Hiking Newfoundland’s Viking Trail

It’s warmer as we drive south toward Gros Morne. The route winds through spectacular countryside  – the forests and barrens of the north, with vegetable gardens planted in the ditches, which are fertile and accessible, giving way to the rugged coastline near Port aux Choix.

We stop for a visit with folk artist Ben Ploughman, who creates one-of-a-kind 3-D wooden pictures “to tell a story.” His background in petroleum geology is evident in the large depiction of an offshore rig just inside the door of his studio.

He is a charming, affable man whose whimsical sense of humor comes through in his work. His Twelve Angry Fishermen, for example, portrays a row of 12 men in rain-weather gear peeing into the ocean, their comment on the cod fishery moratorium.

A two-hour drive from Port aux Choix, in the heart of Gros Morne, is the town of Rocky Harbour, a lively little place with easy access to all areas of the park as well as convenience to accommodations, food and drink.

We stayed at the Gros Morne cabins, simple and clean, overlooking the sea and a short walk from downtown cafes and restaurants.  The best of these is Java Jack’s Café and Art Gallery where there isreal coffee (latte, cappuccino, espresso) and baked goods for breakfast, a great gift shop and art gallery and an excellent restaurant with big-city style menu.

The following day we head for Western Brooke Pond, which is actually a fjord (Newfoundlanders have called many a body of water a pond – or a brook or a bight or a tickle). It’s a three-kilometer (1.9 mile) walk to reach the dock from which boat cruises embark, part of it on a boardwalk over marshland, part on the forest floor.

This ‘pond’ is like none you’ll ever see outside Norway – massive billion-year-old cliffs plunge into the waters of the fjord, waterfalls cascade down the cliffs from ponds atop the plateau, holding passengers spellbound as the small boat sails the narrow passage.

The next day we explore the southern area of Gros Morne, out to Woody Point and Trout River. Once again we find the splendor of the park in the Tablelands of the interior and coastal waters of the peninsula.

The artistry and accompanying challenges of nature here – and elsewhere on this island known as The Rock – have inspired many an artist: painters, carvers, weavers, knitters, potters, photographers, writers, musicians. Almost every town and village has a studio and/or shops that display the talent of those such as Ben Ploughman, and Joan and Charlie Payne who own The Hunky Dory in Woody Point.

Charlie Payne is third-generation Woody Point and his wife, Joan, is from Norris Point across the bay. “I sleep in the room my father slept in and my father slept in the room his father slept in,” says Payne. “My family came from England in the 1800s,” he says. “We’re pretty well settled here.”

Charlie Payne works in wood, and is a musician, and Joan works in wood and fabric. They run the shop in the summer  and do their art in the winter when it’s very quiet in Woody Point.

The town, 72 kilometers (45 miles) from Rocky Harbour, is a lovely place to stop for lunch, poke about the shops and spend time admiring the clapboard “salt box” homes that are the traditional style here in Newfoundland.

The Old Loft restaurant overlooking Bonne Bay is the perfect place for lunch. It is a restored fishing loft with rustic, wooden furniture, friendly people and fresh, fresh, fresh fish and seafood.

Just outside the town is the impressive Discovery Centre housing a museum where visitors can learn about the forces of nature that have shaped the land and an excellent art gallery where local artists exhibit their work.

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