Monthly Archives: November 2017
Baking bread in a traditional wood fired stone oven in Newfoundland
Drive to the outskirts of Port au Choix during the summer months and roll down your car windows and there’s a good chance, you will smell the aroma of freshly baked bread.
A fairly new attraction established during Newfoundland’s 500th celebration of its French heritage, was the construction of four stone wood burning bread ovens in the Province in 2004, one of which is located in Port au Choix.
The community ovens are part of Newfoundland’s Basque heritage, fishermen who came here to fish the offshore waters for cod, whales and seals. Some stayed behind and established settlements along the shore, becoming ancestors to many who live today in Newfoundland.
Two pans of fresh bread baking in the oven.
Several days a week, fresh baked bread served with butter or homemade jams and coffee attract visitors to the oven site on the outskirts of town. A $5 donation is charged.
Baking bread in an outdoor oven is not easy. Local summer students working at the Visitors Center, start the wood fire two to three days ahead of baking then nurse the oven for the proper temperature while others are preparing the dough.
At least 30 to 40 people gathered around the oven on a cool, overcast morning to watch the baking process, repeated as it was 500 years ago.
The bread is served in small individual loaves with a slight crust on the outside and soft on the inside. The bread also has a slight smoky flavor.
“We do this,” said one of the young ladies on the baking crew, “because it is part of our French heritage that we enjoy sharing.”
NEXT: Homemade Lobster Rolls at Quirpen
The stone oven in the warming process before baking bread.
Pointe Riche Lighthouse, Port au Choix
A ship passes in the distance of the Port Riche Lighthouse near Port au Choix, Newfoundland.
The Point Riche lighthouse is located a few miles west of the town of Port au Choix at the end of a gravel road. It can also be reached by taking a combination of walking trails that originate at the Visitors Reception Center.
We drove there after eating freshly baked bread from a wood fired oven in town, topped with local berry jam.
Built in 1871, Point Riche Lighthouse guided fishing vessels and steamers on their voyages between the Gulf of St Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. The first lighthouse keeper was paid $600 annually to live on site and maintain the light.
It is referred to as a pepperpot lighthouse because of its salt or pepper shaker shape. The tower is octagonally shaped and painted red while the rest of the lighthouse is painted white. It is still in operation.
The lighthouse keepers house burned in the 1970’s.
We walked around the lighthouse grounds and watched two whales in the distance as they cruised along the shoreline, rising occasionally to take a breath then disappearing.
Getting to know the locals in Port au Choix, Newfoundland
Port au Choix is another little picturesque fishing village on the western coast of Newfoundland but this one turned out to be special.
For the past two weeks we have been traveling along Newfoundland’s western coast, most of the time parallel with the Gulf of St. Lawrence and enjoying continuous impressive seaside scenery. We are going from town-to-town after landing here on an ocean-going ferry at Port aux Basque from North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Ship at anchor inside a protected harbor at Port au Choix.
We have not been a bit disappointed, so far with our previous decision to spend at least five weeks on the island, or “the rock” as locals refer to Newfoundland.
Although we are not traveling on a schedule, it seems we are always rushing from one town to another and haven’t had much time to get to know the locals but three days in Port au Choix introduced us to friendly, generous and outgoing people that we had not previously experienced. And, surprisingly, we could understand their Newfoundland dialect, at least most of the time.
Founded in the 16th century by French fishermen who dropped anchors here and harvested cod, the descendants left behind still speak the language and ply offshore waters. The settlement became known as Port au Choix, which in French means “the little port.”
A flock of gulls compete for bits of fish after a fisherman tossed them into the bay after cleaning the day’s catch.
Now called the “fishing capital” of Western Newfoundland, the community boasts a large fishing fleet, big enough to supply a local processing plant that processes north-sea shrimp.
We camped on the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the Oceanside Lions Club ocean front campground a few miles from town. These are not the sandy beaches we are familiar with in Florida, but small rock shores that still provide eye-popping sunrises and sunsets and large waves that lulled us to sleep each night.
On arrival here, we drove into Port au Choix searching for a fresh fish market. We had purchased fresh cod and scallops in Rocky Harbor and wanted more of the same. Although a town of about 1,000 residents and the self-proclaimed fishing capital, didn’t have a fresh fish market. The visitors center sold frozen shrimp from the local processing plant, but no where to buy fresh cod.
We drove to the outskirts of town and passed a dozen or more fishing shacks, places where fishermen store their gear, clean their fish and secure their boats. One of them had a well-built replica of a Viking fishing boat behind a glass partition that caught our attention. It was probably 12 to 15 feet long. I stopped to take a picture when the fisherman who owned the place appeared from behind the building and told the story that a friend had made the boat and he thought it worthy of displaying.
The chaloupe is a boat with Basque or French origins and was used in Newfoundland for whaling, cod and seal fisheries. With the help of a group from Ciboure, France, they built three boats, one of which is on display at Port au Choix.
I complained that the town did not have a fresh fish market and the fishermen told me that most everyone here were fishermen and said they had their own fresh fish and questioned, “who’s going to buy it.”
He asked if I wanted some fresh cod and told me to come back in an hour or so and he would have some.
We drove around town, came back to the fisherman’s shack and he presented us with four large cod fillets, probably weighing 8 to 10 pounds and refused to take payment.
“I give away fish to tourists all the time, he said.”
Fishermen here make their living selling fish and I was determined not to accept his offer, but was convinced otherwise and gladly accepted the fish.
I drove to an adult beverage store in town, purchased a bottle of spirits and drove back to the fishing shack and gave it to the fisherman with my thanks for the fish. I got the impression that no one had ever reciprocated for his kindness. That’s a shame.
Camped at the Lions Club Campground near Port au Choix I grilled fresh cod fillets outside over a portable gas grill and dined at a picnic table only yards from the sea.
NOTE: Port aux Choix is a National Historic Site of Canada, and is regarded as one of the richest archaeological finds in North America. Burial sites uncovered in the town in the 1960s & 70s provide evidence of its earliest settlers – dating back almost 5,000 years ago.
NEXT: Fresh bread from an ancient French oven
Newfoundland’s Arches Provincial Park offers nice scenery, picnic area
On the way north from Rocky Harbor to Port au Choix, Newfoundland, we made a quick stop and a Kodak moment at Arches Provincial Park.
Looking through one of the arches to the Gulf of St., Lawrence.
We have been in Newfoundland for eight days, arriving at Port aux Basque and slowly making our way north on the island. We have camped at J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, Port aux Basque; Pirates Haven Friendly RV Park at Robinson; Zenville Campground, near Stephenville; and Rocky Harbor.
Rocks are plentiful here, providing lots of artwork for visitors to see and build.
A public park on the western coastline of the island just off Highway 430 or the Viking Trail, Arches consists of a unique rock formation that has been eroded over time by wave action from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is located a short distance north of Gros Morne Provincial Park.
The park is a quick stop and very worthy of photos, however, the parking lot may be difficult for big rigs to navigate, particularly on a busy day. There were only a few cars in the lot when we arrived so parking was not an issue.
There are three arches which permit viewers to see through the big rock formation to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Camping is not permitted here, however, there are picnic tables, making Arches a nice place to stop and soak in the scenery while having lunch.
Route of the French along Newfoundland’s western coast
The weather was breezy and a cool 60-degrees but skies were clear when we left Robinson NF and drove 60 miles to a campground in Kippen, a little town near Stephenville.
Sheaves Cove on the Route of the French Ancestry, or Highway 460. Newfoundland.
Sixty-miles is a seldom enjoyed walk-in-the-park trip for RV travelers who are accustomed to 300 to 400 miles daily.
We arrived at Zenzville Campground about six miles west of Stephenville around lunchtime and after settling-in, drove the tow car onto the southern highway part of the Port au Port Peninsula and found an extraordinarily impressive rocky and rugged coastline.
Highway 460 runs west out of Kippens about 25 miles to its terminus at Cape St. George then circles back to the north and east on Highway 463 and returns to the mainland. We had originally planned to drive the entire Peninsula but made frequent stops soaking up the scenery and ran out of daylight.
The Peninsula extends into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a major seaway that stretches from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. The Peninsula is a hidden gem for visitors to the island.
The area is known as the French Shore, recognizing France’s early fishing expeditions here in the 16th century, and boasts the largest number of French speaking residents in Newfoundland. This became obvious after a quick stop at a small store for refreshments where customers and management were speaking French.
We passed a large limestone quarry at Lower Cove then stopped at Hidden Falls and took pictures of cliffs and unusual rock formation along the shoreline near Sheaves Cove. We talked with locals here who said winter did not leave the area until early July, a reminder that we are far north from home in Florida.
The road followed the shoreline most of the trip to Cape St. George, a bald, treeless area with high cliffs overlooking the ocean and home to a huge colony of kittiwakes. I tried taking pictures of the birds soaring among the cliffs but north winds were so strong that getting out of the car and holding the camera stead was impossible.
In hindsight we should have stayed here another day and toured the northern end of the peninsula.
NEXT: Camping on the beach at Port au Choix.
Woody Point was once bustling Newfoundland community
After a quick trip south from Rocky Harbor to Deer Lake where a computer doctor diagnosed a defunct laptop, we headed back north on Highway 430 and decided to take a side trip to Woody Point.
The first lighthouse at Woody Point was built in the early 1900’s. This one was built in 1959. In the background is the water taxi which runs from Norris Point to Woody Point.
Gros Morne Provincial Park, a huge facility named for the largest mountain in the park, extends westward and includes Woody Point and some other small communities. Highway 431 is a pleasant drive on a nice smooth road that cuts through the mountains and skirts Bonne Bay to Woody Point, 18 miles from the main north-south Highway 430.
The little town of about 300 was the major shopping community for the area in the early 1900’s. Today it’s mostly a fishing village with a large fish and lobster processing plant that dominates the downtown waterfront. Just southeast a few miles from Rocky Harbor is Norris Point which provides a water taxi and a much quicker route for visitors arriving from the north. The water taxi carries only passengers, no vehicles, which is not really a problem because Woody Point is only about three or four blocks long.
Downtown Woody Point, Newfoundland.
Situated on the shores of Bonne Bay, Woody Point is a Registered Heritage District and has a waterfront with many heritage buildings including four Registered Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Structures.
The British started settling here in the 1800’s, arriving in the summer to fish the offshore waters primarily for cod. They would return to England after the fishing season but later started staying here year-round and the settlement grew in numbers.
A pickup load of firewood is raffled on main street in Woody Point.
Gros Morne’s Western Book Pond scenery is hard to describe
The upper deck offers the best view for visitors to Western Brook Pond, Newfoundland.
Nights in the 50’s is fairly common in Newfoundland, particularly along the coast where we are camping at Rocky Harbor, a small town along the western shore that borders on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Mountains surround the landlocked Western Brook Pond which is located in Gros Morne Provincial Park, Newfoundland.
Since we sleep with the RV windows open, it’s frequently so cold in the morning that I turn on the gas heater, close the windows and crawl back into bed, giving the RV a half hour or so for the place to warm-up. Kind of strange for July where back home in Florida summer heat of 90 degrees is almost a daily aggravation.
Today’s agenda includes a hike and boat tour of nearby Western Brook Pond in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne Provincial Park. Long considered the crown jewel of provincial parks in Newfoundland, Gros Morne records more visitors than any other park.
Part of the 45 minute trail leading to the pond crosses a wetlands area where park officials have constructed a boardwalk.
They call large bodies of water “ponds” here, rather than lakes which is a little confusing. We were expecting a pond, maybe small enough to walk around or small enough to swim across and were surprised to learn the “pond” is more than nine miles long.
Getting to Western Brook Pond, a landlocked fjord, requires about a 1 ¾ mile easy hike along a well-maintained and mostly flat trail that ends at a visitor’s center for check-in and a boat dock. There’s also a snack bar offering some hot foods, including soup, hot dogs and hamburgers along with beverages and a gift shop.
The only water access to Western Brook Pond is by tour boats which take visitors on a two hour ride with guides providing information in both French and English.
There’s no way I can adequately describe the scenery. The boat travels the entire length of the fjord at a slow pace, allowing plenty of time to soak in the huge mountain cliffs, waterfalls and occasional wildlife. Guides on board the two-deck tour boat, which carried about 85 guests, were speaking both French and English.
Western Brook Pond is a UNESCO World Heritage site. No boating, fishing or swimming is allowed. There is no public access, however, there are about 65 miles of trails within Gros Morne Provincial Park, some that are primitive and require skilled hikers. The waters of the pond are among the purist in the world.
NEXT: Off the main road to Woody Point
Tim Horton’s coffee and scenery keeps us going in Newfoundland
Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, Rocky Harbor, NF.
Lobster Cove Lighthouse at Rocky Harbor, NF.
Two things one can always expect in Newfoundland–windy days and Tim Horton’s coffee/donut shops. Tim Horton’s are everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere.
Driving north on Trans-Canada Highway 1, we found our first Tim Horton’s of the day just past Marble Mountain. It’s becoming a daily habit to skip a healthy breakfast in the RV for a hot mocha latte and a warm blueberry muffin, always available at any Tim Horton’s throughout the Maritimes and Canada.
Old House Rocks is a little fishing village off Highway 430 near Gros Morne Provincial Park.
We are driving to the far northern tip of Newfoundland with stops at popular Gros Morne Provincial Park, Port aux Choix, the northwest fishing capital of Newfoundland and St. Anthony for a whale watching trip. The road north ends at St. Anthony on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It will take us eight days to meander along the coastline and see the sights before arriving in St. Anthony.
At Deer Lake we drove on Highway 430 to Rocky Harbor, where we will camp for the next four nights. Highway 430 is also known as the Viking Trail and runs along the western coastline of Newfoundland to St. Anthony.
The trail to see the Cows Head Lighthouse was well maintained and an easy hike. The lighthouse is no longer operational.
Wildflowers were in full bloom when we visited Cow Head, Newfoundland in late July.
As luck would have it, we happen to be in the Maritimes when admission to all provincial parks is free as Canada Parks is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
We drove a few miles outside town to Lobster Cove Head lighthouse and toured the lighthouse keepers home which is now a museum. The light here is still active. We walked the trails around the lighthouse and along the coast for some incredible rocky shoreline and huge cliffs views as the sun was setting on the horizon.
The following day we drove north to Cow Head and hike 1.5 miles to see another lighthouse and the seashore. The lighthouse here was smaller than most and had been decommissioned years ago. It was made of steel and refurbished in 1990’s. During the hike we met two students from the University of Miami who were spending a month in Newfoundland on a geology field training trip. The University has been bringing students here since 1981.
We visited a museum of a prominent resident who once lived in Cow Head and returning to Rocky Harbor, stumbled into the little community of Old House Rocks.
A hand-carved wooden sign welcomes visitors to Hickey’s Cove, a place you will not find in the visitor’s guide. It’s primarily a summer fishing operation with docks along the waterfront and about 20 small cabins fishermen use for lodging while they are here. We could not determine where Hickey’s Cove ended and Old House Rocks begins. They seemed to be one in the same place.
Broom Point fishing exhibit.
Sunset at Lobster Head Cove Lighthouse.
At nearby Broom Point, a full-time interpreter with Parks Canada told the history of the Gulf of St. Lawrence natural harbor, beginning as early as 300 BC when it was used as a base for spring seal hunting and later for cod and lobster fishing, ending in 1975. Parks Canada acquired the land from the family of three brothers who fished here every summer from 1941 until 1975. Along with the land came all the boats, fishing equipment and buildings the brothers used in the fishing operation.
NEXT: Newfoundland’s crown jewel, Gros Morne Provincial Park
Joining a community pig roast at Robinson, NF
Wildflowers seen along the trail in the Codroy Valley area of Newfondland.
With threatening skies, we are back on the Trans-Canada Highway and driving north through the Table Mountains, which are half covered with low hanging, moisture laden clouds and threatening rain.
We stopped in the Codroy Valley area to take a hike through a wetland preserve, hoping to see some birds. Maybe it was the time of day or the time of year, but we didn’t see many birds and after a mile walk, got back to the RV.
Heading north to Robinson, our destination for tonight, the highway left the coastal areas and cut through the mountains. Martha noted there were no homes, businesses or signs of civilization in her trip journal. No traffic. Kind of eerie for a weekend when one would expect some vehicles on the highway.
Found a service station in tiny St. David’s and filled the RV with fuel that cost $1.23 per liter which relates to almost $4.75 per gallon. Most commodities are shipped into Newfoundland, by sea or air, accounting for the higher price of goods. That is not the situation with oil since the province has several producing offshore oil fields providing crude to its’ Come By Chance Refinery. In a conversation with a local, he speculated that taxes are responsible for the expensive fuel.
We left the highway and drove toward the coast to Robinson and Pirates Haven RV Park, our destination for tonight. We have driven only about 60 miles from Port aux Basque because we wanted to eat fresh pork at Pirate Haven’s pig roast.
The RV campground check-in was at a bar, which was full of happy patrons who obviously had been there for several hours, waiting for the pork. We parked the RV, connected to water, electricity and sewer and proceeded to the bar for a roast pork dinner.
The owner told us he has been cooking a whole hog annually for the past 23 years and it has become a community as well as campground success. The dinner consisted of pork, pork stuffing, browned potatoes and corn for $18 Canadian which made the cost about $15 America. The pork was nice and moist but needed some barbeque sauce, Martha wrote. “Newfoundlanders don’t drown pork in sauce,” said a local, preferring their pork “naked.”.
Although I’m not sure that’s what he said. Newfies talk fast and have a serious accent, obviously a mixture of several cultures plus some local slang. The accent is becoming more obvious and undecipherable as we head north.
A four-piece band played music until the wee hours of the morning, long after the pork was finished and long after we had gone to bed.
We closed the RV windows, put one of Martha’s homemade quilts on the bed and called it a night. The wind was blowing hard and it was cold outside but the temperature didn’t seem to slow the pork crowd. It didn’t bother us, either.
NEXT: A stunning seashore drive on the French Ancestors Route.
Rose Blanche Harbour, NF turns to tourism after cod collapse
The six-hour ferry crossing from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland was an uneventful ride on smooth seas. After settling into cushioned reclining chair, reading books, having lunch, taking a nap, and whale watching, we arrived at Port aux Basques, on Newfoundland’s southwest coast.
The town of Rose Blanche Harbour in southwest Newfoundland, is built on barren land, mostly rock facing the harbor.
We checked into an electric only campsite at J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park a few miles outside Port aux Basque, population about 4,000. A boil water notice was posted throughout the park, a requirement for campgrounds in Newfoundland that rely on wells for drinking water. Fortunately, we had plenty of bottled water on board the RV.
A couple from Ontario that we met on board the ferry stopped by our campsite and invited us to enjoy their campfire and adult beverages, which we gratefully accepted.
The 144 year old lighthouse at Rose Blanche was recently reconstructed and now open to the public.
The weather is cool, probably in the low 60’s, perfect for a fire.
We slept with the windows open and were serenaded with the low frequent rumbling sound of ship foghorns blowing in the distance, arriving and leaving Port aux Basque, about six miles away.
The next morning, we drove into Port aux Basque, which serves as a shopping hub for a half dozen or more small villages in the area. The entire town of about 4,000, appears to have been built on a mostly rock hill. Lots of the homes have water views.
Martha writes in her travel journal that houses appear freshly painted with bright colors and situated on small lots. None of the houses had front porches or even overhangs. Drying laundry on a clothes line is the norm here.
Later in the morning, we drove east along the coast, passing through the little fishing villages of Margaree, Isle aux Morris, Burnt Island and arriving about an hour later at Rose Blanche Harbour, another little fishing village but a lot more people. About 500 of them. I don’t know if they have boonies in Newfoundland, but if they do, Rose Blanche surely qualifies. Route 40 dead ends here. To keep going east, you have to board a local ferry which takes riders to LaPoile, about 20 miles east. LaPoile is isolated, with exception of the ferry. Maybe they are more qualified to be in the boonies.
Rose Blanche is located in a barren area, mostly rock, with two harbors for fishing boats.
Since this is our first real Newfoundland fishing village visit, we literally fell in love with Rose Blanche—it’s very colorful small houses built facing the water, the picturesque small boat harbors, the rugged granite coastline, the white cliffs of Diamond Cove and of course, its 144-year-old lighthouse, naturally built of granite.
Fishermen from France were first to fish the area for cod in the early 1700’s with the first settlers arriving in 1810. In fact, according to the 1869 census, the population had grown to 663, more than live here today.
The town showed promise in early 1961 when the road from Port aux Basque was extended and several outlying communities were resettled here.
But the early 1990’s collapse of the cod industry, the staple of employment for almost 200 years, halted any promise of success in the future, sending many locals to work in Port aux Basque and some taking jobs as far away as the Great Lakes. They are hoping tourist will help fill the gap.
We walked the harbor shores, hiked up the hill to the old restored lighthouse and enjoyed a picnic lunch, sold daily to visitors by local volunteers to help boost tourism.
Barachois Falls walking trail is almost a mile long and leads to a high waterfall. The trail is mostly a wooden boardwalk system across a wetlands area that was dotted with colorfull small flowers when we visited this summer. It is located near Rose Blanche.
A light rain was falling when we arrived back at the provincial campground.
NEXT: Pig roast at Robinsons