Labrador/Newfoundland! Drive there

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to get away to somewhere new? But you just couldn’t get there for lack of transportation, money or time?

labrador map

It’s Newfoundland/Labrador. Drive through Vermont and keep going until the roads stop. This loop is about 3,600 miles.

We’ve all seen the interesting places in magazines like National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler or Lonely Planet. Beautiful. Peaceful. Exciting. You want—no, NEED– to go there. But some featured destinations are as easy to reach as Mars or cost more than your daughter’s first year in college.

Here’s a welcome alternative—Labrador/Newfoundland.

While it’s ‘only’ in nearby Canada, there’s plenty of quiet, peaceful places here. Or excitement, if you prefer. It’s fairly close (you can drive there),  generally not much more expensive than here in the U.S. And it’s not been plastered all over tourist magazines.

Relatively few Americans probably know where Newfoundland is, and even fewer about Labrador. Here’s a quick synopsis about Canada’s far northeast province—

Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. Officially, the area became Newfoundland and Labrador (NFLD) in 2001.bad road sign

dusty dirt road

The roads are long, isolated and sometimes dirt. When they finally reach town, drivers are greeted with “We survived Route 389” T-shirts.

Newfoundland is an island accessed by ferry or plane, while Labrador shares southern and western borders with Quebec.

They are separated by a nine-mile ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle.

Newfoundland is a bit smaller than Pennsylvania but a population just a little larger than York County.  Labrador is the size of California, but its population is 30,000—less than York City.

Labrador City, the closest Labrador town to York, is 1,200 miles away, equal to a drive to Wichita, Kansas. But really, who wants to drive to Kansas? The drive to Labrador City and then through Happy Valley-Goose Bay to the east coast is much more interesting and there’s eye candy nearly every mile.

For all the times in Canada, only in the past 18 months have I had any customs issues.  A few tips– 1) don’t try to be funny. They’ve heard it all, so a “Yes, no, and thank you” might help your trip through the gate.  Have your passport and drivers license ready. The last two visits, they searched the van thoroughly (thoroughly), and last month I was escorted to the immigration office to sign papers. They said it was just my ‘lucky’ day.

That’s not to say you’ll see Yosemite or Yellowstone look-alikes in NFLD. OK, Gros Morne National Park is pretty spectacular. You’ll see rolling hills (not many snow-capped mountains), straight-arrow highways (generally), dusty roads, and more quaint little fishing villages than any one place should be allowed. And it’s nicknamed The Rock for good reason. But if you like the color green, the sea, quiet, no crowds, and friendly people, this is the place for you.

fishing village cross pier

Many small fishing villages are connected to the mainland by ferry, including Burgeo and Ramea, both nearly wiped out when cod fishing was stopped in 1992.

Of course, there are reasons NFLD is low on the tourist list. One is getting there. The short ferry to the island (seven hours) from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port Aux Basques costs $119 per car and $45 per passenger. The longer 16-hour trip to Argentia–closer to St. John’s–is $249 per car and $121 per passenger. That’s a one-way fare, and a trailer or motorhome is much pricier. By road from Port Aux Basques, St. John’s is 540 miles.

Sixteen hours on a boat– even with the provided park ranger presentations, books, TV– can suck valuable vacation travel time and the kids might not be happy about being cooped up. Marine Atlantic suggests that travelers not expect internet connections, although it’s spotty and might happen.

Newfoundland is covered with ferries, some for vehicles of every style and size, others just for passengers. Some cross Iceberg Alley, which is loaded in spring and early summer with bright and beautiful bergs.

iceberg flowers couple

Newfoundland/Labrador’s Iceberg Festival is held in early June, but they can be found throughout the summer near St. Anthony’s and ‘Iceberg Alley’.

From Burgeo (pop. 1,300), on Newfoundland’s south coast, a ferry services Ramea (pop. 500) and Grey River (pop. 123). All were big fishing villages until the cod moratorium in 1992 nearly shut them down. Now, a fraction of that fishing continues. For $6.50, senior visitors get a 75-minute round trip boat ride to Ramea. Some towns, like Grey River, don’t allow vehicles at all.

Driving through Labrador is exciting if only because access roads are relatively new and so few services are found here. On Quebec’s Route 389, there are no towns for 360 miles, only one gas station and 100 miles of dirt road. On one stretch of Route 510 east of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, 160 miles of dirt roads means dust, rocks (think: cracked windshields), no houses, phone poles, internet access. Nothing.  And don’t think paved highways are necessarily better than the dirt roads.

But it’s beautiful.

It’s easy to tell when you’re approaching civilization because roadside gardens and piles of neatly stacked firewood pop up everywhere. Be happy you’re a summer visitor; these huge log piles keep NFLD’s vicious winter cold outside.

gardeners 2

Gardens here are grown along the highway and they do well in Canada’s rich peat-rich ground.

People leave town to claim a patch of peat-rich ground on the low side of the road, park the pickup on the highway and weed their turnips, beets and other favorite veggies. Don’t worry about traffic. There’s no one coming.

All gardens are fenced since critters big and small see the gardens as a smorgasbord. Deer see the fences as a challenge and jump over them. Moose crash through them.

Moose are everywhere in NFLD—an estimated one moose for every three people– and the easiest way to find them, according to a local joke, is to drive at night—and they’ll find you. Semi trucks here have ‘moose catchers’ on the front to guard radiators, lights, and fenders. Hitting a moose with a car will take the legs out from under them, sending the moose into and through the windshield.

Don’t drive at night.

To see more NFLD scenery, and see if it’s right for you, check the tourism site. The videos are well done and show the province well from both city and rural perspectives.

The only thing the videos can’t convey is the warm friendliness of the people here. But visit here once and you’ll want to return.

sunset halo and boat 2

Cod fishing, a foundation of the NFLD economy has been stopped since 1992, but some fishermen are still making a living with lobster, capelin, and scallops.

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