Have they got moose for you

Where on earth can you ski, play ice-hockey, snowmobile - and kiss cod? Julia Stuart finds all this in the peaks of Newfoundland
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The Independent Travel

The wind in Newfoundland doesn't miss a trick. Within minutes of clambering off the plane and heading gingerly across the snow to the arrivals hall at Deer Lake it had sneaked its way into the hole in the top of my trainer close to my big toe.

The wind in Newfoundland doesn't miss a trick. Within minutes of clambering off the plane and heading gingerly across the snow to the arrivals hall at Deer Lake it had sneaked its way into the hole in the top of my trainer close to my big toe.

Arrivals is, in fact, the local fire station, as the adjacent airport terminal is not yet large enough to handle the passengers who, since last month, have been flying in on a direct charter service from Gatwick. Even the airport manager finds it amusing that the fire engines have to be reversed out once a week in readiness for the flight from London. The mainlanders would find it hilarious. They love a laugh at the expense of the Newfies, who didn't vote to join Canada until 1949.

It is rush hour and there are four cars on the highway. During the 20-minute drive to Humber Valley the ubiquitous local radio station K-Rock unashamedly cranks out Eighties hits. Ice forms on the inside of the windows, making it hard to believe that we are on the same latitude as Paris. The foothills of the Appalachians, covered in naked silver birch, resemble shaggy beasts covered in flour.

The newly opened Humber Valley Resort has caused something of a stir locally by creating many jobs - particularly welcome in an economy depressed by the moratorium on cod fishing. The resort currently has around 50 luxury wooden "chalets" (actually large houses) to rent, which will eventually number more than 300. They range from three to six bedrooms, each has an en suite bathroom and the majority are set in two-acre plots. All have views of the lake, the golf course (which becomes a toboggan run in the winter) or the forest. They are rather splendid - cathedral windows, wooden floors, remote-controlled fires, huge decks - and many have that all-important hot tub. Mine had a view of the lake through the trees, albeit somewhat obscured by the plump pile of snow on the balcony's handrail.

"It's a little cold today. Several vehicles have slipped off the highway," says one of the resort managers the following morning. It is in fact -25C with the wind-chill. Temperatures in January usually range from -5 to -15C. I would grow a beard if I were able, and I have so many jumpers rammed down my trousers that I can hardly bend over to pull on the boots for my first-ever snowmobile ride.

Exhausted before I've even started, we speed off in single file up a track boarded by snow-laden trees. It's not as easy as it looks: mine is forever slithering from side to side and I feel as stable as a flag in a typhoon. Just when I'm getting to grips with it I take a left-hand turn a little too wide and career towards a tree. Instead of braking, in my state of stress I open up the throttle and smack straight into the trunk, my snowmobile rutting up against it in a very rude fashion. Those in the group ahead of me later report seeing a tree shake violently before dumping its snow on to the ground.

Despite there being 11 moose to every inhabitant here, they are shy creatures that tend to nip out of the trees to lick the salt off the roads and then dash back in again for cover. The best way to see them is to take a helicopter ride from the edge of the Humber river across to Gros Morne National Park, a World Heritage Site where Western Brook Pond, a vast 10-mile long gorge, bears stalactites that resemble yellowing fangs. We pass over the acres of snow through which black spruce poke like bristles, until a squawking in the back indicates a moose sighting. We sweep low to get a good view of their furry bottoms.

Marble Mountain, a 10-minute drive from the resort, is described as having the best downhill skiing east of the Rockies. It gets an average snowfall of 16ft per year, and offers 34 groomed trails. While the queues are short, a dedicated skier would do most of the "hill" in a couple of days. Nevertheless, the views from the top toward the ocean are wonderful - acre upon acre of snow-pelted trees standing like platoons of soldiers in a vanilla light.

The family orientated lodge at the bottom of the runs offers the Bay of Islands basket (calamari rings, breaded mussels and fries) for C$5.75 (£2.50), three fish cakes for C$3.85 (£1.70) and a small mound of poutine (chips covered in gravy and cheese curds) for C$3.25 (£1.40). Moose stew and flipper pie (as in seal), both local dishes, are not on the menu.

However, sealskin slippers, if you can bear the thought, can be found at the Newfoundland Emporium in Corner Brook, a 20-minute drive from Humber Valley - the second largest city after the capital, St John's. There you will also find "cod-ear earrings" made from the part of the fish that maintains its equilibrium, Newfoundland tartan and partridge-berry jam.

Also worth a look are the pretty clapboard houses, some in raspberry and pink, that were built for workers at the giant paper mill that dominates the city. Nearby is the Co-op where the kids used to hang out in the Seventies - it was the only place in town with an escalator.

"If you hear a popping sound, we're in trouble," says David, our driver, as we venture on to a frozen pond near the resort for a spot of ice-skating. I'm assured that someone has checked the ice is the requisite nine inches thick. This being a pond there are no handy barriers at the edge, just a bank of snow. Suddenly a puck and several hockey sticks appear. Inspired by the league game we saw on Friday night, I forget I can't skate and start charging after the puck, whacking at my opponents' ankles like a St Trinian. My only fear is of falling on to my stomach, shooting towards the brazier where the rest of the group are toasting marshmallows and plopping like a freckled seal through the hole melting below it.

If the local nightlife looks a bit ropy, get your thermals back on and head for the Blow Me Down Ski Park in Corner Brook, which has six floodlit cross-country trails. It is a glorious experience to forge across glinting snow while the silent night presses through the trees on both sides. Rather excitingly, we try an unlit trail and are still able to see, despite there being no moonlight. It is once we are back under the lamps that it all goes wrong. I descend an incline like a runaway train, unable to get my skis into a snowplough position because they are safely tucked into two parallel grooves. Sadly no one has told me that they run out around the bend and I end up in an inelegant heap.

During our final meal at Sully's, the resort's restaurant, a man in wet-weather gear suddenly presents us with a dead cod to kiss, a shot of Screech (a vile-tasting rum) and some hard bread to chew on. He then taps his oar on our shoulders, announces we are honorary Newfies and leaves without further explanation. It is the perfect conclusion to our time in this friendly, wild, deliciously barmy place.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

Barwell Leisure (0870 049 3071; www.experiencehumbervalley.com) operates weekly charter flights from Gatwick to Deer Lake. The firm offers a week in a self-catering chalet at Humber Valley Resort from £595 per adult and £495 per child, with flights, based on four sharing. Flights only cost from £399. Air Canada ( www.aircanada.ca; 0870 524 7226) flies from Heathrow to St Johns.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Newfoundland Tourism (001 800 563 6353; www.gov.nf.ca/tourism)

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