“Okay, pull your brake. Pull your brake! Brake! BRAAKKEE!” My zipline guide screams at me. My eyes widen and bulge in their sockets; my thoughts are panicky white noise as I zoom toward a mean-looking pole at the end of my line. I have no idea how to stop.
I’m flying through the foliage near Steady Brook Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador. Up until this point, my experience with Marble Zip Tours is incredible. My partner and I crisscross over the gushing waterfall, dangling from a thin wire and admiring the gorge below. Despite the grim orange hue of wildfire smoke that’s coating the air today, we’re having a blast.
Hurtling toward the end of the zipline, I’m helpless — until, to my surprise, a spring-like mechanism slows my momentum and I swing to a gentle halt. My guide bursts out laughing, and I do too, mostly out of relief. There was never any brake to pull; it was all a joke. Very funny.
Newfoundland, affectionately nicknamed “The Rock,” is an island province in the North Atlantic Ocean. Spanning roughly 100,000 square kilometres, it’s known for its colourful homes, breathtaking landscapes, friendly residents and outstanding freshly caught seafood.
Steady Brook Falls is just one of many stops on an epic summer road trip my partner and I take through Newfoundland. We relax in small fishing towns, hike on treacherous cliff trails, sail deep into the foggy Atlantic Ocean and much more. Newfoundland is big, wild and beautiful; this natural paradise is the best setting for a Canadian adventure.
Newfoundland travel: St. John’s
I’m always a little surprised by how expensive plane tickets within Canada are. Booking far enough out, though, and planning the trip a week or two ahead of the busiest tourist season, we were able to snag a reasonable fare to St. John’s ($238 per person each way).
Newfoundland rental cars are famously in high demand, and the province doesn't yet have Uber. Without question, your best bet for experiencing Newfoundland’s best attractions is Turo. It’s like Airbnb for cars; Turo is the world’s largest vehicle-sharing marketplace. Book a vehicle of your choosing for your selected time period from a vast community of hosts. Turo is often more affordable than a traditional rental service, and pick-ups and drop-offs are seamless and stress-free.
Over one million Canadians are already using Turo. More than 53,000 cars are listed on the service, and you can book anything from a Jeep to a Tesla or a Porsche.
Our car is a spunky little 2019 Nissan Kicks that we secured for the week. It's waiting patiently for us in the airport parking lot. There’s no clunky paperwork to fill out; all the information we need to start our trip is in the Turo app. We follow the simple instructions to get our key, and within mere minutes are on the road to downtown St. John’s.
Salty ocean air meets our nostrils as our Turo Nissan climbs St. John’s steep hills and zips by tightly packed, colourful homes on one-way roads.
Newman Wine Vaults
After a long flight, our first stop is for some wine, naturally. Newman Wine Vaults, a hidden wine cellar carved into the stone on Water Street, is the oldest standing structure in the city. We take a guided tour and learn how, throughout history, port wine arrived here from Portugal to be aged in the cooler St. John's sea air. At the end of the tour, we're surprised with the chance to taste a bottle of the ultra-juicy vino, deep in the vault.
No trip to St. John’s is complete without partying on the iconic George Street. We start our night with local beer and ballads at O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub, and end it with three-too-many G&Ts and bad dance moves at clubby hotspot, Konfusion.
We missed the sunrise at North America’s most easterly point, Cape Spear, but not by much. At the cusp of the Atlantic’s horizon-swallowing abyss, many gather on the rocks to be the first to witness the sun awaken from its nightly slumber.
Newfoundland travel: Mistaken Point
A two-hour drive from St. John’s, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is a 5.7-square-kilometre wilderness area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the site of some of the world’s oldest animal fossils.
Scientists estimate that the Ediacaran fossils date back between 560 and 580 million years. Tours are the only way to see the fossils. They're $23 per person and run from May to October.
After departing St. John’s and driving along Newfoundland’s sparsely-populated coast for hours (read: trusting Google Maps with our lives), our tires finally crunch to a halt on gravel. We’re way out in the wilderness at Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, a protected wildlife zone. Animals aren’t what we’re here to see, though — not living ones, anyway.
Our guide, Cynthia Power, is waiting for us outside. She’s grinning, infectiously jolly despite the gusts that threaten to knock us over when we clamber out of our Turo rental. Her silver hair, knotted tightly into two braids, matches the colour of the sky that day — but just as we’re about to set off, the clouds part and the sun peeks out. “Well, would you look at that!” She half-shouts over the wind at the tour group that’s gathered around her. “This is about as good as the weather gets out here — you lot are lucky.”
Power springs ahead down a path, and we follow. We’ve got a winding 45-minute hike ahead of us, up sloping hills and along dramatic rock formations. Our group is here to see one of Newfoundland’s most incredible attractions: a collection of fossils of the oldest large complex life forms found anywhere on Earth, embedded into tilted mudstone and sandstone cliffs.
© Barrett & MacKay Photo
We’re asked to remove our shoes when we arrive. The group complies, and we gingerly climb out onto the cliff in our socks. The rock is bumpy, and it takes a minute for our feet to adjust.
Finally, I peer closer and realize the bumps aggravating my soles are squiggly lines, and those lines are fossils. There are thousands of them. As we examine the detailed imprints and press our flesh into all that's left of these alien-like creatures, a reverent hush washes over us like one of the waves crashing to shore below.
We could stay out on those cliffs all day, but we're itching to see more of Newfoundland. So, we hike back to the car, crank up the radio and start rolling to our next destination.
Newfoundland travel: Bonavista
It’s three hours from St. John’s to Bonavista, Newfoundland. My partner is fast asleep in the passenger seat for most of it. I don’t blame her — I’m exhausted, too. I blast the A/C to keep me alert as I drive, keeping my eyes peeled for infamous moose known to dart onto Newfoundland highways.
She comes to as our tire thuds into a muddy hole in the road. “Sorry,” I grimace sheepishly. If there’s one thing Newfoundland has in bulk, it’s potholes. We’re in Elliston, just a few minutes outside of Bonavista, at one of the best puffin colony viewing sites in the province. We park, then trudge down a small gravel road and a well-trodden trail to a precipice near the ocean. The only noise is the squelch of our sneakers on the moist ground and the soft claps of foamy swells colliding with the rocks below.
Puffins bear the fitting nickname of “sea parrots” because of their orange beaks.
They're known for catching fish by diving deep into the water. They nest in Newfoundland during their breeding season, from May to September.
We needn’t have brought binoculars to see the puffins — the viewing site is part of the colony itself. Mere feet away, the birds dart in and out of burrows they’ve laboriously carved into the dirt with their bright orange beaks. They hop closer and cock their heads to determine if we're a threat before going about their bird business.
Once we’ve crammed our camera rolls to the brim with snaps of the kooky little creatures, we’re back on the road, on our way to Bonavista. In the summer, this gorgeous peninsula town is one of the best places for whale and seal watching.
We stop in at this adorable seaside town near Bonavista to watch a show at Rising Tide Theatre. I'm not a regular theatre-goer, but think it's spectacular. Titled Birthday Balloon, the play is a hilarious and devastating tale of a Newfoundland couple on the brink of divorce. Aided by powerful performances by two outstanding leads, there isn't a single dry eye in the theatre at curtain call.
Newfoundland travel: Twillingate
“DEED I IS, ME OLD COCK, AND LONG MAY YOUR BIG JIB DRAW!” meekly chants a line of elderly tourists. They’re each holding a shot of caramel-coloured rum in one hand, and a dried fish in another. A gruff-looking man in a dingy overcoat and a bandana tied tightly around his head is walking back and forth, leaning in close and sizing them up. He's in charge of this screeching in ceremony.
We’re at the Captain’s Pub in Twillingate, Newfoundland. I’m sitting a few seats away from the action, stifling my laughter at this absurd sight into a glass of Newfoundland dandelion wine. The tourists grimace as they down their shot of rum and toss the dried fish down their gullets. “NOW YER OFFICIALLY A NEWFOUNDLANDER!” the man with the bandana growls, and the room erupts into bouts of cheering and laughter.
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The enigmatic, bandana-bearing fellow is Mike Sixonate, a local musician who performs at the Captain's Pub six nights a week. He swaps his coat for a guitar and pops on a flat cap, then strums and sings classic Newfoundland tunes and original songs to the captivated crowd for hours.
Twillingate is one of the last stops on our Newfoundland road trip adventure, and it’s a good one. This quiet town offers prime viewing of Newfoundland's Iceberg Alley. There are plenty here in June — enormous, football-stadium-sized monstrosities that slowly cruise by Twillingate's shores, glistening in the sunlight.
Beothuk Interpretation Centre Historic Site
By the end of our Newfoundland adventure, we're knee-deep in the sweltering sun and thirty-degree days. Summer is here, and arrived quickly. When we park at the Beothuk Interpretation Centre Historic Site in Boyd’s Cove, the heat is suffocating.
It’s cooler inside, but the temperature is now the furthest thing from our minds. We’re fascinated by exhibits and artifacts of the Beothuk Indigenous people, including an eye-catching life-size recreation. The Beothuks, we learn, no longer exist, largely due to European settler encroachment, disease and conflict. Three hundred years ago, these grounds housed a Beothuk village.
We head out on a kilometre-and-a-half-long trail to the village archeological dig site. It’s quiet. Leaves rustle around us, as if the forest is trying to whisper us a secret.
The trail snakes over a stream, by the coast and deeper still into the forest. At one point, we spot what appears to be a woman standing eerily amongst the trees. This is ‘The Spirit of the Beothuk,’ a sculpture created by Newfoundland artist Gerald Squires, of the late Shanawdithit who was the last known living member of the Beothuk people. Shanawdithit died in 1829, in St. John’s, of tuberculosis. The sculpture, now green from oxidization, stands tall and strong — but its eyes appear infinitely sad.
The village site is a few steps away. At first, it looks like nothing more than a small clearing overrun with lush grass. As we look closer, though, small dips in the ground become obvious. This is where the Beothuk dug into the dirt to erect their houses. My imagination is flooded with pictures of the thriving community that once was, of who stood in the exact spot I am now. It’s a soul-stirring moment — the tragedy of this lost people and culture hangs thick in the air.
On our way out, we walk to the Beothuk Interpretation Centre Historic Site’s spirit garden. Created in collaboration with local Indigenous groups, the garden aims to be a place of healing. Visitors write well-wishes for a loved one on a small scrap of birch bark, then tie it to a tree with a string or ribbon. There are hundreds here; the small pops of colour, waving in the wind, get more plentiful the deeper we go.
After fixing our own goodwill message to a sturdy-looking branch, we sit and soak in the energy radiating out of every fibre of this place. We don't say a word, and instead listen to the forest around us. It has a story to tell.
Like the rest of my road trip through Newfoundland, it’s an experience that will stay with me forever.