Park, a short walk from downtown, is the scene of the three-day folk festival that rounds out the second weekend with a mix of music, dance, crafts and workshops.

Gros Morne National Park Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the 1,805-sq.-km Gros Morne National Park is an inspiring fortress of cliffs, fjords, waterfalls, sea stacks and wild, rolling inland terrain carved from the slabs of ancient, exposed ocean crust—continental drift laid bare, hence the UNESCO designation—that, together with the roots of a 1.2-billion-year-old mountain range, forms the backbone of Newfoundland’s west coast. An extensive trail network and spectacular views make Gros Morne a mecca for hikers. Within the park, there is a Discovery Centre on the south shore of Bonne Bay. Close by, as well, is the community of Woody Point, which hosts an annual summer writers’ festival, Writers at Woody Point (Aug. 12-16).

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

L’Anse aux Meadows Newfoundland’s second UNESCO World Heritage site lies more than 400 km due north of Gros Morne, at the very tip of the Northern Peninsula. Here you’ll find L’Anse aux Meadows, and the preserved remains of a small, 1,000-year-old Viking settlement—the only one of its kind in North America. Alongside, there are replica sod huts, a living history installation and interpretative centre. A far more modern visitor’s digs are also an attraction in nearby Gunner’s Cove, where author Annie Proulx lived while writing The Shipping News. Proulx has since sold her two houses and tourists can rent them out.

Fogo Island Regatta/Fogo Island (July 29) The Great Fogo Island Punt Race: To There and Back, is a 16-km open-ocean boat race between the town of Fogo, on Fogo Island, and the Change Islands. It features two-man teams rowing traditional handcrafted punts made by local builders. For visitors, seeing who wins is secondary to the experience of seeing this stark, spectacular island up close. Located on Newfoundland’s northeast coast, Fogo Island is reviving its outport heritage and promoting its beauty to boost tourism. Prime assets in the latter category are Brimstone Head, a knobby 100-m rise overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that the Flat Earth Society considers one of the four corners of the Earth, as well as Fogo’s perch on “iceberg alley”—often, the bergs are everywhere.

East Coast Trail Hiking trails are an integral part of the Newfoundland travel experience. If you haven’t got the time or the inclination to go to the outer reaches of the island, try the East Coast Trail. Planners ultimately envision a 540-km walking trail along the shores of the entire Avalon Peninsula. Today, about half of that distance has been fully established—you can join the trail at Fort Amherst in St. John’s harbour and follow it more than 220 km south, to Cappahayden. Individual trail sections run from several kilometres to 30 or more. Camping, bed-and-breakfast accommodations and guided excursions are available. Fans of geocaching (finding hidden caches using GPS) can hunt for some 360 geocaches hidden along the trail.