Gros Morne national park is a paradise for hikers and lovers of the great outdoors. Stephen Glennon finds out more about this relatively undiscovered gem
With my eyes closed, I could easily have been back home in Ireland. The boat chugs along through a brisk wind, and a sailor with a guitar and an Irish-ish accent belts out a folk song, imploring his onlookers to join in.
Eyes open, however, and it’s clear I’m far from home. Here in Newfoundland, the landscape is so breathtaking it couldn’t possibly be our fair British Isles. I’m on a boat tour of Western Brook Pond, a freshwater fjord in Gros Morne national park, where sheer cliffs rise up 650 metres (2,100 feet) from some of the cleanest, purest water in the world.
The £40 tour with BonTours (sold via Frontier Canada) mixes explanations about how the fjord was formed with plenty of silly fun – the born-and-bred “Newfie” guides point out the many strange, face-like formations on the cliffs, while the impressive 350m-high Pissing Mare Falls is guaranteed to raise both giggles and impressed “oohs” and “aahs” from passengers.
Government of Canada agency Parks Canada estimates there were approximately 7,900 visitors from the UK to Gros Morne in 2018, making up just over 2% of all visitors. The region remains
relatively unexplored by UK visitors despite its attractions. Parks Canada’s Gregory Knott says: “Gros Morne national park is spectacular year-round with its massive cliffs surrounding fjords and lakes, rocky coastline and stunning views.”
There are walks available for hikers of all abilities. Gros Morne peak itself is a tough six- to eight-hour hike through forest (remind clients to bring bug spray), then loose and very steep scree leading to a rocky plateau. The stunning views of Ten Mile Pond are worth the effort, though.
Visiting the southern half of the park from Rocky Harbour involves a one-hour drive around Bonne Bay, but the route is an attraction in its own right via forests and valleys and the sparkling waters of the bay. Attention is always required though: I spotted a bear cub by the road, and there are frequent warnings to watch out for moose.
On the south side of the bay, the forested 5km Lookout Hills trail offers unbeatable views, while
the easy Tablelands walk, just a five-minute drive down the road, is like walking on a different planet. Here, the landscape is barren and rocky, and imaginative visitors will have no problem
pretending they’re on the surface of Mars.
When it comes to night-time activities, Gros Morne doesn’t disappoint. Outside the small towns, the skies are utterly free from light pollution and the silence and stars are positively life-affirming. As indeed is the friendliness of the locals, who are always up for making visitors
honorary Newfies in their madcap “screeching-in” ceremonies. It’s fun, but it does involve kissing a fish and downing a shot of rather caustic Newfoundland rum called screech!
There are plenty of restaurants and diners serving outstanding local cod and lobster, with Earle’s in Rocky Harbour a highlight. Moose burgers are also an excellent local treat.
After five days in Gros Morne, enjoying great chats with complete strangers and outstanding meals, and feeling simultaneously exhausted, exhilarated and relaxed from all the wonderful hikes and views, I felt none of my usual end-of trip restlessness to get back to familiar territory.
Even the Newfie accent and delightful sayings made me feel right at home. I suppose I’ll have to “drop round over by and by”, as the locals say.
Book it: Frontier Canada offers a seven-night hiking package with local guides, including return transfers from Deer Lake airport to Norris Point and all meals during hike days. Prices (excluding flights) start from £2,065pp based on two sharing and are commissionable at 10%.
Getting there: Air Canada flies from Heathrow to Deer Lake or St John’s via Toronto.
When to visit: Daytime temperatures range between 16°C and 25°C in July and August.
Where to stay: The Fisherman’s Landing Inn in Rocky Harbour is a short drive from
the park. Rooms rates start from £100pn.
Time difference: GMT -3.5 hours.
Visas: UK visitors need to apply for an electronic travel authorisation (eTA) before travelling, costing around £4.