NORRIS POINT, NFLD. – My previous exposure to the unique beauty of Newfoundland has been limited to the northeastern shoreline and south to St. John’s – unforgettable vistas, icebergs floating majestically off the shore, clusters of Atlantic Puffins and, of course, the unparalleled charm and hospitality of Newfoundlanders.
These memories made me keen for a return visit, so the response was quick when Chevrolet invited me to join them on "the Rock" for the debut of their all-new Silverado pickups. Better yet, the drive was taking place on the west coast, primarily within Gros Morne National Park.
I was somewhat surprised to discover there is direct air service from Toronto to this region of the province. WestJet flies to Deer Lake regularly. In fact, the WestJet flight continues from Toronto to Calgary, providing service for numerous residents of western Newfoundland who work in Alberta’s oil sands projects.
Air Canada also flies into Deer Lake, though its flights originate in Halifax. Interestingly, Deer Lake is the fourth busiest airport in the Maritimes.
Deer lake to Trout River
The first leg of our two-day journey was a leisurely 75-minute drive from Deer Lake to the coastal fishing village of Trout River. The route to the village, Highway 431, angles west just past the park entrance and carves its way through some spectacular scenery that offers glimpses of snow-capped peaks in the distance.
At one point, the road follows along the South Arm of Bonne Bay and the views of rocky, tree-covered hills rising above the deep blue water and shoreline communities such as Glenburnie, Birchy Head and Shoal Brook are amazing.
Just before rolling into Woody Point, the highway takes a sharp, uphill swing left and as you climb the steep incline, you find the Gros Morne Discovery Centre on the right, overlooking the valley.
The facility is an ideal place to get acquainted with the park. Its interactive displays, films and helpful staff will bring you up to speed on the geology, ecology and history of the park, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
The rocks in the area provide some of the world’s best examples of plate tectonics, considered one of the most important ideas in modern science. The geological features reflect the major stages of Earth’s history, revealing layers of time dating back 600 million years when Gros Morne was part of an ancient ocean.
Geologists say the rocks from the ocean floor were later thrust up, becoming part of the Appalachian Mountains as two continents collided.
As you head west along Hwy. 431, the landscape takes a dramatic turn. Instead of rock and trees, the view becomes more like a barren moonscape. The area is called the Tablelands and the orange-brown rock is actually the ancient ocean floor upturned, with the deepest layers of Earth’s mantle exposed.
The road winds through a valley known as Trout River Gulch and the peaks on either side form a funnel for winds blowing in from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While the winds on the day of our drive were otherwise calm, in the Gulch they were strong enough to buffet our big Chevy Crew Cab significantly.
The highway terminates in Trout River, a village that spills around a beautiful coastal cove as and on high rock plateaus above the shoreline. The fishing village was settled in 1815 by George Crocker and his family, who were its only inhabitants until 1880. Today, about 700 people live there.
The history of the community’s links with the sea is maintained in a trio of heritage buildings – Jake Crocker House, Fishermen’s Museum and the Interpretation Centre, where we were treated to snacks of homemade fruit tarts and a local delicacy, cod tongues. (I loved the tarts but took a pass on the tongues.)
The buildings are linked by a lovely boardwalk along the shoreline. If you’re driving along the main street, watch for the numerous clothes-lines displaying colourful, hand-knitted socks for sale – certainly a unique souvenir.
Trout River to Norris Point
Our main destination on this drive was another fishing community, Norris Point. It’s located just across Bonne Bay, but to get there, one either takes a water taxi from Woody Point or backtracks on Hwy. 431 back through the Tablelands to Wiltondale and then north on Hwy. 430, which is known locally as the Viking Trail.
This route also hugs a shoreline, but this time it’s the East Arm of Bonne Bay, with peaks soaring up alongside. It’s a different landscape again, but equally breathtaking.
As you turn off the highway toward Norris Point, notice the Gros Morne Visitors Centre. It’s an excellent resource for information about lodging and attractions in the park, as well as other areas farther north along the Viking Trail.
Like other communities we passed through along the way, Norris Point seems to sprawl over a large area around the northern shore of Bonne Bay. Surrounded by tree-covered peaks, the town has classic charm, as well as modern amenities.
There’s a hospital, pharmacy, shops, restaurants and numerous attractions that help make it a popular destination for tourists. There are also several hiking trails winding through the town, as well as paths that take you up into the uninhabited mountains that surround the town.
The James W. Humber Hiking Trail is located at the Norris Point look-out, where you can park your vehicle and take in the breathtaking view of the town, with the Tablelands in the background.
On the town dock, you’ll find the Bonne Bay Marine Station, operated by Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Gros Morne Co-operating Association. This modern facility is equipped with teaching and research laboratories, a library/resource centre, multimedia theatre, aquarium and residence. Students and researchers use the centre’s first-rate resources to study the marine ecosystem.
Other local attractions include the Jenniex House, an old salt box house that overlooks the bay – it’s a photographer’s delight. It was built across the bay in Neddies Harbour in 1926 and moved over the ice to Norris Point in 1938. It was donated to the Norris Point Heritage Committee in 1995 and moved again to the lookout. It houses local artifacts as well as a craft store with handmade crafts.
The Julia Ann Walsh Heritage Centre served as the town’s cottage hospital for 60 years, but now houses the local library, a physiotherapy clinic, a hostel and studio space, as well as a small museum displaying artifacts from the provincial cottage hospital era.
There are several lodging facilities in Norris Point – our overnight stay was in the Neddies Harbour Inn. The inn was formerly a retirement home, but has been converted by new owners (a Swiss couple that visited the town and loved it so much they never left) into a first-rate hotel. The rooms were spacious, bright and nicely appointed – on one of the cleanest hotels I’ve ever visited.
Of course, the highlight of any trip to the Rock is the people. So friendly, so accommodating, they make a visitor feel like family. For example, breakfast for our group before returning to Deer Lake and flights home was served not in a restaurant, but, at the town’s insistence, in the community hall. Homemade goodies, with eggs, sausage and bacon, plus bottomless cups of coffee, all prepared and served by local folk, ensured we left their town with full tummies – and wonderful memories.
I can’t wait for a return visit.