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Exploiting Central Newfoundland

August 10, 2020
In Newfoundland, almost everything happens on the water.

We had been out on the ocean, and even a giant pond, so it was time to give a river a try. Why not the largest river on the island, the Exploits River?

We figured it was aptly named as we prepared for some exploits of our own involving rushing whitewater and a rubber raft.

Riverfront Chalets and Rafting Newfoundland, just outside of Grand Falls - Windsor (that's all one town), sounded like just the spot to tame some wild water.

While we have had some experience with river rafting, the safety briefing was making it clear that what we were about to encounter was a whole lot more water than in our previous escapades.

We received instructions on how to lock our legs under the seat in front of us in hopes of staying aboard the boat, and in case that failed, we learned the finer points of ducking down onto the floor and hanging on like terrified spider monkeys. Screaming like one is optional, but most likely unavoidable.

Whitewater rafting on the Exploits River in Grand Falls - Windsor, Newfoundland, Canada
OK, so we may have to go into a protective fetal position, but it beats bobbing in the rapids... wait, what? How to properly bob in the rapids was the next lesson.

Keep your head up, look for the boat, try not to slam into any huge rocks, grab the rope... got it!

Jumping off a cliff into the Exploits River in Grand Falls - Windsor, Newfoundland, Canada
Just to make sure we were all cool with the drill, the first thing we had to do was jump off a cliff into the freezing water, just to get comfortable with the idea of getting slung out of the boat.

We were beginning to wonder why we even had a raft, this was sounding more like it might be whitewater swimming.

Jumping of a boat into the Exploits River in Grand Falls - Windsor, Newfoundland, Canada
Truth is, it was all for our own good, better to be safe than sorry and the crew was proud of their safety record. They haven't lost anyone yet and weren't about to start with us. So we dragged our soaking butts aboard the raft and began paddling.

Nothing to it, until we started aiming for the rapids. Then we started rowing like our lives depended on it, and it wasn't hard to convince us of the possibility. Even though the current overwhelmed us, rowing like crazy was our only hope of any control over our path.

Whitewater rafting on the Exploits River in Grand Falls - Windsor, Newfoundland, Canada
After surviving the first couple runs we began to feel safer, and maybe even a little cocky. Our trusty guide took that to mean it must be time to bury the nose of the raft right into the teeth of a huge wave. While this certainly seemed crazy, we were all grinning like idiots and, due to our training in hanging on for dear life, no one went overboard.

When we finally made it to some calm water everyone enjoyed a swim, going into the water by choice. This also gave us a chance to take in the gorgeous countryside of The Exploits Valley. As tired as our arms and backs were from frantic paddling we still would have gladly started all over again.

The next day we followed the river downstream, north beyond The Bay of Exploits where it meets the sea, and stopped in at the Beothuk Interpretation Centre Provincial Historic Site on the shores of Boyd's Cove.

The site marks the spot of one of the last settlements of the Beothuk people, and most of what little is known about them can be found here.

They were known as the Red Indians to the early European settlers, not for their skin color but for their practice of covering themselves with red ochre, a dye made from the iron colored soil.

The Beothuk did their best to avoid contact with the new arrivals, just as they had done with the Mi'kmaq who would frequently cross over to Newfoundland from the mainland, so much of their background remains a mystery.

Shanawdithit's drawings at Beothuk Interpretation Centre Provincial Historic Site in Newfoundland, Canada
It is likely that they were the people the Vikings encountered at L'Anse aux Meadows and named skraelings, or barbarians, but we may never know for sure.

What we did learn came mostly from Shanawdithit, who was the last known Beothuk survivor before she passed away in 1829.

The drawings and interviews she provided during the last years of her life are by far the best resource for information on her people's lives, and seeing them was without a doubt the highlight of our visit to the centre.

See more about the Beothuk Interpretation Centre and see more of Shanawdithit's drawings

Continuing on our way we came upon Dildo Run, which led to Virgin Arm, and onward to the Main Tickle. 

Perhaps we should translate; a run is a channel of water between the shore and a string of islands, but no one seems to know why Dildo is a somewhat common Newfoundland name, there's a town and island also tagged with it; an arm is an inlet off of a bigger bay, no word on why this one hasn't had any relations with a man; and a tickle is a narrow, treacherous stretch of water, perhaps because the boat might get tickled by a rock. See, perfectly normal names... or not.

After we passed over the oddly named straits, we stopped off to grab a bite at one of the many lobster pools in the area. We weren't really sure what to expect, but the name turned out to be quite accurate, think swimming pool filled with lobsters.

Hundreds, if not thousands of them just waiting for someone from a restaurant or store to haul them away.

Lobsters are so common in this area, that several folks told us that as children they had already grown sick of it as a food source. Lobster was as common in their lunch boxes as a bologna sandwich or PB&J was to us.

As a sideline, and happily for us who are not sick of lobster, most of the pools sell steamed lobsters to curious passers by like us.

We ordered a couple beauties and settled in at a picnic table on the shore.

No five star establishment could have been better. The view was phenomenal.

Fishin' with Mannequins?

Just as we crossed on to South Twillingate Island we noticed a whale skeleton on a pier off to the side of the road. That's not really something that goes unnoticed. The baleen bones are a part of The Prime Berth Interpretative Fishing Center, and had their desired effect on us. We turned in to see what was going on.

The Prime Berth Interpretative Fishing Center, Twillingate, Newfoundland, Canada
We noticed right off the bat that The Twillingate Fishery & Heritage Centre had a bit of a split personality, including to the fact that it has two names. It couldn't quite seem to decide if it was a serious museum, or a quirky tourist attraction.

Unusual mannequins performing old fashioned tasks dot the grounds, while interesting artifacts and photos are displayed, albeit somewhat haphazardly, inside old shacks. The unpredictable blend had an endearing quality though, we couldn't help but like it.

The Prime Berth Interpretative Fishing Center, Twillingate, Newfoundland, Canada
And we found ourselves learning a lot about the fishing history of the area, including a fascinating video of how one of the fishing shanties, known as a stage in Newfoundland, arrived at this spot.

We had heard stories about floating houses across the water to relocate, and it was pretty cool to see it on film. Mostly we were amazed that the building didn't break into a million pieces.

All of this almost had us forget the main attraction, an entire reconstructed sei whale skeleton. We made our way up along the raised viewing platform that runs beside the monstrous critter carcass and felt really small. Sei's are the third largest of the whales, they can grow up to 65 feet long. This example didn't quite make that size, but we were still duly impressed.

It was after all, bigger than our current home.