Newfoundland, Gros Morne, August 6-7, 2008

18 01 2010

Step Enjoys the Bog of Western Brook Pond

Gros Morne is a humungous national park and Unesco world heritage site that takes up a large chunk of west Newfoundland. It is breathtakingly beautiful and mostly trees and bogs and ocean and mountains, but it also has a few fishing communities in it. The park is kind of divided into north and south areas by the giant inlet called Bonnie Bay which almost cuts the park in two. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the southern area of the park, which features extensive tablelands; the Earth’s mantle pushed up during some ancient earthquake and an area on which very little grows. It’s a northern Atlantic dessert! So our first stop was the Gros Morne Discovery Centre, where we got maps and advice. Step also picked up a souvenir road sign which showed a car being crunched by a moose. (Moose are not indigenous to Newfoundland and had been introduced about 100 years ago. Moose are to Newfoundland what rabbits are to Australia—they have no natural predators there and now there are about 150,000 of them roaming around, and about 8000 are eating the park and being road nuisances. I think someone claimed around Gros Morne the moose population is 4 per square kilometre. That seems an impossible density, but it’s true there was often one within eyesight, so it could be accurate.)

After the Discovery Centre it started to look like dusk was approaching so we had to figure out where to camp. There are 4 provincial campsites and numerous private ones in Gros Morne, and we ended up driving around Shallow Bay (which we deemed too crowded) before doubling back a bit to Berry Hill. I wanted to watch the sunset but we got there too late, and Berry Hill was so densely treed we couldn’t have seen anything, anyway.

We had to get up early (for us) the next morning because we had a date with a boat tour of Western Brook Pond in the afternoon, and there were a few things we wanted to do on the way.

A Marina at Rocky Harbour

The largest fishing village—which actually isn’t all that large—is Rocky Harbour, and we stopped there first for a gawk and phone calls and provisions, but not much else. It was picturesque but a little too touristy for us. Aside from the marina, the town is mainly hotels and resorts, with an few bars featuring the obligatory Celtic bands. We went to another fishing town, Sally’s Cove, which was a lot nicer to hang around in. Sally’s Cove isn’t officially part of Gros Morne—it’s in a wee chunk carved away with Gros Morne on 3 sides and ocean on the other, and it’s a genuine little fishing village, full of lobster traps and rooms. I guess they are used to park visitors because they had some welcoming picnic tables and mown areas of grass where we put a blanket down and had a picnic lunch. It was deliciously lazy to lay on the grass in the sun with a person you love, but we had paid plenty for our boat tour tickets and we wanted to see Western Brook Pond so we soon had to leave.

Sally's Cove

The Vast Bog Approaching Western Brook Pond

As I’ve mentioned, Newfoundland has the charming practice of calling even the largest of lakes a pond, and a more majestic pond than Western Brook I doubt you’d be able to find. Formed during the ice age, glaciers had slowly slid down to the sea, forming the pond and the vast bog that separates it from the ocean. It would have actually been a fjord but once the weight of the ice was gone the area that is now the bog had sprung back up, separating the pond from the sea. To get to the boat tour we had to park and then walk about 3 kilometres through the bog to the boat. You’re not supposed to leave the path and parts of it are built up with boardwalks. There are all sorts of tuckamore trees and berries and flowers and often you could see moose in the distance. I took quite a few pictures of the bog but none of them do justice to the 3 dimensional extensiveness of it all, but I will share them with you anyway and hope you have the imagination to fill out the space yourself.

Boarding BonTours

I have no idea how they obtained the franchise, but BonTours are the only development on the entire pond, and no other boats travel on the water. The only building is the concession stand and bathrooms for the tours, and the only other manmade structure is the single boat launch for the tours 2 boats. The water of the pond is absolutely pristine; weirdly, so pristine that hardly anything can live in the pond. There are very few fish because there is hardly any algae or plants. The water also replenishes very, very slowly….hardly any flows in or any flows out. And the water has a weird ionic charge—the toilets of the bathrooms didn’t work for a long time, the tour guide told us, because the ionic charge of the water affected the pumps and it took them a while to figure out what the problem was.

The Majesty of Western Brook Pond. (the white dot is the other boat)

Robin in Wonderment

The 2 tour boats were filled to capacity and the tour took about 2 hours. All there is to see is water, trees, and mountainsides, but it didn’t get boring—it’s a wonder of nature! Even the Celtic music playing from the boat speakers failed to annoy. The tour guide every now and then would tell us a little story of the time part of the mountain fell into the pond, and point out various formations that looked like faces or animals and stuff. That sort of thing is always lost on me—I can never see how the mountain looks like a lion or a sleeping giant or whatever—but I enjoyed the feeling of being up close in towering, rugged, stoney nature, in a lazy way that doesn’t involve having to hike up a mountainside or anything.

A Tuckamore Tree

The walk back across the bog was just as nice and when we got back on the road we saw a bunch of people stopped to look at a family of moose and so we stopped and looked, too, but then we got tired of that and left pretty much before anyone else did, only to drive around a corner and narrowly miss another moose that had decided to cross the road in front of us. Probably native Gros Morners get tired of Moose sighting induced traffic jams the same way Alaskan truckers tire of tourists stopping traffic on the road in order to look at mountain sheep.

On our way towards leaving the park we stopped in another largish-for-Gros Morne community called Cow Head, and ate at the only little café/gift shop where we were presented with the worst and sloppiest fish burgers it has ever been my misfortune to encounter, which, as well as being a culinary disappointment was also a surprise, because, as I have mentioned, the seafood we had been served since entering eastern Canada was consistantly the best I’ve ever had.

The Not So Wild Mooses of Gros Morne




One response

18 01 2010

Isn’t WBP absolutely wonderful ?
Let me guess, one of the tunes playing on the boat was “Saltwater Joys” by Buddy Whatsisname and the Other Fellas… yes ?
I always remember the roadsign as having a “surprised” looking moose on it. Maybe they’ve got some “attitude” now.
It’s good to read of other people’s experiences of “The Rock”, so will be following your story with interest.

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