In The Southern Section
A Journey to the Center of the Earth -- If you see folks wandering around the Tablelands looking twitchy and excited, they're probably either professional or amateur geologists. The Tablelands are one of the world's great geological celebrities, a popular destination among pilgrims who come to worship at the altar of classic rocks. Not rock 'n' roll. Rocks.
To the uninitiated, the Tablelands area -- south of Woody Point and the southern arm of Bonne Bay -- appears pretty bleak and barren. Muscular hills rise up, rounded and rust-colored, devoid of trees or, it seems, any vegetation at all. Up close, you discover just how barren they are: Little plant life really seems to have established a toehold here yet.
There's a reason for that. Some 570 million years ago, this rock was part of the earth's mantle -- the part of the earth lying just beneath its crust. Riding on continental plates, two continental landmasses collided forcefully (though excruciatingly slowly; it was more like a fender-bender than an Indy 500 crash). This piece of mantle was driven up and over the crust, rather than being forced under (as is usually the case). Years of erosion followed, and what's left is a rare X-ray look at some of the earth's oldest bones. You are touching rocks that were part of this planet before there were plants on it, never mind people. Yes, really.
So why the bleak face? Well, this ancient rock turns out to be super-rich in magnesium . . . and that's a bad thing, plant-wise. Very few species of plant can survive in a soil with such a high concentration of this element, so the landscape here looks more like a Western desert landscape than part of the rainy mountains of Newfoundland. Old and stingy: Hey, it is what it is.
In The Northern Section
If you have time for only one activity in Gros Morne -- heaven forbid that's the case -- make it a BonTours boat trip (tel. 888/458-2016 or 709/458-2016; www.bontours.ca) up Western Brook Pond. It's not just a boat trip: It's an adventure. The trip begins with a 20-minute drive north from Rocky Harbour. You park at the pond's trailhead, then set off on an easy 3km (2-mile), 45-minute hike across the northern coastal plain, with interpretive signs explaining the wildlife and bog ecology you'll see along the way. (Keep an eye out for moose!) Ahead, the mighty monoliths of the Long Range rise high above, inviting and mystical, like a scene from Highlander (or something). Finally you arrive at the pond's edge and the dock.
On board, you head directly toward these intimidating mountains, threading your way among the sheer rock faces that distinguish the fjord. You'll learn about the glacial geology and the remarkable quality of the water, which is considered among the purest in the world. Bring plenty of film and a good wide-angle lens.
The trip departs from June through September, three or more times daily in peak summer months but just once per day in June and September. In all, the boat portion lasts about 2 1/2 hours and costs C$48 for adults, C$23 for children age 12 to 16, C$19 for children 11 and under, or C$115 for a family of four. Note: They only take cash; no credit cards accepted, so stock up at an ATM before you get here. Buy tickets for the tour right at the dock or at the Ocean View Motel in Rocky Harbour. (Also note that you must have purchased a park admissions pass before arrival to take this tour.)
If rain or heavy fog puts a damper on outdoor activities, there's a modern indoor pool at the Gros Morne Recreation Complex (tel. 709/458-2350 or 458-3605) on Route 430 high above Rocky Harbour. It's open to nonresidents in July and August only, 9am until 9pm. The view of Bonne Bay from the outdoor terrace is great, and this is also a good spot for a hot shower if you're staying at a campground without one. Tickets good for a 1-hour swim cost about C$3 for adults, C$2 for children.
If you're looking for diversion that requires minimal physical effort, the SS Ethie shipwreck and Broom Point, both near Western Brook Pond, are each worth stopping for. The coastal steamer Ethie met its fate during a storm in 1919; all passengers were miraculously saved, including one infant who was shuttled to shore in a mailbag. The wreck was long prominent in local song and story, but the years have taken their toll on the rusting scrap metal. Today the hull is almost gone, leaving only the massive boiler and a few other stray parts; but the cobbles on the beach nearby are beautiful.
Broom Point is an easy stroll out to a rocky peninsula where fishing operations take place. Views from the point are outstanding; don't miss the superb sand beach down a side trail to your left as you walk toward the point. There's also a restored cabin and fishing hut, with interpreters on site to explain the point's history from mid-May through mid-October.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.