Western Brook Pond & Other Gros Morne Adventures

July 22, 2013
Posted on October 10, 2013

Some of the most impressive photos of Newfoundland feature Western Brook Pond, and pretty much everyone would say that it’s a must to check out, so today we were going on a boat tour there. But before that, we still had plenty of time to check out a few other spots.

Lobster Cove Lighthouse

One such spot was Norris Point. It is a small picturesque village on the north side of Bonne Bay, just opposite to Woody Point which we visited the day before. It is the nearest village to Rocky Harbour, less than 10km south. You don’t even need to go to the Viking Trail (hwy 430) to get from one to the other, there is a small quiet road that links them directly, Pond Road. It is called that way because of the Rocky Harbour Pond, a small scenic spot that we had to stop and explore.

Outskirts of Rocky Harbour

What really caught my attention right away was not the pond, but a tall abandoned water slide, which was part of an amusement park on the shores of the pond. The only things remaining from that park were the slide with its adjacent climbing tower, and a little shed that used to sell tickets and snacks. The area was overgrown with weeds and field flowers and looked very beautiful in the bright morning sun. We climbed the stairs to the top of the water slide and took some photos of the surrounding landscape. It was a very calm place, the peaceful waters of the pond being so different from the roaring ocean along the edges of the island.

When we got to Norris Point, we headed straight for the shore, which was rough and rocky. The water was a very clear blue-green and provided a great contrast to the backdrop of the mountains on the other side of the bay. Rocks a little further from the shore were covered in flowers, and we climbed up for some variety in the shots. Looking back, these field flowers are something that I will always associate with Newfoundland, a kind of softer side of this rugged island. They were always on the side of the road along the highway, peaking out of the crevices in the rocks, everywhere.

Pittman’s Towing gave me a call back letting me know that my oil is in the shop ready for pick up. I guess that takes care of plans for the evening ;). I dropped off a postcard at the Norris Point post office (wondering how long does it take for a piece of mail to make its way out of this tiny town), and headed towards the highway to check out some areas close to Western Brook Pond.

As we passed Rocky Harbour, we spotted our first moose. The moose on the other hand spotted us and Alex pointing his finger at it and quickly smelled trouble and began to make it back into the woods. It appears like every time we see one, it doesn’t come out of some thick bush or forest, but often through a clearing or passage big enough for a human to fit through. It makes sense, they are large animals. I suppose just like in the city you need to be extra cautious when approaching driveways and alleyways, up here you have to be alert near gravel passageways – it will not be a neighbourhood kid jumping out, it will be a moose!

Our next stop was at the site of S.S. Ethie shipwreck. The rusty boat parts were spread out across the shore and the history of that boat was posted at the entry. It was a fairly large ship when it was still sailing, but almost 100 years after the wreck, there was not much left of it. I once read that of all inorganic materials, metals are the easiest for nature to break down and reintegrate into the ecosystem, and it certainly seems that way from the looks of the remaining heavily rusted pieces. I don’t think any of this will last another 100 years, the merciless water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence will eat it up, little by little.

After that brief stop, we continue north. There are many coves along the shore, many with one or two fishing houses and no permanent settlements. They are quite photogenic, if only a bit repetitive. Many are propped by a huge number of lobster traps, adding that extra authenticity to the resulting photos. Yet their emptiness and a certain abandonment are somewhat depressing. The whole notion of this huge amount of land, with sparse small communities – it feels a little lonely in an odd sense. Wherever I travel, I try to imagine what it would be like to live there, and frankly, I don’t like what I come up with in my imagination. Of course, this is coming from a hardcore urbanite. I like that in Toronto there is food from 100 different cuisines within a 10 minute radius and that if I wanted to change careers tomorrow, I could be looking at 100 different realistic options. But I digress.

It was time to get to Western Brook Pond, as we’d still need to hike for about half an hour to the boat launch. We pulled over for photos a few times, as the flatlands near the road with the mountains further in the background are simply breathtaking. The lowlands by the road are actually marshes, and are sometimes dotted by small ponds, with geese in some of them. Here is another Newfoundland lesson: any random land-locked body of water is called a pond here (in Ontario we would have called it a lake). These ponds were a great contrast to the sharp rocky highlands further inland and we took some extra time enjoying them.

Canadian Geese in a small pond

The trail leading up to Western Brook Pond was flat and not challenging, but you better plan for some extra time to slow down and enjoy it. The terrain was quite unique. We passed through forests, marshes, bogs and areas of bare thick mud that looked like half melted dark chocolate. As you looked across the marshes the landscape seemed endless. Western Brook Pond was connected directly to the ocean and contained saltwater thousands of years ago, but when glaciers melted, the earth rebounded, leaving these marshes and a series of tiny creeks as the only connection from the pond to the sea.

The boat was quite crowded, and did not leave until about 10-15 minutes past its scheduled time. While waiting in the harbour, we saw a moose on the other side of the pond, drinking water. We were told that the water in the pond is so clean and contains so few impurities, it does not conduct electricity. It is some of the purest naturally occurring water in the world.

The tour was quite interesting, covering a lot of the history of the pond, its geology and exploration efforts. For example, the boats used for these tours were disassembled, carried through the same hiking trail that we took on the way in, and reassembled in a small boathouse in the harbour. This area is heavily protected from industrial development and there are no plans to build a full on road and allow motorized vehicles to travel to the pond.

One of the numerous waterfalls that feed this pond.

The far side of the pond.

Notice the tiny red spot near the rock / water boundary – it’s the other tour boat, to give you some scale of the surrounding fjord.

On the way back we took it slow through the hiking trail, taking more photos along the way in the golden afternoon sun. Once we got back to Rocky Harbour, we stopped by Pittman’s and bought the oil for my bike. The owner was kind enough to let us use his premisses to do the oil change. After that was done, we hung around chatting with him. He was born in Newfoundland, but at one point lived in Ontario for several years, operating a towing business in Brampton. He told us that competition between towing companies in Toronto area was so fierce at one point, they got very violent, to the point of murder. Who needs that when you can live in Newfoundland instead? Another eye opening story was about icebergs. Apparently they are not only very old, but also very cold. If a large iceberg came ashore near a town in spring, it would mean no summer that year, as it would not melt fast enough. When an iceberg is spotted near the shore, many people try to get to it and cleave a piece off for themselves. They use that ice to cool their drinks and apparently a few chips of iceberg ice will stay frozen in a glass all night long, you just keep re-filling the beverage. On a more practical note, he mentioned how a motorcyclist passing through Rocky Harbour got a flat tire once, and it was a major hassle to fix it, because there are no motorcycle mechanics in the area. All the guys in this shop only deal with cars and wouldn’t even know how to take the wheel off! Moral of the story: you better know how to fix your own bike when you come here. But as long as you know how, the locals would be happy to help out if they only can.

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