The day started with a drive north on the Viking Trail, which leads to L’Anse aux Meadows, the only known Viking settlement in North America.
Our destination – Arches Provincial Park – at 40 minutes, was much closer and, in my view, equally worthwhile.
Carved out of limestone via the forces of retreating glaciers, the naturally formed arches may not be as dramatic as those found in Etretat, but do make up for it in their approachability. One can walk straight up underneath the archways and explore the full extend of the geological wonder up close; or perhaps just have a relaxing picnic on the beach watching the waves crash against the rocks.
Heading a bit back down south is the old fishing village of Parson’s Pond with its picturesque houses still lining the bay. With the moratorium on cod in 1992, the community switched to lobster and snowcrab trawling.
Ever since 1867, prospectors have also come to Parson’s Pond drawn by oil found underneath the shale deposits lying off the coast. It’s yet to the proven though the commercial viability of tapping into that oil and getting it above-ground.
Further south lies the community of Cow Head, and the Cow Head Lighthouse trail.
Though there is a decommissioned old lighthouse, the 1.5 km loop trail is known more its picturesque views.
To quote the official guide:
The community of Cow Head has traditionally included two parts – Winterside on the mainland and Summerside on the Cow Head Peninsula, known locally as “the Head.” Families would spend their summers fishing from “the Head” and then return across the natural isthmus, called the Sandbank, to spend the winter inland. This seasonal migration from summer fishing communities to winter shelter was a distinctive Newfoundland tradition that persisted until the late 1960s, when improved roads made the move unnecessary.
The above looks to what was once the Summerside village. In the below, off in the distance, can be seen the cluster of Winterside residences.
What is also fascinating is how quickly landscapes can change over time. The left is a 1953 photo of the lighthouse (Source: Canadian Coast Guard). The right is the lighthouse as we saw it, standing in the same place as it always did, now barely peering over the surrounding treetops.
From Cow Head, we drove 30 mins south to the start of the Western Brook Pond trail head.
It never ceases to amaze how vast distances are, and how difficult it is for me, essentially an urbanite used to crammed spaces, to judge said distance. I say this as it’s a 2 km walk from the edge of the photo to the western shore of the pond at the convergence of the two mountain cliffs…
Technically not anymore a fjord as landed sentiment blocks the flow of water outward to sea, Western Brook Pond was carved from the surrounding plateau by glaciers.
Over the centuries, salt water was flushed from the lake, transforming it into a fresh water reservoir. The inflow of water is so low that it takes an estimated fifteen years for the water to completely replenish itself. In most lakes, this occurs once or twice a year. Additionally, because the catchment area is composed of igneous rock with a very thin layer of soil, the water feeding into the lake is so low in minerals and nutrients that the water is nearly on par with distilled water and is classified as ultraoligotrophic.
BonTours operated a 2 hour boat tour traversing the entire length of the lake during the summer months.
From the boat, we saw some of the bluest skies yet on the trip.
It also made for one of the most jarring and mind-binding views of the trip.
The cliffs on each side rises at more than 600m from the water level. It’s amazing to imagine the herds of caribou that make their way each spring down these slopes, swim across the lake and ascend up to the plateaus on the other side to give birth to and nurse their young. The snow covered line running through the middle below – that’s the path the caribous take.
As we cruised up the lake and then back again, each vintage point was more mesmerizing than the first.