Newfoundland's southern coast is probably the least known area of the province, but for those who have made their way off of the beaten path into this vast, remote land of rocky barren and ocean fjords, it is a place of unmatched beauty and wild adventure. This is probably why the famous Canadian author Farley Mowat made his home here for much of his life, spinning tales of the sea and people who made their home along its rocky shores.
Mowat lived in the town of Burgeo, which is the central hub of the south coast, and my destination for a day of hiking in Sandbanks Provincial Park. My adventure started on the 150km drive from the Trans-Canada Highway where the roads were lined with foraging moose and caribou..
Route 480 is actually known as the Caribou Trail, and it is a very scenic drive. At the start the landscape is very hilly and heavily forested. The road follows a large river due east for the first 50km before making a sharp turn to the south. Shortly after the turn the highway begins to climb into the barren highlands of the Long Range Mountains, peaking at nearly 500 meters above sea level. I was surprised to see that the ponds were still frozen up here, and there was still quite a bit of snow on the lee slopes of the surrounding hills. The rugged land was strewn with erratics--pieces of rock left behind from the last ice age--as far as the eye could see and all over small groups of caribou roamed the land in search of food. The Anniopsquotch Mountains stretch off to the east shadowing Lloyd's river which I've been scouting for a canoe trip into the interior, a place where even the native Beothuk Indians had a hard time surviving.
The best view of the whole drive comes as you tip the last hill and begin to descend back down from the highlands. Here the ocean comes into view for the first time and you can see the hundreds of islands that make up the Burgeo Islands archipelago. I've been to many coastal places in Newfoundland, but this has to be one of the most stunning views of the sea I've ever had.
The town of Burgeo has a population of about 2000, and like most Newfoundland communities it was built around the fishery. Now the fish plant lies empty and the town is trying to revive itself through tourism. The provincial park just outside of town is the biggest draw for visitors to the area. The park is located on a small peninsula and features six beautiful, white sand beaches connected through a series of hiking trails and boardwalks. It was quiet here during my pre-season visit, but I imagine that the beaches are bustling during the summer months.
Just off from the shore are the first of hundreds of rocky islands that line the coast. At one time many of the larger islands were inhabited by fisherman, but they are long gone. The only thing left of them is the old cemetery, which lies within the park, and features headstones dating back to 1838. The cemetery lies along one of the many trails within the park.
The interconnecting trail system is one of the best I have seen within the provincial park system. From one trail you can access almost any other trail at some point along the way. Boardwalks are built along more sensitive areas, and the trail stays away from the nesting sites of the Piping Plover, an endangered bird that breeds here during the summer months. The first trail begins at the first beach at the entrance to the park and winds its way along the first three beaches before rising up to a small look-off point. Down the other side is another beach at Fox Point and the short cemetery trail. From here the trail goes straight across the peninsula to Greep's Head and Western Beach. Greep's Head has a lookout trail and the view from the top is very nice, and on a clear day it looks like you can see all the way to Antarctica which would be your next stop is you headed due south from here. Just offshore lies Cornelius Island, formerly a small fishing village, and on the other side is Western Beach, a double crescent that is very popular in summer and a great place for swimming.
The last section brings you around a small pond that is a popular site for water fowl, and back into the campground. The whole system is just less than 5km in length and should take no more than a couple of hours, but it is well worth the effort of getting off the highway for a little exploring. The park operates a campground and day use area from mid May until mid September and the beaches are open for everyone to enjoy.
As I mentioned earlier, the town of Burgeo is the central hub of the south coast. From here you can catch several different ferries and coastal boats that serve the few small isolated communities along the south shore. Ramea is the closest destination at just over an hour by ferry, Grand Bruit lies to the west, and the scenic communities of Grey River and François lie to the east. From François, population 30, you can reach Hermitage on the Burin Peninsula and back to dry land. Camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park, would make a great first night for any one of these adventures, which I'm sure I'll be reporting on very soon.
From TCH near Stephenville junction...take route 480 for 150km to the town of Burgeo
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