6.30.2008

rocky harbour (gros morne)

[Sunday June 29]

We had a terrific day, made even better by great weather - sunny with some puffy white clouds, warm enough for a t-shirt and a light jacket, and no rain or fog. After breakfast we had a bit of running around to do a little laundry (ran out of short-sleeved shirts!), but timed everything perfectly for the boat tour of Western Brook Pond.

This is one of the main attractions of Gros Morne, and it requires some advanced planning. You need an advance reservation, but you can't purchase your ticket when you make the reservation (not sure why, possibly weather?), so you make two trips to the ticket office.

The ticket office is in a hotel in Rocky Harbour, and the entrance for the boat tour is about 30 minutes away. You park there and walk a three-kilometer trail to the boat dock. Part of the trail is boardwalked through bog. Later in July, there are three or four boats a day, but right now there's only one, and it was completely sold out. The parking lot was full and when we got to the dock, there was a large crowd waiting for the boat, the largest group of tourists we've seen on the whole trip.

The boat ride was spectacular. Western Brook Pond is an inland fjord, a large freshwater lake squeezed in by cliffs that were formed by glaciers. The mountains themselves are part of the Appalachian chain, which I find remarkable; I didn't know those mountains extended so far north.

As the boat travels farther inland, the water narrows and the rocky cliffs rise up on each side, slate-gray and rugged. Parts are sheer cliffs. The bottom of the cliffs are covered in trees, but the green thins out and the tops are bald rock. There are several waterfalls along the way, some two- or three-tiered as they cascade down the levels of rock. The lake - which was once part of the ocean - is full of oddities, like the water being so pure that it sustains very little life.

There's not much I can say about this, although it was one of the highlights of our trip to Newfoundland. We just sat there going "Oh wow" and taking dozens of photos.

Then we did the three-k walk back to the car, drove back to Rocky Harbour for some food and a little rest, then back to Norris (locals say "Norse") Point for our kayak trip. On the trail to the boat and back to the car, we saw a moose, bringing the count on the moose-o-meter up to five.

The kayak-tour office had stayed open for us, so it was quiet there, just the owners getting things ready and our young guide, Christine. She's a student in an adventure-tourism college program. (We later learned that Sue, one of the owners of this company, developed the program.) Because we had no kayaking experience, they put Allan and I in a double kayak, which is more stable.

It was a little awkward suiting up and getting situated, but once we got into the water, it felt fine. After 10 or 15 minutes, my arms were getting very tired; I was thinking, how am I going to do this for two hours? Then it clicked. I started paddling correctly, and it was suddenly easy.

Sue had told us that it's much easier and more efficient to push the paddle with your top hand, rather than pulling with your bottom hand. At the beginning, I must have been pulling, and my arms quickly fatigued. Once I started pushing, the whole thing flowed.

Unfortunately, a double kayak is steered by foot pedals by the person who sits in the back, and this wasn't so comfortable for Allan. His legs were getting cramped and the keeping pressure on the pedals was awkward. I never would have been able to do it, as my knees and hips would very quickly hurt. If we ever sea kayak again - which I hope we do - I think we'd be fine with our own single kayaks.

We paddled across a narrow portion of the bay, then followed the coastline. Our guide showed us huge jellyfishes - I held one, Allan declined - and other small, strange marine animals. She said several people have seen Minke whales while kayaking, but she never has, and I wasn't expecting to. She pointed out a spot where some bald eagles nest, so we were on the lookout for those.

It was so quiet, and beautiful, and I absolutely loved it.

"Bird! Bird!" That was all Allan could say. I only saw a gigantic wingspan and a flash of white head, and the eagle was gone. Christine and Allan saw it flying a second time, but I missed it.

We were on our way back when we spotted the eagle again (or possibly its mate, males and females look alike). It was sitting on the very top of some bare branches, at the very end of a tip of land jutting out above the bay. We had a perfect view of its distinctive profile, with its white head almost blending in to the cloudy sky behind it. Christine said, "Let's try to sneak up on it."

We paddled quietly, then stopped, paddled a bit closer, stopped, a little closer... Allan got the camera from the dry bag (strapped to the kayak) and took pictures while I paddled. The bird remained on its perch, completely still. We were very close, certainly the closest I've ever been to a bird like that, and my first really good view of a wild bald eagle.

We were all holding our breath, paddling once, then just watching, then one little paddle more. We were drifting almost right under its perch when it opened its magnificent wings and took off, directly above us. Its wingspan was as long as our paddles! We watched it fly away, gasping and laughing at the sight. It was truly awesome.

When we got back to the dock, we showed Christine and Bob, the other owner (Sue's husband), the pictures. Everyone was surprised the eagle let us get so close.

We were pretty beat after that! It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so we're extra glad we got our boat tour and kayaking in while the weather was good.

Pictures of Gros Morne are here.

Pictures of Western Brook Pond are here.

6 comments:

Scott M. said...

So cool.. isn't Kayaking great?

I'm *so* looking forward to the pictures...

Ferdzy said...

Man, I am green - pea green, spinach green - with envy. Do you know I've lived in Canada all my life, pretty much, and never really seen a moose? (I don't count a dead one in the back of someone's pick-up, or the one that was being skinned by the side of thr road.Not-the-same.)

Actually, Ihave been saying for years that I want to go to Newfoundland, but you are making it move way up the priority list.

L-girl said...

Scott, yes, kayaking is great! I don't know when we'll have another opportunity, since (as you know) we're not campers and don't take seriously outdoorsy trips. But now that I've done it, I will definitely keep my eyes open for chances to go again. I loved it.

Ferdzy, if my chatter about this trip helps you get to Newfoundland, I'd be very happy - and honoured!

I meant to say, Allan had a moose burger yesterday. The only reason I didn't eat one is because the place would only serve them well done, and I only like burgers rare (which means I eat about one a year).

Anyway, seeing moose burgers, moose stew and moose sandwiches on menus made me think about our wmtc conversations about eating locally. These moose are obviously eating their natural diets and living natural moose lives. A small amount of hunting helps keep their population sustainable and their herds strong.

People have told me this for years about deer in NY or NJ, but I never bought it. I thought, why kill a wild animal when so much farm-raised meat is available? Here in Nfld, I really see the advantages - especially since it's an island, so anything that doesn't grow or live here naturally has to travel a long distance to get here. An interesting revelation!

Scott M. said...

When you go out to visit Vancouver Island, I would recommend a kayak trip in the famous Claquot Sound off of Tofino. It's amazing, and you can go across and see the Big Trees, etc.

When you do next use a sea kayak, spending an extra couple of mintues adjusting your seat and pedals can make all the difference. You shouldn't feel the need to keep much pressure on the rudder pedals at all... your feet comfortably resting there should keep it perfectly in-line and only minor movements should be needed to have it swing one way or the other.

I usually have to adjust my pedals once or twice after I'm underway the first time I'm using a Kayak. It does take a bit of work.

Did you get any pictures taken of the two of you *in* the Kayak???

I WANT PICTURES! :)

Ferdzy said...

I'm quite in favour of sustainable hunting, including in places like NJ (and southern ON) where deer are a big, big pest due to lack of natural preditors. Didn't mean to imply that I don't approve of moose being hunted at certain times and places. I'd just like to see a live one for once!

L-girl said...

Oh yes, I knew what you meant. :)

I have always been opposed to hunting for "sport", because I find it difficult to conceive of sport where one creature has a gun and the other is running for its life. And of course the deer are pests because humans have destroyed most of their habitats and their predators.

Yet I know eating hunted deer or moose is better for the environment and for animals than eating factory-farmed cows. No doubt about that.

I wanted to try moose meat while I was here. I wish someone would let me eat a rare burger! Ah well, I can make myself one at home if I really want.