Port aux Basques
Port aux Basques is the main gateway for travelers arriving in Newfoundland, as ferries connect the town with Nova Scotia year-round. It's a good way station for those arriving very late on a ferry or departing very early in the morning; otherwise, it can be viewed in a couple hours when coming or going, or even skipped altogether en route to the province's much greater treasures.
Still, it's a somewhat appealing harborside village, perched on treeless emerald hills that define the terrain around the harbor. Downtown consists of bright, boxy houses on hills around a compact commercial zone. (This is a theme you'll soon get used to in Newfoundland.) A narrow boardwalk snakes along water's edge and links the ferry terminal with the town; it's worth a walk if you've got an hour to kill, especially at sunset, which brings out the contours of the surrounding hills. At the edge of town are a tiny shopping mall and newer residential neighborhoods; there's also a movie theater and some family-style restaurants.
Getting There -- Port aux Basques is usually reached by ferry from Nova Scotia. The Trans-Canada Highway (Rte. 1) is the only highway of substance on this island; it links the major communities in southwestern Newfoundland, then continues all the way to St. John's -- about 900km (about 560 miles, or 10 to 12 hours of driving, including stops for fuel and rest, if the weather's clear) from tip to tip.
Visitor Information -- In Port aux Basques, the Visitor Information Centre (tel. 709/695-2262) is located on the Trans-Canada Highway about 3km (2 miles) from the ferry terminal. You can't miss it: It's the big modern building on the right. This is the largest VIC in this province, so stock up while you've got the chance. Displays orient you to the island's regions. It's open daily from May through mid-October.
If you find it hard to believe that Corner Brook (population 27,000, suburbs included) is Newfoundland's second-largest city, then you've never been to the island; this place practically feels Tokyo-sized after traveling through the far-apart spaces of this province. Like St. John's, it is dramatically sited -- in this case, on the banks of the Humber River, which winds down through verdant mountains from beyond Deer Lake, then turns the corner (hence the name) to flow into Humber Arm. The hills on the south shore of the Humber are nearly as tall as those in Gros Morne National Park, making a great backdrop for the town, which has gradually expanded up the shoulders of the hills.
This is a young city with a long history. The area was first explored and charted in 1767 by Capt. James Cook, who spent 23 days mapping the islands at the mouth of the bay. But it wasn't until early in the 20th century that the city started to take its present shape. Copper mines and the railroad brought in workers; a paper mill, which still dominates downtown, was constructed in the early 1920s. (By 1945, it was the largest paper mill in the world.)
Yet the city has grown beyond its stature as a mill town, and has a more vibrant feel than other similar cities anchored by heavy industry. This is no doubt aided in large part by the energy from two institutions of higher learning here: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College of Memorial University of Newfoundland and the College of the North Atlantic. But the area has also done a good job of creating an alternate economy based on its scenery -- a decent-sized Canadian film studio is now located here, for instance, bringing much-needed jobs and touro-dollars.
You'll also find plenty of services such as grocery stores, banks, hotels, gas stations, and restaurants. In fact, this is your last chance to stock up with some actual choice if you're headed to Gros Morne National Park. From here on out, you'll be dependent on small grocery stores and mom-and-pop restaurants.
Getting There -- Corner Brook is on the Trans-Canada Highway, about 217km (135 miles) north of Port aux Basques and about 56km (35 miles) from Deer Lake. Air access is via Deer Lake Regional Airport (tel. 709/635-3601; www.deerlakeairport.com). You can also fly into Stephenville's airport, about 80km (50 miles) away.
Visitor Information -- Corner Brook maintains a visitor information center (tel. 709/639-9792) just off the Trans-Canada Highway, uphill at the intersection of West Valley Road and Confederation Drive (near the Mamateek Inn). It's usually open daily from mid-June through September, sometimes on weekdays during spring and fall. Also consult the "Tourism" section of the city's website, www.cornerbrook.com, before coming.
Deer Lake, 48km (30 miles) north of Corner Brook on the Trans-Canada Highway, is an unassuming crossroads near the head of the Humber River where travelers coming from the south continue on the Trans-Canada Highway toward St. John's or veer northwest 72km (45 miles) to amazing Gros Morne National Park. Nearby Deer Lake Airport (tel. 709/635-3601; www.deerlakeairport.com) is the air hub for western Newfoundland, with scheduled flights both within the island and to Halifax on several airlines. Car rentals are available from the terminal.
There's little else to detain a visitor here, however. Buy gas, grab brochures at the visitor information center (tel. 709/635-2202; open daily mid-May through September) on the Trans-Canada Highway, and then push on. If the main information center's closed, there's a second visitor information desk (tel. 709/635-1003 or 635-2077) at Deer Lake airport, open year-round.
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.