There’s really nothing that thrills me more than exploring “new found land.” I got that wanderlust gene from my Mom and especially my (late) Dad, both who enjoyed exploratory travel as much as I do. We were never “sit and stay” vacationers, but rather constantly on the move, always eager to explore new territory. So to have a ferry crossing to an island of 42,000 square miles to explore is a thrill beyond compare.
At every jumping off point, I keep stocking up like the end of time is near, and North Sydney, Nova Scotia is no exception. I spend my last evening in Nova Scotia with stops at Walmart, the grocery store, the liquor store (can’t buy beer or wine in the previous two,) and fueling up. An overnight at the Arm of Gold RV Park, just six minutes from the ferry proves to be the perfect “staging” spot, as I fill water, dump tanks, do laundry, and enjoy a steamy hot shower before setting the Winnie off for Newfoundland!
I’ll be crossing the Gulf of St Lawrence on the “MV Blue Puttees,” named for the Newfoundland regiment soldiers that represented Newfoundland in WWI. Part of Marine Atlantic ferry fleet, she is 654ft long, 88 ft across, and can hold up to 1,000 passengers housed in 96 cabins, 500 “airline-style” reclining seats, and bar and restaurant. She can ferry 426 cars, 177 drop trailers, or 90 tractor trailers.
Ferry cost is just one of the many reasons for my decision to leave the Tracker behind. Just this leg alone would have cost me another $115. I was told they would even measure the hitch, so I removed everything from the Winnie’s back end. With no hitch, I am 24 ft exactly, which costs $220 CAD ($169 US) for the “cheap seats” (no cabin or reserved seat.) I know from being measured end to end for the PNW ferries that I am 42ft with the Tracker in tow. This would have increased my ferry cost by $115. And this is not the most expensive ferry crossing I will encounter.
The crossing to Port aux Basque, Newfoundland is six hours. Some might wince at that notion, but for me, it’s a treat. Rarely do I ever get to relax while I am riding. It’s the main reason why I love the Mexican bus so much! With only one set of eyes, I must do all the navigating, driving, watching for road signs, obstacles in the road, cars on my bumper, etc. etc. So to be held captive in a nice comfy recliner for six hours while watching the ocean roll by outside my window is a little bit of heaven.
There’s plenty to do on the ferry. They offer movies, coffee shops, a computer station, gift shop, restaurants, and a bar. The ferry is not crowded, so I find a pair of recliners on the two-seat side next to a window. Not knowing what the food selection is like on board, I’ve packed a picnic lunch and brought along my laptop to edit some photos. I also brought along a book. (Once the ferry is underway, it’s not possible to return to the vehicles, so pack a bag with everything you think you’ll need!) But I am shocked to find I have a cell signal most of the way! So the six hours passes in the blink of an eye.
But half an hour before docking, I get a big knot in my stomach. I suddenly feel very far from everything and every body that is familiar. It doesn’t help that it’s a bleak gray day outside. I remind myself I can turn around tomorrow if I want to. 😉
The first stop out of the ferry is the big, beautiful Newfoundland Visitor Information Center. I expect it to be crowded, but I am among the first to drive off the ferry, so there’s only one other car in the parking lot. I decide to stop and let the “parade” behind me clear, while I inquire about Newfoundland information. I have a list…
Friends who’ve gone before me tell me to be sure and ask for a list of propane sources available on the island. And I want to ask for most scenic hiking trails. But I also want to confess to the woman on the other side of the counter that “My name is Suzanne…and I am a lighthouse nut.” She responds, “Well, then, you won’t want to miss our beauty on the Southern shore!”
She tells me the Rose Blanche Lighthouse, located along the “granite coast,” is one of the few granite lighthouses still in existence. It will take me 60 miles out of my way to visit the lighthouse. My intent was to head north as quickly as possible to see the icebergs, but I’ve never seen a lighthouse made from granite before. I’ll overnight in the J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park, and head out first thing the next morning.
J.T. Cheeseman is my first provincial park (equivalent to our state parks,) and there is a $7 CAD nightly provincial park fee. I opt for the pass, which is $50CAD ($39US) on the bet that I will stay more than 7 nights in a provincial park.
All night, I hear two distinct sounds…one of rushing of water, and the other, a fog horn. The next morning, I awake to pea soup fog. I set off for an early morning walk to search out the source of these two soundtracks that soothed me into slumber.
Newfoundland is nicknamed “The Rock,” so I never expected it to have patches of heavy forest. In my mind, it would all be barren. But the J.T. Cheeseman Provincial Park is located in a thicket of spruce and fir trees. I find the rushing sound out my window is a beautiful waterfall just behind my campsite, #14. (Site #15 offers even closer proximity.) On my morning walk, I follow the sounds of the fog horn which leads me down a gravel road to a beautiful beach. Again, not something I expected to find on the rocky shores of Newfoundland.
The 30 mile drive along the Granite Coast is just gorgeous. Too bad I can barely make out the rocky coastline, marshy ponds, and rolling green hills due to fog. The further I go, the worse it is. I consider turning around several times, but how frustrating to come all this way with no lighthouse payoff at the end! I stop to ask advice from some construction workers along the road. “I came to see the lighthouse, but I can’t even see the road! Do you think I’ll be able to see it?” He replies, “Oh, you’ll see it, all right my Precious. As long as you are adventurous enough to make it out there!” What kind of answer is that?? And what’s with the “Precious?” This is the second Newfoundlander to call me that. Of course, coming from the manly men in Newfoundland, I don’t mind!
I finally park the Winnie at a picnic spot along the road and walk the rest of the way, as I fear I won’t be able to see to turn around. It’s not until I am almost there that the outline of my first granite lighthouse takes shape, and she’s a beauty! Built in 1871, she was designed by D & T Stevenson, lighthouse engineers from Edinburgh, Scotland, named after the father and uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson. She operated until the 1940’s when she fell into disrepair. By the 1990’s, nothing remained but the tower, still structurally sound because of the spiral stairs inside. The lighthouse was restored in 1999, using 70% of the original granite.
The lovely little Rose Blanche lighthouse is filled with antiques, staffed with friendly volunteers, and even has coffee and fresh made tea cakes for sale….still guiding modern-day wayward travelers, lost in the fog…
“For love of lovely words, and for the sake
Of those, my kinsmen and my countrymen,
Who early and late in the windy ocean toiled
To plant a star for seamen, where was then
The surfy haunt of seals and cormorants;
I, on the lintel of this cot, inscribe
The name of a strong tower.”
~ Robert Louis Stevenson