As rugged as the rocks of its shores and as friendly as the pubs of St. John's, the Avalon Peninsula is where Newfoundland and Labrador and North America begin. It's a place where you can photograph herds of caribou, seabird colonies, icebergs or whales.
All over the region you'll hear legends and lore from the warm people you meet. Along the Southern Shore and around Cape Race the cliffs rise up from the sea to incredible heights. Inland, thousands of caribou roam the open ground. All parts of the peninsula are within a few hours drive of the province's capital city, St. John's. Here you will find arts and entertainment, great food, and a wide range of accommodations, as well as some terrific buys on Newfoundland crafts and artwork. You will also find warm, fun-loving people with high regard for friendliness and hospitality.
St. John's and Area
St. John’s and surrounding communities – Mount Pearl, Paradise, Conception Bay South and Torbay – comprise a single urban area on the northeast Avalon that is home to about 175,000 people. But as the separate community names imply, there are distinct differences. Modern highway systems mean short travel times. The ancient port area around old St. John’s is just 15 minutes from Conception Bay, and the international airport is just 10 minutes from downtown.
Downtown you’ll find traditional music pubs, cuisine from around the world, and music almost everywhere. Celtic rock in its various flavours is all the rage, but you’ll find everything from jazz to techno.
While in St. John’s, take in the spectacular view of the city from the top of Cabot Tower on Signal Hill National Historic Site, where Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal on December 12, 1901. Take a quiet stroll through the beautiful village of Quidi Vidi, view historic churches, and tour The Rooms, which unites the Provincial Museum, the Provincial Art Gallery and the Provincial Archives under one roof.
One of the must-see places on any visit to St. John’s is Cape Spear National Historic Site , the most easterly point in North America. Built in 1835, the Cape Spear Lighthouse is the oldest existing lighthouse in Newfoundland. Return to St. John’s by taking a brief excursion along Route 11 through Maddox Cove to Petty Harbour, a small outport that is just 18 kms from the capital city.
Although this is an old city, most downtown buildings date only to the late Victorian period because St. John’s suffered frequent fires, the last and greatest in 1892 which destroyed almost the entire town. But history is alive at The Rooms, Commissariat House, Colonial Building and churches.
First-time visitors are often surprised by how green the city is. The lakes, parks, valleys and green spaces are connected by the extensive Grand Concourse urban hiking trail system. Bowring Park is English in style, even down to the statue of Peter Pan which is identical to one in London. Pippy Park, with its golf courses, fluvarium, and RV campground, is larger and less tamed.
The Killick Coast extends east from Topsail along the south shore of Conception Bay to Cape St. Francis, and ends just outside St. John’s. Travel to Portugal Cove via Route 50 or Route 40. From here you can take a 20-minute ferry ride to Bell Island where you can tour the former submarine iron mines, the lighthouse perched on a cliff and see large outdoor murals based on the island’s history.
From Portugal Cove, take Route 21 through Bauline to Pouch Cove (pronounced pooch) on Route 20. This is good berry-picking country, especially on the gravel road to Cape St. Francis.
The scenery along this coast is spectacular. Flatrock (which has a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes), Middle Cove and Logy Bay are settled enclaves along a rugged shore, and around each bend in the road is another view of the coast that seems even better than the last.
Torbay is another rapidly growing town just outside St. John’s. Drive to the beach and take the Father Troy Trail along the shore. The trail passes fields of farm animals and wild flowers. When it’s stormy, you can feel the power of the ocean pound against the rocks.
At Logy Bay the Ocean Sciences Centre welcomes visitors to its seal tanks. Then it’s back to St. John’s just a few minutes away.
Admiral's Coast follows Route 60 along the western and southern shores of Conception Bay from Colliers to Conception Bay South and Paradise. It’s a mix of rural and urban. The rural western section includes Conception Harbour, where there’s been a garden party every summer for more than nine decades. At Avondale the province’s railway history is preserved in the railway museum. Holyrood in known for its marina and annual summer Squid Fest.
Conception Bay South is a collection of shoreline communities, from Seal Cove to Topsail. There’s a famous fossil bed and walking trail at Manuels River, and Kelligrews will be forever associated with the song Kelligrews Soiree, also the name of the annual folk festival held in early July. From Kelligrews, take a walk along the T’Railway, which runs through the town and along the coast to Upper Gullies and Seal Cove. There’s a marina at Foxtrap and the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club is in Long Pond, and a day use park at popular Topsail Beach. Conception Bay is a good scuba diving area, especially around the ore carriers that were sunk by U-Boats just off Bell Island during World War II.
Just past Topsail, there’s the town of Paradise, where you’ll find a walking trail around Neil’s Pond.
The Baccalieu Trail – baccalieu being a corruption of an old Spanish word for codfish – is the long finger of the Avalon Peninsula between Trinity and Conception Bays.
The western access is Route 80 near Whitbourne on Route 1. Nearby is Markland where you will find the Rodrigues Markland Cottage Winery where wine is made from local berries. In Blaketown there’s a Beothuk site first mentioned by John Guy in his early 17th century journal. Guy, who founded a colony at Cupids on the other side of the peninsula, traded with the Beothuk here. The old trail from Blaketown to Cupids is being restored.
Be sure to drop into Heart’s Content where you will see the old Cable Station, once a main relay for transatlantic telegraph messages. This is now a Provincial Historic Site complete with much of the equipment. The first successful transatlantic cable was landed here in 1866.
At Old Perlican, Route 80 merges into Route 70. The tip of the peninsula at Grates Cove has a rather unusual National Historic Site: hundreds of rock walls the farmers used to keep roaming animals off their fields. Up here you’ll also find Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve with 11 species of seabirds nesting there, including three million pairs of Leach’s Storm Petrels. An interpretive display on the reserve can be found in nearby Bay De Verde. Continuing on you will come to the community of Northern Bay Sands, an ideal seaside vacation spot.
Carbonear is pirate country, but it’s a romantic piracy. Peter Easton, a famous pirate from the early 17th century, captured an Irish princess and settled near here with one of Easton’s crew Gilbert Pike and lived happily ever after. Easton went on to infamy and fortune. Princess Sheila is remembered in a stage production in Carbonear, and the site of Easton’s old fort is now a museum in Harbour Grace.
Harbour Grace played a role in pioneer aviation. In 1932, Amelia Earhart left Harbour Grace to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. Devastated by fire several times, the town still retains a wonderful inventory of historic buildings.
The first official English colony in Canada was founded at Cupids by John Guy in 1610. Cupids is fast becoming a major archaeological site. The town’s museum has an interesting exhibit on Newfoundland stamps.
Brigus was the birthplace of Captain Bob Bartlett, the ice pilot who guided Peary to within striking distance of the North Pole. His home, Hawthorne Cottage, is now a National Historic Site, and the town retains much of its 19th century character.
Irish Loop Drive
South of St. John’s, Route 10 takes you to the whale and seabird tours that operate in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve from several communities. Several thousand humpback and minke whales tarry here to feed, and the plentiful food has attracted millions and millions of seabirds to the reserve’s four islands. Most years, 10,000-year-old icebergs drift past, in season, making for an incredible triple natural treat found nowhere else.
Hop a tour boat and get up close. You can’t land on the reserve’s islands because they are covered with nesting birds. And the tour boats stay far enough away from the whales so they won’t disturb them. It’s a delicate balance that requires careful management.
Long before the modern era brought cars into common use, people often travelled between communities along coastal trails. That history inspired development of the East Coast Trail from St. John’s to Cappahayden.
Ferryland is one of the oldest European settlements in North America. The Colony of Avalon, as it was named, was founded in the 1620s by Lord Baltimore, whose family later founded the American colony of Maryland. An archaeological dig has uncovered thousands of artifacts, the most impressive of which are displayed at the interpretation centre. Ferryland also hosts a dinner theatre and Shamrock Folk Festival.
The wireless station at Cape Race, accessible by gravel road from Portugal Cove South, received and relayed the distress signal from RMS Titanic in 1912. A reconstruction of the original Marconi station now stands on the site. Cape Race was one of the first landmarks mapped by European explorers in the sixteenth century, and has been a danger to shipping ever since. The first lighthouse at the cape was built in 1856, and tended by the Myrick family from 1874 onward. Visit the interpretation centre to discover their intriguing story.
Trepassey was an early colony, but is perhaps most famous as the place from where Amelia Earhart took off as a passenger, becoming the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Visit the community museum and see photos of the famous flyer’s visit. Don’t forget the Avalon Wilderness Reserve where you may see caribou trying to cross the road, and can often be seen from the highway in spring and summer during the annual migration.
Another great natural treat is the whales at St. Vincent’s. Here the water near the beach is deep and whales come close to shore.
Web Site: http://www.theirishloop.com/
The Cape Shore will take you to the old French capital of Newfoundland at Placentia, an absolute wonder at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, and a unique animal enclosure that’s almost a zoo.
Take Route 100 from Route 1 to Placentia. The Castle Hill National Historic Site here is the remains of an old French fort, “Plaisance”, its original name, was the French capital of Newfoundland in the 17th and 18th centuries when the French and English battled for military domination in North America. There’s a fantastic view of the town of Placentia and the waters and wooded hills.
Just past St. Bride’s, about an hour from Placentia, follow the signs to the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, the most accessible and spectacular seabird colony in North America. On a 200-foot high sea stack called Bird Rock, just 50 feet from the cliff top viewing point, thousands of Northern Gannets – beautiful birds with a wingspan of more than six feet – nest in just a few thousand square feet.
Also nesting at the reserve are Razorbills, Murres and other seabirds. There are interpretive guides on site to answer questions, three guided hikes per day – four on days the ferry arrives from Nova Scotia at Argentia – and an interpretation centre.
On Route 90 you’ll find Salmonier Nature Park, a 1,214 hectare wilderness reserve, with 30 species of birds and animals native to Newfoundland. The enclosures are almost entirely natural, and many of the trails are boardwalked for easy access.