Maps of the Atlantic Provinces can fool you. Newfoundland (and sometimes Labrador) is commonly published as an inset map alongside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, making it look much smaller than those other provinces. That couldn't be farther from the truth. This is a big place, so significant time is required to travel from anywhere to anywhere else on Newfoundland island. Already big, distances get bigger when a landscape is twisted up and pulled like taffy like this one. Newfoundland just seems bigger, higher, longer, and more time-consuming when you're actually traveling in it than it looks on paper.
One quick example: The peninsula that extends northward along the west coast takes 8 to 9 hours to drive from Port aux Basques (where the ferry from Nova Scotia docks) to the tip at St. Anthony -- no Sunday drive, and one that requires planning and decision-making beforehand.
So you need to plan accordingly. A weekend in this province isn't even in the realm of possibility. A couple of weeks is enough for a bare-bones tour, though you'll still be frustrated by everything you missed. A month isn't really practical. So, you're left with one option: focus, focus, focus. Select one or two regions you really want to see, narrow down on those, and save the rest of the province for another time in life -- hey, you can dream, right?
For those arriving by ferry, here's one itinerary you might try: If you've got less than a week, come and go via Port aux Basques, and focus on wonderful Gros Morne National Park, especially if you're an outdoors-oriented traveler. If you've got at least 2 weeks, arrive on and leave from different ports, and make a quick circuit of the island.
For those arriving by air, St. John's is well situated for exploring the lovely Avalon Peninsula, and the intriguing Bonavista Peninsula also isn't too distant. But if you have your heart set on venturing to Gros Morne or beyond, think again. You'll need a few weeks for that -- and several days will largely be spent behind the wheel of your rental car. (It's about 7 to 8 hours driving from St. John's to the national park.) The best option, if you're dead-set on Gros Morne, is probably to fly into St. John's and depart via Deer Lake -- a more expensive option, but also one that gives you more time in the more spectacular places.
Weather & Time
The weather in Newfoundland could charitably be called "mercurial." You might experience all four seasons during a week-long summer vacation here -- from decently warm, sunny days (the average high temperature in summer is about 70°F/21°C) to downright frigid ones (it can dip to 40°F/4°C or lower on summer evenings). If you have rain gear and golf umbrellas, bring them; when the rain pairs up with high winds, the results are not fun. If you have thick sweaters, bring a few of those too. Shorts? Only for hiking or swimming in a hotel pool; you won't be wearing those much.
If you're specifically coming to see icebergs, late spring's thaw (mid-May to late June) is the peak season here, though every year is different.
Note that Newfoundland has its own special time zone. The "Newfoundland time zone" is a half-hour ahead of Atlantic time (which all the rest of the Atlantic provinces in this book use), and 1 1/2 hours ahead of Eastern Standard (New York) time. So when it's 9am in Manhattan, it's already 10:30am in St. John's (but only 10:00am in Halifax).
Visitor information centers aren't as numerous or well organized in Newfoundland as they are in Nova Scotia, where every small community seemingly has a spot where you can stock up on truckloads of pretty color brochures. In Newfoundland, you're better off instead stocking up on maps and information in St. John's or just after you get off the ferry. That's as good as it's going to get. Note that tourist information centers on this island are open from mid-May through the first week of October; some close sooner than that.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Traveller's Guide and Map, published by the province's department of tourism, is hefty and helpful, with listings of all attractions and accommodations. Request a free copy before arriving by calling tel. 800/563-6353, e-mailing email@example.com, or by regular mail (to Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, P.O. Box 8700, St. John's, NL A1B 4J6). The guide is also available on the ferries and at provincial information centers.
Newfoundland is also better wired than you might expect when it comes to the Internet, and many residents and businesses maintain websites -- a big help when trying to cobble together your travel plans.
Many travelers arrive here by ferry -- particularly if they're doing a Nova Scotia/Newfoundland combination trip. Marine Atlantic (tel. 800/341-7981; www.marine-atlantic.ca) operates the two ferries to and from Newfoundland. Both depart from Sydney, on the northern tip of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. The year-round ferry runs to Port aux Basques, with as many as four sailings each way daily during the peak summer season. The crossing takes about 5 hours; one-way fares are C$29 adults, plus C$82 for an automobile.
There's also a seasonal ferry (from mid-June through late September) that connects North Sydney with Argentia (on the southwest tip of the Avalon Peninsula, near St. John's). This crossing is offered three times per week, in summer only, and takes 14 to 15 hours. The one-way fare is C$81 adults, C$167 for regular-size vehicles; a bed on the boat costs from an additional C$29 (in a bunkroom) to C$153 (for a four-berth private cabin).
On both ferries, children 5 to 12 years old ride for half-price; there's a slight discount for seniors; and the ride's free for all children under 5 years old.
For all ferries, advance reservations -- a few weeks ahead at least -- are strongly advised during the peak travel season, especially if you want to sleep in a cabin during an overnight sailing. (If you didn't make a reservation, you can always pull up to the dock and wait in a line for available spaces to open up, but you could spend a half day or a day waiting.) The terminals on both ends all have snack bars, restrooms with showers, television lounges, and up-to-date facilities.
Air transportation to Newfoundland is typically through St. John's International Airport (airline code: YYT), although scheduled flights also arrive in Deer Lake, Gander, and St. Anthony.
Continental (tel. 800/231-0856; www.continental.com) flies into St. John's daily from Newark, while Air Canada (tel. 888/247-2262; www.aircanada.com) flies in daily from Toronto, Halifax, and Montréal. WestJet (tel. 888/937-8538; www.westjet.com) connects St. John's with Halifax, Toronto (Pearson International), Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary. And Porter Airlines (tel. 888/619-8622 or 416/619-8622; www.flyporter.com) now connects St. John's with Halifax, Ottawa, and Toronto's City Centre Airport.
To explore the countryside, you'll almost certainly need a rental car (bus service is sporadic). Major rental companies with fleets in St. John's include Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, National, Thrifty, and Rent-A-Wreck.
For a concise look at your available options from St. John's airport, consult the airport's website at www.stjohnsairport.com. Click first on "What An Airport Can Do for You" (no, I don't get it, either), then on "Parking, Car Rentals & Taxis" to pull up a full list of the current airport rental kiosks, plus their local and national phone numbers. Many of these car-rental chains, as well as some independent outfits, also rent cars in smaller communities around the province such as Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and Port aux Basques. Consult the visitor's guide, or check rental chain websites directly, for details about renting in these smaller branch locations.
Remember to sock away some extra cash for gasoline when traveling on this island, however: The price of fuel on Newfoundland tends to be a bit higher than in other Atlantic Provinces, and the distances are greater.
If you're including Labrador in your itinerary, you'll probably use the M/V Apollo ferry (tel. 866/535-2567 from Newfoundland, or 709/535-0810), which connects St. Barbe, Newfoundland, with Blanc-Sablon, Labrador, 9 months out of the year through the scenic Strait of Belle Isle. The trip normally takes about 90 minutes, though it can take hours if (as happens in late spring) icebergs are jamming up the strait. The trip costs C$23 for regular-sized passenger car and driver, C$7.50 for additional adults, and C$6 for students. It departs one to three times per day. The only time it doesn't run is from mid-January through mid-April, though it also stops running anytime ice blocks the passage in winter. There's also a C$10 fee to reserve a spot in advance.
You can also travel around Newfoundland island by plane, though it's not cheap. Air Canada (tel. 888/247-2262; www.aircanada.com) connects St. John's with Deer Lake and Gander. Provincial Airlines (tel. 800/563-2800 from eastern Canada or 709/576-1666; www.provincialairlines.ca) flies from St. John's to St. Anthony, Deer Lake, Goose Bay, Wabush, and Stephenville on Newfoundland. Air Labrador (tel. 800/563-3042; www.airlabrador.com) flies between St. John's and Deer Lake.
RV There Yet? -- Newfoundland by RV? No, I haven't done it, but a lot of people do, and they report that it's a fine place to bring a rolling home. The island's single road, the Trans-Canada Highway, is in surprisingly good condition. So long as you remember to gas up and buy supplies now and then, it'll work; there are plenty of friendly campgrounds spaced out across the island with spaces and hookups for campers (many with Wi-Fi access), plus attractive coves, villages, and parks all along the route. There also seem to be a number of spots where you can park overnight for free (without services, obviously). One caution: If you are bringing the camper, don't plan to negotiate it around the streets of St. John's, which is historic, quaint, and a city . . . thus crammed with narrow streets and tight turns. Instead, camp in lovely Pippy Park a few miles northwest of town, then call a taxi, catch a ride with a friend, or deploy your "toad": RV-speak for the passenger car you've "towed' behind you.
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.