I "HEART" NEWFOUNDLAND'S AVALON
Orange feet slap the water and black wings flap furiously. Like a wind-up toy gaining momentum, the puffin takes flight. With small fish clamped in a brightly coloured bill, the determined bird heads for land to feed its young. From our tour boat deck, I see floating, diving, and flying puffins-thousands upon thousands of them. They are so cute, my heart does a little pitter patter.
My husband and I are touring the rural south-east corner of Newfoundland known as the Avalon Peninsula. From puffin viewing to romantically named fishing villages to one of the largest gannet bird colonies in North America, and plenty of scenery in between, I am rapidly falling hard for this part of "The Rock."
As we depart the Witless Bay eco reserve, my heart calms down from the excitement of seeing puffins in the wild. But it gets racing again when a humpback whale surfaces nearby. Its gigantic tail lifts into the air before it eases back into the deep, continuing a long migration southward.
There must have been romance in the air when some of the tiny towns clinging to the tree lined coast were named. How else can one explain "Heart's Desire", "Heart's Delight", "Heart's Content" or "Cupids"? According to legend, "Heart's Delight" was named after one of the many pirate ships that plied local waters in the early 1600s. Stories of olden day real life pirates are most definitely in the realm of romance.
Although "heart" is not in its name, Harbour Grace is a town where people followed their heartfelt dreams. In the early seventeenth century, pirates led by the famous Peter Easton were headquartered at the site of the Old Customs house. He raided foreign ships as far away as the Caribbean and the Azores. A few centuries later, the town was the site of the first civilian airport in North America. It attracted pilots for many early attempts to fly the Atlantic. Most famously, Amelia Earhart left from here in 1932 and became the first woman to fly a solo crossing. Her statue stands in the main square next to the Spirit of Harbour Grace, a restored DC-3; fitting tributes to historic adventurers of the air.
In 1866, "Heart's Content" was the terminus for the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable. In one of the greatest technological achievements of the time, more than 2000 nautical miles of cable were laid beneath the Atlantic Ocean to complete a communications link from the Old World to the New. The community served as a major cable relay centre for over a century. Inside the old Cable Station, much of the equipment, instruments, and massive tangles of wires are wonderfully preserved. It takes me about five minutes to tap out a simple phrase in Morse code, a laughably long time compared to what trained operators could do. Think of how hearts fluttered when the first messages were sent and received across the ocean!
In 1610 at the romantically named town of "Cupids", John Guy established the first English settlement in Canada. The site is now an archeological dig and one visitor exclaimed she could hardly believe the large number and variety of artifacts excavated each day. Shaking ourselves from the romance of the past, we continue our explorations through fishing villages perched on treed bays, each with an array of boats and lobster pots, and head for the Cape St. Mary's gannet colony.
At the Cape, the wind is howling along the cliffs of Irish green under a clear sky. Biologist Chris Moody declares with a wide grin in his thick Newfoundland accent, "This is as good as it gets at the Cape!" Walking across the headlands, we hear the birds before we see them. Enveloping Bird Rock, a sea stack almost near enough to touch, are thousands of gannets. The air reverberates with their calls as blurs of white swoop by. Fluffy baby gannets cry out to parents who hover overhead before landing to feed them. With a wing span of two meters and a dive speed of almost 100 kilometers an hour, these are formidable birds. My heart beats faster as I look over the edge of the sheer cliff to follow the spiraling flight of some adults. Watching the birds' continuous activity is mesmerizing.
Even as we leave, I declare a true confession. My heart will hardly be content until I follow its desire and ensure its delight with a return visit to the Avalon.
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PHOTOS by Cullen Photos
1. Puffins taking flight. K. Cullen photo
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