At the beginning of summer, I made a sort of vow that I’d take advantage of every weekend that came my way. This was a decision based on my knowledge that summer is glorious but brief in St. John’s, and the fact that not travelling much in 16 months was beginning to take a toll on my mental health.
I might have overdone it.
But, I kid you not, I literally had the best Newfoundland summer in existence.
Take a St. John’s Beer Tour
My friend Kayla launched St. John’s Beer Tours at the beginning of the summer, and I participated in the very first one on June 5th.
First of all, the fact that it’s taken this long for a beer tour to launch in St. John’s is kinda nuts. I mean sure, the craft beer scene is relatively new to Newfoundland, but St. John’s has an insane bar-per-person capita. We like da booze.
Considering it was Kayla’s first ever tour, she crushed it. I learned new things about St. John’s, and I tried new beers. At the end, when we wrapped up at the Mill Street Brewpub (they brew local beers as well), I ended up sitting at a table with a bunch of random tour guests.
Best. Decision. Ever.
We were having a ridiculously good time; we did not want the party to end. So we continued on for food and drinks at Piatto, while I took a quick jaunt home to take care of the pets. When I got back, a new guy had joined the table. His name was Sean, and he was friends with a married couple I had befriended on the tour, Tiffany and Charlie. Charlie had covertly texted Sean to come join us, assuming we’d hit it off. Four months later and yeah, safe to say we hit it off.
Beer brings people together. True story.
Go on an overnight hiking trip
I’ve done very little hiking this summer, and a part of me thinks it’s because a) I crammed in too many other things, or b) the overnight hike to The Spout ruined me for life.
Well, that’s not fair. Let me back up.
The Spout Hike is one of the East Coast Trail’s absolute best hiking trails on the entire 500+ kilometre route…but not because of the condition of the trail. Me and some buddies started the roughly 23-kilometre trail in Shoal Bay and ended in Bay Bulls. The crown jewel of the experience is a freshwater geyser.
Now, 23 kilometres of hiking might sound like small potatoes, but not on this trail. I was sleep deprived starting out to begin with, and we also got sidetracked for an hour, but…it was an extremely difficult trail if you’re an average hiker. Me and a handful of friends camped out halfway on some pretty rough terrain, but each day included more than eight hours of hiking up and down steep hills and through brush so dense it constantly snagged at our legs and arms.
Oh, and it rained. A lot.
The hike was punctuated with sea stacks, wide open ocean vistas, and a pod of whales that seemed to follow us along the coast. They breached for us, their massive bodies slamming into the water over and over again. It was incredible. At the campsite, I perched on a makeshift camp toilet overlooking the Atlantic and listened to the whales spouting at the cliff’s edge below. It was the greatest throne in the world.
That evening at the campsite we made dinner, swigged whiskey from a flask, and danced around a portable speaker–much to the annoyance of the other campers, I’m sure.
But the trail itself was hell. Maybe I’m not as in shape as I used to be, or maybe it was the lack of sleep for two days. Or maybe I’m just a giant wiener. Yeah, that’s probably it. The wiener thing.
Whatever the case, for the last 5 kilometres I separated myself from the pack so I could cry out my agony in peace. As soon as I got home, I passed out face-down in bed and didn’t move for hours.
Mostly still worth it.
Have a fun beachy weekend in Eastport
A major plus to meeting Tiffany and Charlie on the beer tour (other than them being awesome new friends) is that me and Sean were eventually invited to their cabin in Eastport, on the Eastport Peninsula (about a three-hour drive from St. John’s, on the outskirts of Terra Nova National Park).
Their cabin was essentially the nicest house I have ever stepped foot in, and it came with a massive Jacuzzi (which we obviously took advantage of).
Waking up on Saturday morning, we had a huge breakfast and started the day off right with some Caesars…followed by an all-day sunbathing session at Sandy Cove Beach.
Sandy Cove Beach is easily one of the best beaches in Newfoundland, with fine sand and consistent sunshine throughout the day. The water is freezing, though. It ain’t exactly a place for swimming.
Still, these white sandy beaches are hard to come by on this island. We lounged all day in the sand, drinking beers, and grilling hot dogs. When we actually wanted to go for a swim, we walked across the road to Crooked Tree Park for a dip in the much warmer lake. A bunch of teens paddled around the lake in a canoe. Families gathered around picnic tables. It was about as Canadian as Canadian gets, but without beavers.
Watch the capelin roll at Middle Cove Beach
When schools of tiny capelin fish start rolling at Middle Cove Beach just beyond St. John’s, it’s like the official start of summer.
I don’t care how crowded the beach is, it’s always a magical experience. Hordes of people clustered around campfires, covertly drinking beer, toasting hot dogs and weenies, strumming guitars. Dozens of people at the water’s edge scooping up nets full of capelin to bring home for dinner, or to smoke for later. The air might be crisp, but the sunset is always warm and spectacular. This year I gathered with my cousin and her friend visiting Newfoundland for the first time, and it didn’t matter that our feet turned black with the sticky sand. It was well worth it.
One of my favourite things about the action at Middle Cove is watching the flickering fires as we’re leaving for the evening. All those little glowing beacons of humanity along the beachfront. There’s something so satisfying and comforting about knowing there are people around those fires, enjoying life.
Road trip to the Bonavista Peninsula
Clearly I’m obsessed with the Bonavista Peninsula, and this surprises no one. I wrote all about it, actually, so I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.
- Dungeon Provincial Park
- Port Rexton Brewing Co.
- Bonavista Social Club
- Puffins in Elliston
- Mockbeggar Plantation
- Hiking the Skerwink Trail
If you’re in St. John’s and you have limited time to explore somewhere beyond the city, I will always recommend the Bonavista Peninsula. There’s cool shit happening there.
Participate in ALL OF THE FESTIVALS
Newfoundland has some notoriously epic festivals, but summer is when most of them come out in full force. If you want the trifecta of Newfoundland summer festivals, you have to come at the end of July for George Street Festival, the Royal St. John’s Regatta, and Folk Fest.
George Street is my least favourite of all these invites, but first-timers always have a hoot, and somehow I seem to find myself amongst the masses at some concert or another every year. George Street is the notorious street lined with pubs, clubs, and bars; it’s a debauch insight into boozy Newfoundland. For the festival, the street shuts down for one week, there are concerts galore, and everyone parties together en masse. It’s a ridiculously good time, if you don’t mind the crowds. I checked out just one concert this year, and it was much tamer than some of the others I’ve attended.
If you’re visiting for the first time ever and are unfamiliar with the bands, might I suggest the Saturday Night Kitchen Party? It’s a Newfoundland classic.
The Royal St. John’s Regatta isn’t a festival, per se; it’s the oldest continuous sporting event in North America (and a city-wide holiday). My favourite part about the Regatta is actually Regatta Roulette. See, Regatta Day always falls on a Wednesday. Tuesday night is always the last night of George Street Fest. But since the Regatta is weather dependent, there’s always a chance the holiday might actually be pushed ahead a day…sometimes two. People head out to George Street Fest risking a hangover at work the next day. Regatta Roulette.
It’s a perverse kind of thrill, but it’s a thrill nonetheless.
Regatta is a lot of fun. The atmosphere around Quidi Vidi Lake is always exuberant, even if you don’t give a rat’s arse about rowing. There’s an endless line-up of food stalls, carnival games, and of course…the glorious beer tent. I always have the most fun here.
Pro tip: next year is the 200th anniversary of the Royal St. John’s Regatta. It’s a good time to visit.
Shortly after Regatta comes Folk Fest, my FAVE summer festival of all time. I LOVE the atmosphere here; it’s incomparable to the others. There’s a more united, relaxed feel to the entire event held in Bannerman Park. And when the weather is right, it’s so right.
People sit in the grass on blankets, or camp chairs. They hold hands and sway back and forth, or sing along near the stage. Nobody’s rowdy. Nobody’s disrespectful.
OR they hang out in the stupidly fun beer tent, where the booze is crazy overpriced but you’re always bound to meet someone fun. Guess where I spent my Friday night?
Go to The Gathering
The Gathering is also a festival, but it’s in a league of its own. I recently wrote about this experience in Burlington. Two months later, I still think fondly of that fun-filled weekend of music, food, and campfire.
Where else can you hike to a brook picnic hosted by the likes of Chef Jeremy Charles, who recently helped Anthony Bourdain tour around the island?
The Gathering takes place near the end of August, and it’s hosted by a slew of comedians and other local celebrities. It’s a camping kind of event, though, but you’ll be deep into rural Newfoundland and all its isolated glories. Re: no cellphone. Embrace every damned second.
I’ll write a logistical piece about the experience in the near future, but man, if you want a true Newfoundland experience in the middle of nowhere…this is it.
Take a tour with Ocean Quest
At the beginning of the summer, I won an Ocean Quest tour to go kayaking around Bell Island. Bell Island is a dramatic, bell-shaped island (who woulda thunkit?) not far from St. John’s. In my 11 years of living here, I and never been.
Bell Island is known for its abandoned mines, and divers know this place for its prime shipwreck diving opportunities. But the dramatic and varied coastline around the island was the main draw for me: sea caves sea stacks, waterfalls plunging from cliffs, and plenty of sea life.
Me and my friend Laura showed up that day all ready for our kayaking tour, only to find out…it wasn’t a kayak tour. Clearly our lines had become tangled at some point, but whatever. We hopped in the Zodiac and cruised around the island, nosing into caves and tickling jellyfishes. Yes. We picked up a jellyfish. It’s a lot sturdier than you’d think.
The others on the tour were snorkelling, but I didn’t feel like squeezing my body into a tube that day and so Laura and I were able to step foot on shore instead. Still awesome.
Honestly, after about 12 weeks of non-stop adventure, it’s been good to have slower weekends these days. I made the most out of my summer, but it sure is nice to greet autumn mornings with hot coffee and good books.Continue Reading