Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Edge of the Wild
Travels in Western Newfoundland, Part 4
The Bay of Islands

Western Newfoundland has few major population centers.  The largest by far is Corner Brook, with a population of about 19,000.  The next largest town is nearby Deer Lake, with a population of about 5,000 and beyond that, for over 260 miles, there are only small towns and villages.  Even the town at the northern tip of the Peninsula, St. Anthony, is quite small as towns go.  The moral of this story is, if you realize you have forgotten anything, particularly in the way of camera equipment, electronics, high-tech gear of any kind or any special foods or other supplies, try to remember that you've forgotten it before you pass Corner Brook.  We stopped in the Wal-Mart there and were a little amazed that in this place that seemed so different from home, the Wal-Mart was so very much the same.

Many tourists seem to zoom straight up the main road to the national park Gros Morne, without stopping for much along the way.  But, acting on vague memories of a spectacular, but off-the-beaten-path photographic location from my trip to Newfoundland 20 years before, we began a 2-day-long detour from our generally northerly course.  After escaping from the apparently ubiquitous frustration and screaming children of Wal-Mart, we turned west out of Corner Brook and followed the south side of a long estuary called the Humber Arm, that winds for about 30 miles to the sea.  Outside of Gros Morne, this is in fact, one of the more spectacular settings in western Newfoundland, with low but very steep and rugged mountains right along the water.  There are a number of beautiful hikes in the area, that often end up with a stunning view of the end of the estuary, where it becomes a wide bay known as the Bay of Islands.

Lark Harbour

This was to be one of our camping nights, and we headed to "Blow Me Down" Provincial Park and set up our tent beneath the small but thick spruce and pine trees that cling to the rocky landscape. The Park is nestled between two of the strange, overly steep-sided hills that are common in this area.  Although I know the park sometimes lives up to its name, that was actually the only time we spent camping when there was no wind.  It was unusually warm and we left the back door of the tent open with just the screen in place, and I lay on my cot staring out into the impenetrable, pitch black and utterly silent woods until I fell asleep.

Lark Harbour, the nearby village, provides ample photo opportunities of small fishing boats and incredible, almost unnaturally hilly scenery.  Another feature of this small town is a general store that is representative of many stores in rural Newfoundland: they have at least one of just about everything from bread to nails, but they have no postcards or newspapers.

Beyond Lark Harbour, lies a real treasure.  Near the end of the road we came to the scene I had half remembered from 20 years before:  a tiny community on the shore of a small, almost perfectly circular bay, called "Bottle Cove".
The cove is hemmed in by steep hills, ending in high, sheer cliffs that drop straight into the sea, and to top it all off, there is a gigantic sea cave visible from the northern side of the cove. 

Bottle Cove (note the picnic table at the left center and the sea cave at the base of the cliff right of center!)
 If you come this way and you are a hiker, try to spend an entire day or more here.  Leading from the parking lot by this cove and also another smaller cove at the end of the main road, are a number of breathtaking trails along the cliffs and into the hills.  Bring a picnic because in this area you will find picnic tables and benches in the most astonishing locations - on top of cliffs, in deep woods, by waterfalls.  After missing out at one of the most spectacular picnic tables we've ever neglected to bring food to, we tried to always be prepared for impromptu picnics.

As with the entire trip, we were short on time, and could only do one trail here.  Our big adventure was to hike along a trail leading north out of Bottle Cove, following the cliffs and hills for several miles nearly to the mouth of the Bay of Islands.

View of the Bay of St. Lawrence from Bottle Cove trail
 The climb up a "pass" between two of the steep hills was an ordeal, made worse by an unusually hot day, but the views from there made that walk one of the high points of the trip. 

Looking south from the Bottle Cove hike to the next cove (where there are other trails)
Next stop... Gros Morne National Park and the Tablelands.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Edge of the Wild
Travels in Western Newfoundland, Part 3

Summer evenings in Newfoundland are long, and get noticeably longer the further north one goes.  Even in the southernmost area the sky is still light well after 10:00 pm in July.  Our first night was in a beautiful area called the Codroy Valley, about 30 miles (55km) from Port aux Basques. It is a verdant landscape with taller, fuller trees than is unusual in much of Newfoundland.  We arrived at the aptly named "Majestic View Cabins" at the northwestern end of the valley at twilight.  Although we were bone tired from a long day and the excitement of the ferry ride, we settled in on the porch of our nicely-appointed cabin and watched the moon rise across the Codroy River, over the Mountains.  It was a mystical time and place. 

Moonrise over the Codroy River and the Long Range Mountains
 The next morning was no less mystical, as we arose to a crystal clear day, but across the water the mountains lay shrouded in a spectacular, undulating bank of fog that alternately hid and revealed the scene as we watched. I finally got a chance to try a few panorama shots with the new Nodal Ninja pan head that I'd gotten in time for this trip, but the mist was changing so quickly that stitching later proved to be tricky.

Morning mist on the mountains across the Codroy River
 Take heed prospective travelers to Newfoundland: ten days is not nearly enough time to explore even just the western side of the province.  Starting that morning a new theme of the journey began to appear.  We did not have enough time to linger long in any one place.

With only half a day for sightseeing here we headed for the village of Codroy itself, and the Cape Anguille lighthouse, the picturesque westernmost lighthouse in Newfoundland. It lies nestled on a flat area between the base of a high, steep, treeless hill and the sea, a traditional sight in this area - a tall white tower topped with a red-roofed enclosure for the rotating light.
Cape Anguille Lighthouse
 There seems to be a brilliance to the air in northern climes that is seldom seen further south, and traveling photographers in the Canadian Maritimes should try to take advantage of this phenomenon. Although sunrises and sunsets still provide ideal conditions for many situations here, mid-day shooting has its own rewards. The combination of the crystal clear air on a sunny day and a polarizer to enhance color and contrast bring out the deep blues and greens of sea, sky and vegetation.  I also find a graduated neutral density filter to be invaluable when trying to keep both dark water and bright sky under control.  Even in situations where the filter isn't practical, I am often amazed at the detail that I can salvage from bright areas using Adobe Lightroom's highlight slider.  Note that this technique only works when shooting in raw mode as opposed to shooting jpegs.

The strong mid-day contrasts on a sunny day, along with the famously bright painted colors of boats and buildings, makes for interesting black and white photography as well.  For some reason I was drawn to the idea of capturing the semi-abandoned fishing boats at the Codroy marina in black and white. I shoot everything in color even when I intend the final product to be black and white, and then convert it using Lightroom, which allows individual colors to be manipulated as tones in black and white.  This scene struck me as especially poignant, as the boats are a remnant of the once proud and now very limited Newfoundland fishing industry.

Fishing boats in the town of Codroy
From here we headed back to the main highway and turned north again.  Next up: the amazingly beautiful and largely "undiscovered" Humber Arm and the Bay of Islands.