Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Gros Morne Diaries, part one

I cannot recommend Gros Morne Park as a vacation destination enough -- it was breathtakingly beautiful in an inexpressible, aching way. The park has well earned its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site -- on many of the hikes, you pass through every imaginable landscape in a matter of a few hours, from marsh and bogs to alpine scrub brush to sweltering rain-forest-like forests to tablelands to fjords (yes, fjords!).

A few things I would recommend to prospective travelers, however:

(1) Ideally, you should take at least a week -- and at that, you're barely scratching the surface. Kristen and I were there for all of three days, and I barely feel as though I saw the place.
(2) Accomodation-wise, you're best off camping or renting a cottage or cabin (very reasonable) rather than staying in a hotel. It's not that the hotels and motels are bad -- on the contrary, they're quite good, and not expensive for the most part -- but rather, you want to be in a position where you can cook your own food. The one low point of our time there was that the food is quite dreadful ... it's not for nothing that our guide books recommends the restaurant at the Sugar Hill Inn because "there is not a single fried object on the menu." Eating out, your choices are limited, to say the least. If you camp or rent a cabin, you can cook for yourself ... which by our last night there was something we thought of as vertitably utopian (though our final night did end up providing an extraordinary, fresh seafood dinner -- but more on that later).
(3) If you're going to hike Gros Morne Mountain, save it for one of your last days -- or plan on not hiking the following day. This suggestion is being offered by my calves, knees and back.
(4) The picture below here is the one everyone is probably familiar with, as it's one of the keynotes of advertising for tourism in Newfoundland:

If you're hoping to be the guy in this picture, hoping to find this particular spot, sign up now for orienteering courses. We heard more than one person asking guides what hiking trail led you to this spot, only to be told "Ah no, b'ye ... that spot's on the four-day back woods traverse." So if you're good with a compass and like back-country hiking, you can stand on that rock. Otherwise, you'll have to content yourself with some of the landscapes I'll be showing over the next few days ...

Though magnificent vistas are not hard to come by in Gros Morne -- indeed, try finding a place to look that isn't postcard-perfect.

We drove from Port-aux-Basques last Friday, arriving at the Park outskirts around one in the afternoon. Now: it's important to know that we hadn't been particularly diligent in planning our time between the ferry and St. John's -- we had a vague idea that we would sort of wander back and take in the sights on the way. The more we read the guide book however, the more were realized Gros Morne was where we wanted to devote a decent chunk of time.

It was, I think, on the drive from Edmundston to Fredericton that Kristen, reading the guidebook, suddenly said "Uh oh." The book, you see, recommended booking accomodations in Gros Morne "well in advance," as the park was at its busiest in late July-early August. Oops.

(Hear that sound? That's my mother's sigh of disgust that we were not better prepared).

At any rate, we logged on to the internet at our hotel in Frederiction, and tracked down a slew of possibilities. As it turns out, we were able to get a room for three nights in Rocky Harbour at The Gros Morne Motel ... an establishment that primarily rents out discrete cabins, but has recently expanded its operation to include a set of motel rooms as well. So glory hallelujah, we booked ourselves in and were thus set for our stay in Gros Morne.

Problem was ... we arrived at the visitor's kiosk on the park border to get a map and buy our passes, and were told by the puzzled girl working there that the "Gros Morne Motel" did not, as far as she knew, exist ... in Rocky Harbour or anywhere else in Gros Morne, for that matter.

Perturbed but assuming that there was simply a mistake, we pressed on, trying not to think of the fact that we had given Kristen's credit card number to a possibly fly-by-night operation. When we arrived in Rocky Harbour however, we could find nothing by the name of "The Gros Morne Motel." Hmm. We drove the length and breadth of the place, even though when I'd asked the person at the spectral motel for directions, she'd said "Oh, you can't miss us -- right on Main St."

The closest thing we could figure was that one place we passed -- the "Bayside Cottages and Motel" -- might be our quarry ... if for no other reason than that they were the only place that advertised a motel part of their operation. We'd grabbed a handful of fliers at an information stop on our way into town, so as I drove Kristen called Bayside on my cell, asking if there was a reservation there for us. Apparently not.

I did however remember finding the place on the internet, so we stopped at one of the posher places -- the Oceanview -- to beg a few minutes on a computer. I was thirty seconds into the description of our plight when the girl at the desk shook her head and informed me that it was the Bayside that we'd booked with ... their recent expansion into the motel biz went under the different name, but they hadn't yet seen fit to put that on their sign (or inform anyone working for the park, apparently). When Kristen had called, the woman answering had only checked the reservations for cottages.

So, problem solved. When we checked in however, the woman seemed utterly unconcerned that there had been this confusion -- in fact, at first more or less accusing the girl working at the kiosk of lying. Not, um, the sharpest business acumen at this particular establishment, I think.

All of this took the better part of the afternoon, which didn't leave a large amount of time for exploring ... but we managed a short hike, and then wandered down to the Lobster Cove Head lighthouse.

Rocky Harbour, its lack of good eateries notwithstanding, is quite charming. Just down the road? The "groceteria."

And there is an establishment in town as well called The Fisherman's Landing, which operates an inn, a restaurant, a confectionary, crafts emporium and liquor store. Kristen bought a long-sleeved shirt and I a hat to further equip ourselves for our hikes, and this was the bag they were put in.

Every time I look at this, I get the giggles ... imagining a division of determined fisherman replete with sou'westers pouring off landing crafts at Normandy. But then, that's just symptomatic of my twisted mind, I suppose.

More soon! In the meantime, I still want interpretations of the sign I posted at the end of my last post -- Matt and Jer, very funny. I laughed out loud. And Anonymous -- yes, you're correct, it is a muster station. But the point of the exercise was not accuracy but humour ...


Lesley said...

Man, those pictures make me want to pack my tent, my bags and get the heck out there for a hike!!! Oh wait, no one knows how much I hate camping...guess I should qualify that so you know just how much I want to walk through Gros Morne!!! Tell me you watched the sun rise like they say in the commercials and make me really jealous!! Photos are great, can't wait to see more!

Erin said...

That sounds amazing... I've always wanted to see Newfoundland and I will add Gros Morne to the list of sights. Do you think they were award winning fjords??

colette said...

Chris, while I mostly agree with you about the restaurants, I hope you did try Fisherman's Landing. That place provided me with one of the best seafood dinners I've ever had. The fish is fresh--it comes from the fish plant across the road. Pan-fried to perfection. I've been back several times and haven't been disappointed. (And my tastes run to either restaurants like Basho's and Blue on Water or honest-to-goodness family-run places like Velma's.)

The Groceteria has a surprisingly good wine selection too, all things considering.

(BTW, is Jerry Varsava still teaching at MUN?)

rich sheinaus said...

I love this site! We just returned from a four-day stay at gros morne and found it an almost life-changing experience...alright so I exaggerate slightly...the tablelands are not to be missed, and we found great food in the nearby towns of Cow Head and Trout River.
also, a tip: the Port au Port peninsula (which is about halfway up from the Port au Basque ferry)is pretty phenomenally beautiful as well and has much better French-influenced food.The best scallops I have ever tasted...

viagra online said...

Indeed it is a magical place, the landscapes are just one of the many great things about the place, it really is a place that take away the stress of the daily routine of the work.