This past June I had to go to a conference in Halifax. But instead of booking a simple return ticket, I used Aeroplan points, which let you make one free stopover on domestic trips. Even better, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are considered “short-hauls” from Quebec – so it only cost us 15k Aeroplan Points each (+$150 taxes) to fly to both Newfoundland and Halifax. A great deal when roundtrips to Newfoundland can easily cost over $500, without a stop in Halifax.
Another advantage of Aeroplan is that they let you make unlimited layovers (under 24 hours) in addition to your stopover. So we added an 8 hour layover in tiny Deer Lake (YDF) in Western Newfoundland, enough time for a very quick driving tour of Gros Morne NP, our first Canadian National Park.
So for 15k points, we got 4 flights:
St. John’s – Deer Lake (on a tiny propeller plane)
Deer Lake – Halifax
Halifax – Montreal
If you need Aeroplan points, take a look at my list of recommended credit cards to earn more than 100k Aeroplan points with minimal effort.
Day 1) Arrive YYT, Portugal Cove, Quidi Vidi, Downtown St. John’s.
Day 2) Cape Spear, Bay Bulls boat tour, Ferryland lighthouse picnic, La Manche
Day 3) Signal Hill, Killick Coast
Day 4) Baccalieu Trail
Day 5) Signal Hill, fly to YDF, Gros Morne, fly out.
Hotel: Four nights at the Fairfield Inn & Suites St. John’s. The hotel was expensive, a little over $200/night after tax (so over $800 for four nights). Instead, we used Marriott points and didn’t have to pay a penny! You can get 50k Marriott points + 1 extra free night by applying for this credit card. I would recommend this hotel, a nice large room and a great free breakfast. It’s located on Kenmount near the Avalon Mall (a rather ugly location, but the rest of Newfoundland made up for it) about 15 minutes from downtown, which was fine with us as we went everywhere by car. As long as your main purpose isn’t exploring downtown St. John’s on foot there is no reason to stay downtown.
Day 1) We landed at YYT around noon, picked up our rental car and drove to our nearby hotel. I had heard about “By the Beach” restaurant in St Philips, so we drove up there for some nice views and fish & chips. The food was good but not great. From there we drove to Portugal Cove, then cut east to St. John’s. We walked around Quidi Vidi before parking downtown. We walked around for a while before heading to Rocket’s for dinner. I loved NL, but honestly I’m not a fan of St. John’s. I was expecting a nice colourful city by the ocean but I found it a little ugly. The buildings weren’t so nice and the harbour was taken up by huge ships. A small strip of Water street had some nice stores but otherwise there wasn’t much. I took a quick walk along George Street and it seemed a little seedy. Rocket’s was ok. We had seen it on “You Gotta Eat Here”, which is the Canadian version of “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives”. We love DDD and whenever in America we search out places that have been on the show and they’ve all been great, so Rocket’s was a bit disappointing.
I hope I don’t seem like too much of a downer so far, please keep reading about all the parts I loved!
Day 2) Today was our longest and best day of the trip. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather and we packed a lot in. We started the day by waking up at 4 am (and I hate waking up before 9!) to catch the first sunrise on the continent at Cape Spear. It was beautiful and absolutely worth it even if you’re not a morning person like I am. We were surprised to see that we were one of only three cars there! It reminded my of the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park in Maine, only less crowded. As a bonus, we got an early reminder to slow down on the way there – a baby moose on the side of the road!
We got back home around 6 am and took a short nap before having breakfast (hot, free breakfast buffet!). At 9:30 we left for Bay Bulls, where we took the 10:45 am boat tour with Gatherall’s. I chose them because they have a smoother boat and I was worried about sea-sickness. I had only been out on the ocean once before (deep-sea fishing in Florida) and it went very, very badly. We went on this day because of the good weather so the water was very calm. I didn’t take any medication. At one point we stopped for about ten minutes to watch a whale (more on that later) so during that time we were rocking a lot and I got a little queasy but it wasn’t too bad. Unless you have very bad sea-sickness I would recommend you try this tour on a calm day, it’s worth it!
Anyways, the tour was amazing. For the record, it took place on June 10. The captain got a call that there were humpback whales by the lighthouse so we headed there and observed them (i.e., waited a few minutes till one would pop up, clap when it does, repeat) for about 15 minutes. Then we continued with the tour where we saw thousands of puffins and other birds, which I was looking forward to as I really wanted to see puffins! On the way back we got a quick close-up look at some Minke whales and a bald eagle from afar.
Next we headed down to Ferryland for our reservation at lighthouse picnics. The food was amazing and the experience even better, well worth the ~$25 each (probably the most I’ve ever spent on lunch). After the 25 minute walk to the lighthouse we placed our order and picked a nearby spot with a great view to lay down our blanket (provided by them). It was cold and windy so be sure to wear extra layers. We had great sunny weather for the first half (we had switched our reservation to this day when we saw the weather forecast). The fog rolled in halfway through but this was also a nice sight.
After lunch we bought a blanket from their gift shop and walked back to our car. We stopped quickly at the Colony of Avalon visitor’s centre. The colony was closed but they let us walk around the small room of exhibits for free. We then drove up to La Manche, where we took the gravel road from the south to the trailhead. There was one other car there but we didn’t see anyone on the trail. The walk was very nice (1.7km each way I believe), especially the suspension bridge at the abandoned town. We also saw a pond with lots of toads (or frogs? I don’t really know). My one complaint is that the trail was made of rocks rather than dirt or gravel, so it hurt my feet a little. I recommend wearing shoes with good soles.
We finally arrived back at the hotel around 7:30. We went to The Sprout downtown for a vegetarian dinner, which was ok but not great. Both The Sprout and Rocket’s were rated highly on Yelp, but we did not have a very successful foodie trip in St. John’s.
Day 3: After the long day yesterday we took our time today. After breakfast we went to Signal Hill, which was great, better than I had expected. We walked the Ladies’ Lookout trail which had excellent views. At the final viewpoint, we had a great view of a bald eagle nest with a parent and its chicks! The path around Cabot tower also had nice views. My one small complaint is that when I stopped at the visitor’s centre to ask some questions, the woman working there seemed clueless. You would think that the employees there would be highly knowledgable and ready with recommendations!
For lunch we decided to drive up to Pouch Cove where we went to the Water Witch. This is a tiny take out place where the owner makes everything to order. I had an amazing fried chicken, which we ate on the picnic table outside. After lunch we drove down the coast to Middle Cove Beach, where we walked part of the Silver Mine head path. Both the beach and the trail were very nice.
For dinner tonight I went to the Avalon Mall to get pitas from Extreme Pita to go, which we ate in the room and watched some Netflix.
Day 4: After breakfast we started our long day of driving the Baccalieu trail. Today was our only rainy day in Avalon so we saved the driving for today. We started at Dildo (yes, Newfoundland towns have ridiculous names!) and drove up to Heart’s Content, where we cut across the peninsula and drove down the other side. I planned on going by Cupids and Brigus but I missed a turn somewhere. For lunch we ate at Savvy’s in Conception Bay South, which was really good. All in all the Baccalieu trail was a really nice drive past lots of cute little towns. I would skip it if you’re pressed for time, but if you have a few days in Avalon and enjoy driving it’s a fun day trip.
For dinner we went to the Avalon Mall for the food court and a movie.
Day 5, morning: We woke up at 7:30 and left at 8:00 for Signal Hill, this time with more cameras. We spent some time there and got back to our hotel around 9:00. We had breakfast and packed our bags before leaving for the airport a little after 10:00 for our 11:45 flight to Deer Lake.
The flight itself was a fun experience. We were on an 18-seater Beech 1900. We were in the second row and the cockpit door was left open during the flight. When we landed at Deer Lake, the plane dropped us off right next to the arrivals hall – we went from the plane to our rental car in under 10 minutes.
Day 5, afternoon: We had an 8 hour layover at Deer Lake, landing at 1:00 pm and taking off at 9:15 pm. The flights were on points so it didn’t cost us anything extra, only the $60 car rental. We got unlucky and it rained nonstop the entire time we were there, but I knew beforehand that this was a strong possibility. Anyways, we had a great time and I’m definitely happy we went for it.
We were in our rental car at around 1:15 and we headed straight to Woody Point. We pulled over at the park entrance to get a park pass, but we were told that as long as we didn’t go on any hiking trails we wouldn’t need one so that saved us a little money. The drive along the water was beautiful, even in the rain and fog. Woody Point is a very nice town, and we stopped for lunch at the Old Loft Restaurant. I had the cod au gratin and toutons with molasses. The meal was amazing, the best we’ve had in NL. In addition to the great food, the dining room was very nice and they had an interesting gift shop. After lunch we continued on to Trout River to see the Tablelands from the car (it was raining too hard to do any hiking). Unfortunately the fog was very thick in this section so we only got a few small peaks of the earth’s mantle, without any dramatic views. I would say this was the only disappointment of the day.
We drove around Trout River for a few minutes before turning back. On the way back we stopped for a little at the discovery centre, which had some interesting exhibits. We drove all the way around the bay where we explored (mostly from the car, thanks to the heavy rain) the Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, Rocky Harbour, and Norris Point. We couldn’t find any food suitable for my vegetarian girlfriend so we headed back to Deer Lake (at this point the rain was coming down hard, so we had to drive slowly) and got some Subway to go. We got back to the airport a little after 8. The airport is tiny so we had more than enough time to get on our 9:15 flight.
All in all we had a great day and we would do it again. Essentially all we did was drive, but we got some amazing views. The scenery is very dramatic, much different than that of the Avalon. If you are in the unique situation where you can get a long layover at no extra cost and don’t mind sightseeing from the car, I would recommend taking the layover. We look forward to coming back so we can do some hikes, the boat tour on the Western Brook Pond, and take some pictures when the sun is out!
1) If you only have a day, copy our day 2 itinerary.
2) Obviously, you need to rent a car. Newfoundland is filled with amazing places, and all you need to see them is a car and a place to sleep at night. I’ve never said this before, but I wouldn’t choose your hotel based on its location. As long as it’s in the greater St. John’s area location it will do, since you will be driving everywhere. In my opinion, it’s not worth paying extra to be in downtown St. John’s, which I found underwhelming.
3) Wear layers! The temperature changes very quickly based on whether or not the sun is out and how close you are to the water. While walking to the lighthouse in Ferryland I wore a t-shirt and a sweater. During the picnic I was wearing a t-shirt, sweater, down vest, and raincoat, and I was still cold.