Picking where to go
When I find myself fantasizing about my next travel destination, my ideal trip typically entails grabbing my passport and flying over at least one ocean and a border or two. This summer, however, I found myself getting all weak-in-the-knees over my home country – Canada. I thought our relationship had run its course and that I’d moved on to more exotic things abroad – Europe and South America had my heart, but Canada was firmly in the friend-zone. But it turns out that Canada’s got all of the excitement and natural beauty that I’d been yearning for all these years. I guess what I’d been looking for had been right under my nose all along *sigh*.
So this past June, I left my passport in my underwear drawer and my boyfriend and I hopped on a fairly quick flight to Newfoundland for 10 days of adventure (and a sickening amount of fresh seafood). My boyfriend had always wanted to explore Canada’s most easterly province, and the more I learned about Newfoundland, the more excited I was for our trip. I was also super pumped to use Leave A Trace for the first time, to book our flights! It was really easy: I went on the Leave A Trace website, where I first picked a region I wanted to support. Then, I was directed to Priceline to book the flights. I was really glad to find out that, by booking my flight through Leave A Trace, a percentage of my booking went toward the Fort McMurray fire relief efforts.
Newfoundland is big. It takes over seven hours to drive from the west coast over to St. John’s, the capital city, on the east coast… and that doesn’t take into account the stops you may have to make to let the moose cross the road. So, I was a bit overwhelmed when planning our trip. Between all of the hiking trails and fishing villages sprinkled across Newfoundland, we wanted to get a taste of everything without spending too much time in the car.
Gros Morne National Park
We decided to spend most of our time exploring Gros Morne National Park on the west coast. If you’re into nature, seafood, and hiking (basically, if you know what’s good for you), then Gros Morne is not to be missed! There are plenty of day hikes that are easily accessible from the surrounding towns in the Park, but we decided to go off the grid for a few days to hike the Long Range Traverse (LRT) in the Long Range Mountains.
What both excited and scared me most about the LRT is its total lack of marked trails. That’s right, we spent three days hiking in the depths of the Canadian wilderness with zero marked trails. Up until this year, the LRT was the only hike in Canada that included a mandatory navigation test. Since I literally never know where I am, I spent a lot of time studying how to use a map and compass, adjusting for declination, and other concepts that I’d largely neglected since my orienteering field trip in grade five. When we arrived at the visitor’s centre for our orientation session before the hike, I was relieved to discover that the navigation test is a thing of the past. Even still, learning a new skill and using it on the hike was pretty awesome and definitely necessary. It required us to be hyper aware of our surroundings and to work together as a team to navigate the sometimes harsh and ever-changing weather and terrain.
Aside from brushing up on your navigation skills, the LRT requires some preparation. You need to book the hike well in advance, as it fills up fast since only three groups can hike at one time. It also requires booking a boat tour to start the hike and leaving your car at the parking lot at the end of the trail. The preparation is well worth it, as the views of the mountains, valleys, and lakes (which they call ponds) throughout the hike were unparalleled, as was the sense of accomplishment I felt when we made it to the end of the trail.
We started off the hike by taking a boat tour through Western Brook Pond, a beautiful fjord with steep rock cliffs and deep blue water. We boarded the boat along with camera-wielding tourists who looked at our massive packs with confusion and awe. I felt pretty hard-core as I, along with twelve other hikers, waved goodbye to the tourists when we were dropped off at the end of the pond to begin our ascent into the Long Range Mountains. We started off the hike by essentially rock climbing up a deep gorge. The climb took a few hours, and when we finally reached the top, we were rewarded with a stunning view of Western Brook Pond.
That first view of the Pond was just a taste of the beauty to come. At the top of every peak we were greeted with a uniquely gorgeous scene, the green trees and blue ponds vivid and bright from the hot sun. The hike involved trekking up and down many hills still covered with snow from the past long winter, pushing our way through impenetrable walls of “tuckamore” (thick stunted trees, a true nuisance on the hike), wading through cold rivers, dancing around fresh moose, bear, and caribou poop, getting lost, finding our bearings, getting lost again, and eventually finding our way to our camp site by sunset. But taking a risk and getting lost allowed us to find beauty we otherwise would have never witnessed and to feel connected to a new part of the country we call home.
Exploring the rest of Newfoundland
The Long Range Mountains are just a small part of a large province with so much to see and experience. The LRT was definitely a highlight of the trip, but I’m glad we got to visit other parts of Newfoundland as well. Some other notable experiences include: exploring the northern coast and spotting icebergs in the small fishing village of Twillingate, where we also enjoyed a musical comedy performance and a delicious lobster dinner with fellow tourists who were about 50 years our senior; celebrating Canada Day with a couple of pints in the capital city of St. John’s; and hiking the famous East Coast Trail. But what will truly stay with me when I fondly reflect back on my time in Newfoundland is the kindness and hospitality of the local people we met while travelling.
Visiting Newfoundland instilled in me a renewed sense of national pride for Canada and the knowledge that you don’t need to go overseas to feel inspired by the beauty and exoticness of somewhere new. I can’t wait to plan my next trip in Canada!
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