Bus tour not your thing? Me neither. Until – we visited Newfoundland & Labrador.
This was the last remaining Canadian province on our bucket list and we were surprised that a lot of other people had the same idea.
Newfoundland & Labrador, which was the last to join confederation in 1949, is ruggedly beautiful and there is so much to see. We covered over 3,000 km in 12 days – so it was nice to have someone else do the driving. Our coach tour was with McCarthy’s Party based out of St John’s. McCarthy’s has been arranging coach tours of this province since 1982 and they really have got it down to a science.
Our group was a particularly colourful and fun bunch of Canadians (with one Australian). Together we took in all of the major sites including: Gros Morne Park, Sir Wilfred Grenfell Mission, Viking Villages in L’Anse Aux Meadows, Red Bay Labrador, Twillingate, Trinity, Bonavista, Cape Spear, and St. John’s.
Our guide was Peter Laracy, a charming retired school teacher, whose knowledge of the province and the lore was amazing. Peter made sure there was always something to do and see, from coordinating our lunch orders to showing us videos pertinent to the day’s itinerary to mixing up the bus seating so that everyone had a chance to sit in the front.
We followed a humpback whale and her calf while they were putting on a show for us. There were moose along the road and caribou sauntering by when we were out walking.
At one point, our bus driver, Jack, stopped the coach so we could all get out and take pics of a huge iceberg floating by with a sea lion on it – a rarity in late August.
We enjoyed lobster and cod. We were “screeched in” as official Newfies -something that have to experience to understand – and we have a certificate to prove it! We also climbed the tallest lighthouse in the province at L’Anse Amour.
It’s an early morning ferry ride to Labrador crossing the Straits of Belle Isle in the fog. Our group went as far as Red Bay, a charming fishing village and learned about the whaling methods of the 1500’s.
The Viking Village at L’Anse aux Meadows was a fascinating piece of history. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has costumed story-tellers in the dimly lit huts of a typical Viking village where you can see (and taste) how they made bread, used a spinning wheel, forged metal, and made their boats for conquering the Atlantic.
We were also pleasantly surprised to be entertained by a professional theatre company while in Gros Morne Park. The first night at Cow Head we took in the show NEWFOUNDLAND VINYL which features hit songs from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s written and performed by Newfoundland writers. Five very talented young people sang and played for the sold-out crowd of about 120 people. The Gros Morne Theatre Festival has been going on for many years. They are building a brand new theatre in the tiny town – an investment in continuing to provide top-notch entertainment for the city slickers who are visiting in the summer months.
On our second night in Cow Head, we saw TEMPTING PROVIDENCE the story of nurse Myra Bennett, who came to Newfoundland from England in the 1800’s to a small fishing village that had no doctor and no medical facilities. The lead actress, Una Hill-McMullin was simply sensational and the entire cast put on a riveting performance. We were quite astonished with the quality of theatre in a town with less than 500 permanent residents!
The tour ended in St John’s, the capital of the province with a population of around 114,000. St John’s has a friendly vibe, lots of live music and pubs, lots of beer (ever heard of Iceberg?) and some very eclectic architecture – including the famous colourful jellybean houses.
The summer is alive with one music festival after the other and we were lucky to be in the city during the George Street Music Festival. Thousands of music lovers crowded George Street to enjoy some great rock‘n roll. We stood in the crowd and sang along with Randy Bachman – who had flown in from our hometown province of BC for the festival. Newfoundland boasts over 25 different summer festivals featuring food, music and art.
There are several great places to stay in downtown St John’s. Both the Sheraton and the Delta are good choices and are close to all of the action in the city’s centre. The Delta is a bit dated in its decor and amenities but ideally situated.
If you are looking for a lively pub atmosphere and some great Newfoundland music, St John’s has lots to offer. We checked out the Shamrock City Pub on Water Street and can also recommend O’Reilly’s Irish Bar and Duke of Duckworth. We heard a great band at the Martinbar as well. These establishments are all in the main area of town.
There are a number of good restaurants in downtown St John’s and we enjoyed a few excellent, albeit expensive, meals. I would say the usual pub fair in St John’s – fish tacos, fish and chips, burgers, ribs, etc – is a bit hit and miss for quality. However, if you want to spend $150 per couple you can find an excellent meal. We can recommend the Merchant Tavern and the Fish Exchange for first class dining as well as the Celtic Hearth for some good pub fare.
So, 10 terms that come to mind concerning Newfoundland & Labrador? How about: friendly, down-to-earth, ruggedly beautiful, wildlife, Puffin, cod, lobster, music, pride of heritage and beer. Did I say beer?
So glad we finally got to see Newfoundland & Labrador! Feel free to use the suggestions to plan YOUR trip!
Read all about the Puffins that we saw on Colin’s post HERE.