Jump to content

Northeast Coast of Newfoundland/Summer 2023 Pt. 2

Joseph Berkovitz

Recommended Posts

Day 5: Interlude

I awoke suddenly very grateful for a day of relative inactivity. The valley in which we camped was bordered by coastal hills on the south side and a low ridge on the north side. The latter ridge blocked our view of the nearby outport of Grandois. (Another interesting place name, originally in French as “Grandes Oises” or big geese. Today it is spelled as “Grandois”, while pronounced by locals as “Grand-Zwah”. Quirkily, the Newfoundlanders conserved one of the original letter S’s in speech, and a different one in writing. In any case, we did not see geese there.)

I visited a pair of tiny overgrown family cemeteries nearby. One was from the 1800s, another from the mid-1900s; both sets of gravestones were in surprisingly good repair. The family names seemed very Irish, matching the cadence of the local dialect.


A caribou was sighted on a nearby hill. After breakfast, some of us hiked to the end of the harbor, past a little waterfall. We found a set of ponds above the harbor and draining into it via a sequence of brackish ponds, visible from a high patch of mossy ground that could also be a nice campsite. On the way back, we bushwhacked through a narrow gap in the coastal hills to reach gorgeous, deserted Howardin Cove on the outside, with its own gem of a pocket beach. However, that beach sported a large berm and a lot of seaweed scattered well above the strand line. We guessed it might be a rough place to land sometimes.

Phil found a huge rusty French nail. There are a lot of old artifacts lying around but they are not obvious.


(A note on bushwhacking in the brush: we did not see any ticks our entire time in Newfoundland. Cursory internet research suggests that there are very few in the province, although there may be some that passively migrate there via birds. We did check ourselves!)

As the day progressed, we had constant periods of heat and sun alternating with fog and cold rain. Finding comfortable clothing for the weather was a challenge.

Right before dinner, Lorrie spotted something strange in the water: a pair of antlered heads with no apparent bodies, moving steadily in our direction. Two caribou were swimming right across the river towards us, very near the hut. We watched in amazed silence as they shook their heads (getting rid of flies?), emerged from the water, and walked calmly up the hill.


Day 6: St. Julien to Fischot Island


Decision Time

This day opened a bit warmer and with some partial sun. It seemed that the heavy rain was over for now. The forecast, thanks to a cell signal that mysteriously persisted almost everywhere we went, was once again for southwest winds, 10-15 knots. This coastal zone forecast, as we knew by now, was often an overestimate. The Windy.com forecasts of 8-10 knots seemed more in the ballpark of reality for the strip of coast we were paddling in.


However we did note that a weather change was pending for Day 8 of our trip, which had been planned to end on Day 9. This change would bring a low pressure system, strong northerly winds, an air temperature drop into the 40s, and more heavy rain. The wind direction would bring cold, blustery weather and rough water to the Atlantic coast. Inside Hare Bay where our next (and very exposed) campsite lay, we could expect wind waves with a substantial fetch to the north.

With this information in hand, we considered whether to cut our trip short by one day. Even with the day off we had kept to a fast schedule and had some distance in the bank. We could end the trip a day early, without sacrificing any major goals or missing any coastline. So we all agreed that we should a) finish the trip one day earlier than planned to avoid camping in much colder and wetter conditions, and b) try to camp somewhere more protected than the exposed, open north-facing location that had been originally selected (MacGray Island).  The latter decision, if we followed it, would make for a long Day 7.

Our next move, regardless, was to paddle out to our next campsite on Fischot Island, a deserted outport and the only island on our trip that required a real crossing. In my mind as I reviewed the few pictures I’d seen, Fischot was a flat, grassy, windswept place. I wondered how it would be as a camping spot.

Encounter On The Water

The next stretch from St Julien to Jehenne Point was uneventful, with a quick bathroom stop at Trompeuse Bay which features a sheltered beach. There were some very interesting looking coves along the way, but we felt the need to keep going. We crossed the mouth of Great Islets Harbour and navigated to what we thought should be a “tickle” leading to a protected bay that would make a good lunch spot. In Newfoundland English a tickle is defined as, “A narrow salt-water strait, as in an entrance to a harbour or between islands or other land masses, often difficult or treacherous to navigate because of narrowness, tides, etc; a ‘settlement’ adjoining such a passage.” This one qualified as difficult to navigate because it was about 6 inches shy of having any water in it at all, the tide cycle being near dead low. We headed outside English Island in what were becoming rather rough conditions; this was the Fischot Channel, a spot where the Labrador Current may be squeezed and sped up, opposing a southwest wind. We ducked back into a protected cove from the north, where we stopped for a much-needed lunch. Here, we munched as we watched caribou grazing on the other side of the deeply embayed island. They presumably swim to reach wherever there is food.

Our postprandial crossing to Fischot Island was not as rough as what we’d seen so far. The largest herd of caribou we’d seen so far was grazing on the island, whose hills seemed much higher and more dramatic than my mental image of the place. We pondered the sights, aware that our next move would be to find our way into the protected interior waters of the island through one of the three narrow channels that afford access.

Before we could ponder much, though, we had our first encounter with another boat on the water! Until this moment, we had not seen a single one; the boats always turned out on closer inspection to be icebergs.


This boat was captained by Justin Boyd, at once the local owner of Crazy Ray’s Boat Tours, the son of the proprietor of the hunting lodge where we’d be staying next, and the organizer of our vehicle shuttle. His 5 passengers included Kathleen Blanchard, president of a non-profit called Intervale, a local friend of Kathleen’s, and 3 young women engaged in wildlife research as part of a program connected with Intervale. They were all very excited to see other humans out there in the middle of nowhere. (Except for Justin, who knew we would be in the area; David and I had already had a Zoom call with him to pick up local knowledge. Justin did seem pleased that we were still alive.)

At one point, one of the women said, “You’re real mariners!” True or false, this was quite thrilling to me. As this could be the only time I will ever hear that compliment, I fully intend to savor it.

Fischot: The Inside-Out Island

Our encounter with fellow humanity had to come to an end, and we proceeded to miss the main entrance to Fischot Harbour and enter via an incredibly shallow channel just to its east. Eventually we reached the interior of the island, an otherworldly landscape for which Janet coined the phrase, “the inside-out island”.

Fischot Island is indeed turned inside-out. Together with its sisters Northeast and Frommy Island, its calm and wide harbor is circled by heather hills on all sides, with three narrow channels leading to the ocean outside. The harbor is half a mile wide from north to south, and a quarter-mile wide from west to east. In some spots, abandoned buildings lean and loom in a Gothic fashion. The weather was not gloomy, fortunately: it was warm and sunny. Gravel beaches lined most of the harbor, which has various sinuous arms going here and there. We found our way to the middle of one of these arms, next to a narrow strip of land that seemed ideal for a row of tents while letting us walk to the rest of the island. 



Nearby was the skeleton of a caribou, its antlers entangled in a large pile of fishing gear. The basic storyline seemed obvious, and sad. When we told some local fishermen about it later, they confirmed that the gear seemed likely to be the reason for the animal’s demise.


After pitching camp, we walked to the nearby eastern exit from the harbor, our most likely egress. There was a huge iceberg visible just outside and to the north of this channel. Then we walked all the way around the harbor to the abandoned fragments of a village on the west side, following game trails and trying to avoid muddy sumps.


Many caribou wandered freely, a number of them hanging out near an elevated freshwater pond. 


Janet, Jason and I split off from Phil and Lorrie to walk the long way back to our tents via the ridgeline of the surrounding hills. The panoramic views of the entire area and the sounds of the surf were stunning. The picture below looks southwest towards St. Julien Island from which we had come; its headland is visible on the left.


At some point, we heard a series of very loud booming sounds from the east. We wondered what was happening to our iceberg neighbor. Tomorrow would tell.

Day 7: Fischot Island to Louisa Island


Puffin City

Our final full day of paddling awaited us. We had a choice in front of us: whether to take an excursion north along the island chain, to visit a puffin colony at the mouth of Hare Bay on Great Cormorandier Island (or, in laconic local parlance, “North Island”). This would extend our final full-day paddle by 4 to 5 nm, and we were trying to reach a distant protected campsite that would not be exposed to the next morning’s expected north wind, for a total of nearly 18 nm. Another protected option was much closer, but would push more paddling into the final day and potentially rougher conditions.

Eventually we opted to take the island-chain puffin tour, provided that we had visibility to do so. As there was a lot of fog inside Fischot Harbour, it was not clear we would be able to see anything. First, we exited the eastern channel where swell was standing up slightly against a modest ebb. Our iceberg was no longer where it had been. It was clear that we would be able to see enough to enjoy our tour of the island chain, and so we set off. This was a good thing, because the journey was one of the bigger spectacles of the whole trip.

The islands jutting north into the entrance to Hare Bay are very wild-looking. As we entered this visual world laced with fog, we encountered large remnants of the formerly nearby iceberg. These remnants were not small. It must have broken up in a dramatic way.

We made our way past Northeast Island, Little Verdon, Great Verdon, and finally tiny Pigeon Island to reach the cliffy heights of North (Great Cormorandier) Island. As we approached, puffins became visible, flitting through the air around us. On the cliffs facing out to Pigeon was a large pile of collapsed boulders. This was at least one of the puffin colonies; puffins roosted on it everywhere, and were flying in clouds over us with their stubby little bat-like wings.

Having had our fill of puffin viewing, we continued to round the east side of the island. Guillemots darted out from the towering cliffs, along with terns, gulls and additional bunches of puffins. The scenery was huge, accentuated by the occasional substantial swell rolling in. Little Coromandier Island loomed up ahead. Eventually we paddled through a narrow gut on the northeast corner of North island, helped by a wave or two. Over here we were on the lee side, relatively protected until we pulled out into the channel for the longish crossing back. An hour’s paddle via two conveniently placed islets returned us to Tortoise Hill on the main island of Newfoundland. Around this time, what had been somewhat rough waters on the outside and in Fischot Channel, transitioned to calm. We could see the whole island chain from a distance, fog tendrils threading through it, one of them lit up blue by a towering berg. Occasional crashes and booms came from that direction.

Hare Bay

The remainder of our long paddle including a lunch stop in Starboard Cove took place in warmer waters, along the shore. My guess is that the water temperature here was in the 50s instead of the low 40s. Hare Bay is out of the way of the Labrador Current, and apparently it has a very different marine environment. Just before our lunch stop, we encountered Justin Boyd and his research passengers again on their boat and said hello, conferring with Justin on some details of where we might stop for the night.

We stopped on MacGray Island to satisfy our curiosity about it as a camping spot. It was terribly nice with a perfect beach and meadow—but it was also very exposed, as we had expected.


We decided to press on to a protected area Justin had told us about, inside a branch of the bay named Shoal Arm. To reach it, we entered a channel called American Tickle (so named because it was allegedly dug or dredged by US troops at some point, or so the local story goes). Whoever may have done what to this channel, it was moving with a very swift current and we shot into Shoal Arm, looking for a campsite along our right as we believed we’d been told to do. We didn’t find a good site, but we did observe a couple of caribou browsing Shoal Arm Island at close range. Eventually we decided we would work our way to the south end of Louisa Island where I had marked a tentative camping spot, and where some kind of distant structure was visible. The structure turned out to be a duck blind, and there was indeed a good campsite just near it on a gravel bar. To get to it, we had to cross some narrow shoals up-current; fortunately someone had engineered a crude channel through the shoals just wide and deep enough to make it. If we had just hung out and waited for the water to rise, it would have been easier, although less fun.

Our final night of camping was damp and rain-soaked. Jason put up his tarp for the only time on the trip we really needed it. The area was very wet and wild iris were growing nearby.


The mosquitoes were incredibly fierce at this site; I woke up in the middle of the night and could hear hundreds of them droning in the space just outside my inner tent. I knew the trip was almost over, and for the first time in over a week, I felt officially Ready To Sleep In A Real Bed.

Day 8: Louisa Island to Main Brook

The north wind and rain finally began on this morning. As we exited our sheltered site between the islands, small wind waves began to percolate in from Hare Bay and the air became noticeably cooler. It was only a 3 nm paddle to the town of Main Brook where our vehicles would be waiting, so we didn’t give these conditions much of a thought.


We paddled along the stretch of waterfront leading to Main Brook, on our way to Justin Boyd’s dock. A woman opened her front door, waved at us all, and said, “Hello!” in a friendly way. Perhaps our fame had preceded us, and we were now local kayaking celebrities. But people in Newfoundland are very noticeably warm, generous and kind, and I think this was another expression of that character. It is really a very striking contrast to the New England persona.

At Justin’s dock, Lorrie and Janet undertook a victory roll (the only capsizes of the trip, and intentional at that).


From here, there was a lengthy unpacking and changing episode, and finally a drive down the road to our next place of residence: Tuckamore Lodge. They had been able to fit us in a day early with a game of musical rooms.

We did expect the basic comforts of civilization, but Tuckamore Lodge turned out to be so much more than that. Perhaps a little of it was the contrast with our rough living of the previous week, but it seemed to all of us like a fantasy of a plush hunting lodge: a huge log building, enormous kitchen and common room with cathedral ceilings and taxidermy everywhere, a heated drying room (!), and a very friendly and attentive staff. We couldn’t possibly have asked for more. Warm and dry at last:


We were all so grateful to David for this piece of perfect planning. That afternoon we FaceTimed with David to catch up with him and to tell him how much we missed him on this trip. We all hope we’ll get to go to Newfoundland again with him.

Tourist Day 1: L’Anse Aux Meadows

The next day, we had what amounted to an extra day off the water so we drove north as far as possible to L’anse aux Meadows. This site lies at the northernmost tip of Newfoundland on the Strait of Belle Isle, facing Labrador. It is the only attested Pre-columbian Norse settlement in North America (not counting Greenland). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it includes ruins and several reconstructed earthen buildings from the settlement. The site lays claim to being the unique place where the European branch of Homo sapiens encountered the Asian/North American branch, each having crossed a different ocean to reach this point.

This place is very much worth visiting, even if (as was the case for us) it is windy, foggy and you can’t see more than a quarter mile. The museum and site are very informative and you really do get a sense of what it might have been like to be a Viking in this place 1,000 years ago. The  boardwalk trails through arctic bogs are also great.


My special treat this day was to work the bellows for an expert blacksmith who forged a nail from refined bog iron on the spot. (The iron ore was local to the site, although he explained that the  hardwood charcoal he used was not.) He gave me the nail as a gift, but only after abusing me because I did such a bad job with the bellows. I'll just say... it's trickier than it looks.

Tourist Day 2: The French Shore Interpretation Center

On our penultimate day in Newfoundland, we drove back to the town of Conche to visit the French Shore Interpretation Center, a unique local museum curated by Joan Simmons of Conche. For us, this was one of the highlights of the entire trip, including the paddling.

The Center has two main parts. One part is a conventional but very effective small museum, hosting a gallery of artifacts and explanatory posters presenting the history of the French Shore. The materials show the life of both the local people and the French through objects, text, maps and photographs. For us this helped us see the areas we had just visited through a different lens, understanding that today’s deserted French sites had hosted thriving seasonal fish factories only 150 years ago.

The other part of the Center is a very unusual one-of-a-kind object: the French Shore Tapestry (http://www.frenchshoretapestry.com/en/intro.asp). This 216-foot-long tapestry winds through an entire room of the center; it was created by French and Newfoundland artisans working together, and visually narrates both the history and surroundings of the area, beginning (why not?) with the creation of the world and continuing up to almost the present day. Joan was one of the half-dozen or so local women who helped create it. The artwork itself is powerful enough, but Joan’s compelling narration of every panel and every story turned it into a different kind of art, a hybrid of visual and verbal storytelling. We learned so very much from this experience about the place and the people we had been visiting. I will never be able to forget this.


Afterwards we visited the site of a post-WW II plane crash in Conche, an event that lives on in people's memories (as does the remains of the plane). Joan told us how she remembered the still-prominent furrows in the dirt in front of her school that had been made by the plane, and how the local fishermen were "always chopping at the plane" whenever they needed strips of metal to repair their boats.


That's all for this trip report. Newfoundland is magical. I think I'm correct when I say that we all hope to go back someday.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is a google photos album with the complete set of pix and videos from the trip in case folks want to enjoy.


and a recent video of the huge tabular iceberg that we visited breaking up:


Link to comment
Share on other sites

What a wonderful trip! 

First, let me say thank you for this report. I have badgered members of 2 prior trips (3 of whom were with you on this trip) for those reports, to no avail. It's so good to have some information about the area, for those who might want to follow. 

Yes Newfoundland is magical, the great undiscovered sea kayaking destination you can drive to. And yes, the people there have been warm and welcoming and helpful, in my experience. And also yes, the weather forecasts tend to be overly generic and not terribly helpful. But then, aren't most forecasts that way? Hats off to you, Joe, for an extraordinary level of pre-trip information-gathering. I tend to leave a lot to chance and adventure, but it's a lot less stressful to do it the way you did, invoking the knowledge of French fishermen!

I'm deeply envious of your iceberg encounters. I have wanted to see them on every trip up there, and the timing/location was just not right. At the age of 70, it's unlikely to happen any more, but I sure did enjoy seeing your photos. That blue!

I hope you all make it back up there again.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kate, thank you for the kind words! Your own reports set a high standard, and David and I read and reread them a number of times. 

I hope we will all (you included) make it back there. 70? Pshaw!

PS ice seems to be readily available next to the Northern Peninsula every spring. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...