The below blog chronicles my 18 day long Atlantic Canada Adventure. From Thursday May 21st to Sunday June 7th, I put over 12,000km on my Prius, took just under 2000 images, spent 15 nights sleeping in what I like to call #CampPrius, took 6 ferries ranging form 9 hours to 3 minutes, encountered 2 bear cubs, 1 momma bear and 0 whales. I hope you enjoy my photographs and will comment should you have any feedback or questions.
At 5AM the morning after my last day of work the Prius was packed and I was on my way towards Quebec City (and the rest of Eastern Canada). I had spent quite a bit of time organizing my supplies and decided it would be interested to capture exactly what I would bring with me in terms of camping equipment, running gear and food supplies. Thank goodness for Fujifilm's ultra-wide angle xf10-24mm lenses (one of the few lenses I don't own), my ability to almost do the splits (flexibility remnants from my NCAA D1 goalie days) and my dear uncle Paul for having lent it to my for my travels.
Safe to say I was well equipped and definitely wouldn't starve!
What was interesting to notice as I packed, was that besides my camera equipment which I've spent a lot of money on as of late, the rest of what I was bringing were the other items that In the past I had spent what money I had on or at very least valued most. As my journey (and exit from day job) were nearing over the past year or so, it's almost as though all my purchases were coming together to assist me on this and future grand adventures. Besides the above, a car, a bike, rock climbing gear, hockey equipment which are the "things" I own and need to stay fit and make a living, I've been making a move towards simplifying my life by giving away or throwing out items which no longer serve me. I've implemented a 6 month rule for clothes and shoes, anything that hasn't been worn in that time gets donated or tossed. It's a liberating feeling (I challenge you to try it even for things not worn or used for 12 months) and traveling with the bare essentials only reinforced how little we really need when we're doing what we love and not trying to fill a void with unnecessary material goods or retail therapy. My buying philosophy is simple... Do I really need it? Is it excellent quality? Was it produced locally or sustainably? Will it last? Do I love it? Will it assist me in experiencing the world or add to my adventures? If so great, it's considered and research heavily before I dive in.
Quebec City, Quebec
When I arrived in Quebec city, after a 7.5 hour drive my goal was to shake off the car legs with a good run and explore possible shooting locations for that night. After 13km of exploring the Plaines d'Abraham, the quaint streets of the vieux Quebec, la Citadel, the Chateau Frontenac and the waterfront, I felt energized and had good visions of what I wanted to shoot when the light fell after dinner. I must say there’s something magical about exploring a city on foot... the smells, the changes in elevation, the stairs and the people are all the more vivid and tactile.
After grabbing a quick Falafel at la Galette Libanaise (a place known for making extremely unique and delicious pita and falafels which are instead of being friend, baked fresh together at the same time) as post workout snack, I headed down into the le vieux Quebec for some street photography opportunities and more location scouting. Although none of the shots before golden hour or dark are worth sharing, it really gave me an idea of where I had to come back that night.
Part of what made Quebec really special was having dinner with my god parents and cousins at their beautiful house just outside of downtown. It just worked out that everyone was able to make it for that time and we quickly caught up over a nice dinner before everyone went their separate ways for previous commitments. I really appreciate how supportive/totally understanding they were to the fact that the light was becoming perfect and I had to jet for a few hours.
The first thing I did was head across the Fleuve St-Laurent for a the perfect skyline shot from Levis. The memorable part about this was setting up and just waiting for the right light to happen. Keep in mind I was coming for 3 years of 2 jobs which made for 10 hour days 7 days per week and before that 4 years of university as D1 student-athlete and before that high school condensed into 3 years along with Jr A hockey, I was used to the GO GO GO, relaxing wasn't something I was used to or had experienced...ever. There was something new yet comforting about sitting on the bench watching the sunset (not fantastic for photography that night due to limited clouds and angle of view) and letting blue hour/night unfold as it may.
The reflection of the lights over the moving St-Laurent along with the towering city and green space as a divider made for a few satisfying nighttime shots of the Quebec city skyline.
Next I headed back to old Quebec for some night street photography and different views around the chateau Frontenac which turned out nicely for various reasons including the limited number of people at that time and the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Park National Forillon and Gaspe (aka Wildlife Central):
I left Quebec city early that morning (loaded up with a bag of my aunt Suzie's famous cookies) for the possibility of fantastic sunrise, to miss any traffic and get to my next destination well before sunset, giving myself plenty of time to stop as wanted along the way. The drive along the south coast of the St-Laurence was a special one as it really showed just how massive and mighty this body of water is. It was made evident by all the towns and farms along the way just how much it sustains the people who live and settled there years ago.
When I arrived to Park National Forillon the first thing I did was find out what the hike to the highest point in the park was so I could get a view of the area and get some good elevation training in. Due good amounts of snow still on the trail and the park actually not being officially open yet, I was the only one of the trail which culminated in a beautiful panoramic of the area from a 3 story wooden structure at the top of the Appalachian mountains, which provided beautiful views of the ocean and never ending forests. I took a few shots from the top as the clouds were interesting and the outstretching cape gaspe was fantastic. This was my favorite shot from the top:
Next it was time to head down the mountain before dark, as the park is known for moose and bears, which I was somewhat hesitant to run into all alone in the mountains. Sure enough on my way down I saw a bunch of moose droppings and footprints, which seemed to be getting fresher and fresher, my intuition was telling me I should have my camera around my neck (usually kept in my f-stop loka bag while hiking) in case I saw any wildlife. Sure enough as I rounded a bend in the trail, I froze in my steps when I saw this teenage moose holding his ground on the single track. My first reaction was to step behind the tree to give him his space, I then pulled up my camera to get a few shots and then to be safe backed a way further, giving myself time to google what to do if you see a moose. Advice included give them their space, look for warning signs such as ears back, hair up and lip smacking (none of which I experienced), be closer to a tree then them so that if they charge you can use as a barrier etc. The last piece of advice was if they do charge don’t hold your ground… RUN!
Thankfully, none of that ended up being necessary but this first meeting did leave a lasting impression partly because I was so close, a bit scared in case the mom was around and ended up getting one of my first good wildlife picture thanks to the Fujifilm xf55-140 2.8 WR lens I was forced to buy instead of rent when Henry's entire computer system was down the day before I left.
Less than 5 minutes after I stopped to listen, I heard ruffling in the bushes where I saw 2 porcupines minding their business and climbing a tree, they were sweet and just looked at me intently.
20 minutes after that I was done hiking, driving to explore the rest of the park when suddenly when coming over a hill, I had to break quickly in order to avoid disturbing this momma and her cubs. Mom was literally 6 feet away from my car at times, I had to put my car in reverse a few times in order to use my zoom lens.
After all these exciting encounters, it was time to watch the sunset over the Atlantic, I was feeling calm yet alert and decided to capture a calm sky and water to contrast the rough and interesting shore/trees on the left.
I was feeling energized by such a good day of shooting and couldn't really find the right spot to sleep in the park so decided to drive to Perce so that I could catch sunrise in the AM without having to get up at 3AM and make the drive.
It paid off! After a cold night in the Prius, I awoke early to drive around the new place looking for ways to capture this iconic Quebecois site. The first was on a beach again using a long exposure to make the early morning water even more still. Quite serene is it not?! I chose this as I really wanted the rock's structure and strength to be the star of the shot.
Looking behind me for news ways to represent this scene, I saw some tall mountain and cliffs, as I had got used to doing, I pulled out google maps and found out there was a trail that went to the top! Amazing, good photo opp and some elevation training as a bonus! It wasn't a huge climb but took a good 45 minutes to get to the top of Mont St-Anne (not to be confused with THE Mont St-Anne) and it's various look out points. As I was hiking up, the clouds were starting to become very interesting and the sun was doing it's best to pierce the pierced rock by casting beautiful and interesting shadows over the water further complimented by their reflections. That resulted in nonsense like this:
Another shot which I enjoy from this day shows the importance of perspective and reference in photos. Without this small house in the bottom left hand corner its tough to tell just how big this mass of rock is.
I spend the next part of that morning recharging batteries, sipping coffee and having a warm breakfast at the only place open in town. It was an opportunity to touch base with family and do a little instagramming of course ;)
In photography more than anything:
Prince Edward Island:
Having been to PEI as a kid with my mom and sister, I had fond memories of the dunes and red sand. My goal going there was to explore the island over a day and get an amazing sunset with a lighthouse in the scene. That was my vision and my fingers were crossed! As I was crossing the confederation bridge, I spotted a lighthouse on the west part of the island and knew my best chance of catching a magical sunset would be there.
After a long day of driving (Perce to PEI) and a satisfying picture, I jumped into my back seat/trunk, snuggled in to my marmot sleeping bag and went to bed with the goal of exploring the rest of the island the next day namely Prince Edward Island National Park.
I enjoyed a long run along the water and dunes before heading to Charlottetown for a bite to eat and onwards to New Brunswick's Fundy National Park.
Fundy National Park:
Fundy is another place I'd visited as a child which brought back fond memories, I was feeling a waterfall shot and with a bit of research found Third Vault Falls close to my campsite.
The hike in was beautiful and the pictures turned out. I decided that with all the running I had been doing, it would be a good idea to jump into the frozen water and give myself a cold tub for an interesting #selfie which regrettably took 3 tries due to my inability to hold still enough to actually make a decent photo of it.
Following these satisfying waterfall long exposures, it was time for a long hike back to the car and sleep for this guy.
In hopes of capturing more early morning magic, I got up with the sun again and as I was descending on the Bay of Fundy witnessed the magic of fog rolling over the water and between layers of trees.
One of the touristy things to do in the bay is to see Hopewell Rocks, the only thing I wasn't keen on is getting pics of others in the shot therefore got to the park before it opened as the tide was going out to get these somewhat unique shots of this iconic place:
The fact that the tide changes 40+ feet here makes for a very unique experience walking among the flower pot shaped rocks and ocean floor. In the picture below, I used 6 exposures to capture the detail in the sky while also showing the texture and layers of the soft sandstone pillars.
Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia:
From Fundy National Park (New Brunswick side) it was on to the equally beautiful Annapolis Valley (hello Nova Scotia) on the other side of the bay where I stayed with a friends sister (shout out Sylvie and Cleo, you rock!). Cleo gave me a bed to sleep in and we shared two delicious meals together between her showing me all the awesome spots to see in the area. That afternoon, I managed to get an epic hike in at Cape Spear which is a good 2-3 hour (supposed to take up to 5 hours) hike each way through forest known for coyotes especially around sunset which is when I wanted to capture this stunning place. When I got to the end the wind and cliffs were definitely intimidating and I found it a bit challenging to capture the height and immensity of the cliffs but played with various angles and got some pics as good as any I've seen from the cliffs.
The best shots of this place are from boats or planes which show just how massive and epic this place is:
Now for what it looked like from my perspective:
The next morning when I got up to shoot, it was unfortunately a very grey/rainy day and thus I didn't get anything interesting enough to share of the valley but I will always remember seeing the area from a local's perspective and plan to revisit the area another time. To give you an idea of the driving in less than 6 days, I've showed the direct routes of from places to place not including all the location scouting, food missions and exploring. Lots of driving but well worth the fun!
Nova Scotia's South Shore:
From Annapolis Valley, it was across Nova Scotia inland, to it's south coast where the plan was to hit up Lunenberg (historic port town with original/colorful buildings + home of the Bluenose ship), Peggy's Cove and Halifax before getting to the Cape Breton and Highlands National Park.
This place is so much more than this typical scene, all around are Scottish or Irish feeling grass pastures with rocky shores. I could have spent all day here in the fog watching the waves crash in.
When I arrived to Halifax I met up with my friend Bill's daughter Sara who was awesome enough to walk me around downtown, the port and take me to the best, darkest basement pub in town where I enjoyed a veggie burger and a flight of local brew. Delicious food, awesome conversation, I was ready to make a push for Cape Breton. After a long walk back to my car, a short nap, I was good to go for a 3 hour drive to Cape Breton Island.
Cape Breton Highlands National Park + Cabot Trail:
As soon as I got onto Cape Breton it was time for bed and in true #CampPrius fashion, I found a small dirt road leading to the shore and pulled off for my standard slide into the backseat night sleep.
I awoke early the next morning eager to get into the park and on the Cabot Trail for all the wildlife and views I hoped to see.
Upon looking at the provided map it became apparent that one of the must do hikes along the Cabot Trail is Skyline which is a fairly easy hike through moose dense woods, followed by a ridge which extends out over the Atlantic and the Cabot Trail far below, best of both worlds I thought!
My Fujifilm XT-1 and 50-140mm 2.8 WR lens were drawn and ready, as I walked quietly, my level of presence was a perfect balance between calm and awake. A few kilometers in, my eyes zones in on this beauty grazing across a field on the edge of the woods. I crouched, fired off some shots and couldn't help but grin as I signaled other hikers who were into their conversation and would have easily missed the majestic Mr and Mrs Moose in the distance.
After walking through the woods for almost another hour the trail narrowed into to the ridge where you're able to see the Cabot trail below to your left and ocean on your right.
After this amazing hike, I continued on along the road stopping at hikes which interested me one of which was a little known waterfall called Beulach Ban Falls
After a full day of driving and hiking various trails along the Cabot Trail it was time for a rest. The next morning my goal was to wake up early and get up close and personal with a moose. I was drawn to seeing them and for some reason I wanted to get closer and more personal without disrespecting their space or it being dangerous. With a bit of research, keeping in mind it was raining, I wanted a short hike known for moose and wildlife sightings. I settled on Benjie's Lake which was actually part closed due to flooding (snow melt) but of course I hoped that would mean I would be the only one on the trail and my chances of connecting with my soon to be spirit animal were as good as I could get. Rain jacket on, I ventured through forest, over lots of moose droppings, through old forest and closer to the lake ever more determined and ready to see a moose. I hoped that as I neared the lake I may catch a moose swimming or drinking but before I could finish that thought, just as I came around the corner, I found the guy below resting under some trees out of the rain. I was as surprised as him, as I had been walking very quietly, but neither of us panicked, he got up slowly and I gave him plenty of space, so much that he felt comfortable enough again to lay back down a minute or two later knowing I was less than 25 feet away. Unfortunately I was unable to get a clear shot of him from that far as there was just to much brush and forest between us. With courage and hoping that he was now use to my presence I decided the only way to get the shot is to get as close as you did on the boardwalk. I prepared my camera, checked my settings, actually zoomed out as I was so close and without sneaking or being too quiet I walked around the corner with the thought "Just let me get a few good shots of you and I'll leave you to your peaceful nap buddy", sure enough he sat there (with me 10 feet away max) let me get a few frames in and before anything could manifest, I backed off leaving him to his slumber. The 30 or so minutes in his presence trying to get his picture from afar and finally having the courage to get close to him were very special and are vivid in my memory. Here he is:
The rest of that afternoon was spent running up Franey Mountain a trail which gives you panoramic views of the area, 5km up and 5km down it was a fun and fast run especially on the way down! #quadburner
The next morning my plan was to be in Meat Cove (suggested by a wonderful family I met at work on my last day) which is a remote area of Cape Breton that faces East. As per previous shots I wished/hoped/visualized getting the perfect sunrise and this place did not disappoint. Just before arriving to the cove I got this shot before the sun came up. The fishing boat makes it even more interesting.
My timing was good as I pulled into this small remote village (the road actually ends there) the sun was just emerging from the ocean as I explored the beach looking for the most interesting composure I could in limited time I had. The result:
As I hope you can see Cabot Trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park are world class spots which I would happily recommend to anyone and everyone. I spent the rest of that day traveling to Sydney, Nova Scotia where I found an amazing mostly vegetarian restaurant (my body was screaming for a huge salad and tons of fresh veggies) which hit the spot. And lastly while waiting for to catch the 9 hour overnight fairy ride to Newfoundland, I threw a Frisbee around with a few locals dudes cool enough to let me join.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland:
Getting on a ferry that has hundreds of cars and room for multiple 18 wheel transport trucks is a really interesting experience that involves booking days to weeks in advance, arriving 2 hours before scheduled departure and parking your car in the base of a massive ship before adventuring to find a quiet and comfortable spot for a good nights rest. After a somewhat good night sleep, I woke up to the ship being docked in Channel-Port aux Basques where disembarked, fueled up, checked my tires air pressure and headed into another place I had heard tremendous things about. The feeling of getting onto Newfoundland is hard to explain but it feels like a totally different country.
My first destination was Gros Morne National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage SIte for many reasons but mainly due to the Tablelands there where the earth's crust is exposed. I was there at a unique time as some snow still remained which was causing rivers of snow melt down many parts of this vast barren landscape.
The normal hike in the tablelands follows the base and gives you a good view looking up of this area. I had seen photos from above in the Parks brochure and thus was willing to do what it took to get there. The area was huge and terrain very technical (loose rocks, snow, melting snow, ice etc) and although I gave myself 3 hours before sunset I got out just before dark.
My favorite photo of this unique terrain was made even more unique by the melting water.
After finding my campsite for the night, I knew my body would be happier without having to wake up at 4:30am another morning so I just let myself sleep in without any alarm. I didn't really have an agenda besides hoping to see Caribou and a planned boat tour of Western Brook Pond (only accessible with guide or tour company) at 1pm. With a bit of time to kill, I ventured further down the highway where there had been sightings of caribou, sure enough they were grazing along the road with beautiful mountains as a backdrop... serendipitous.
Western Brook Pond is not so much a pond as a 16-kilometre land-locked fjord lake! Massive, awe-inspiring, billion-year-old cliffs make this one of Gros Morne National Park’s, and eastern Canada’s, most spectacular landscapes. After the glaciers that carved its steep 600-metre rock walls melted, the land rebounded and the fjord was cut off from the sea. The fresh water that now fills the fjord-lake is among the purest in the world. Ponds atop the plateau feed some of highest waterfalls (top right) in eastern North America that cascade into the deep waters below. Western Brook Pond is one of the geological marvels contributing to the national park being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The next morning, it was pouring and thus I decided if I was going to be spending 6 hours in the car that day, there was no better thing to do than to run 18km on a super technical trail called Green Gardens.
My next destinations were east starting with Twillingate follow by Fogo Island.
Twillingate, Newfoundland (Part of Iceberg Alley)
I went to Twillingate hoping to capture a fishing village scene but quickly realized this place was all about it's rugged coasts and stunning trails.
After a long drive, the first thing I captured was a large iceberg far in the distance which I enjoyed naming: Ice, Water & Vapor. By that time the day was basically gone and it was time for rest before hopefully seeing more icebergs and rugged coastline the next morning.
After exploring some trails, I was driving when I saw a large chunk of ice in the distance and decided to go try and get closer on foot. Conveniently there was another set of trails which took me to high cliffs overlooking this bay where I was up close and personal with this iceberg who's progress had slowed due to more shallow waters.
After sitting in the moss peacefully enjoying the scene, my camera lens managed to find the only jagged rock sticking out from the moss when my tripod was sent flying to the ground. It looks awful and it was but thankfully it was only the lens protector which had taken the impact and only a "thing" after all.
Fogo Island, Newfoundland
One of the places I was really interested in seeing was Fogo Island mainly due to the world class Fogo Island Inn (really a small hotel with a tone of local charm, world class cuisine and stunning backdrop) and art studios which attract many resident artists to the island. The ferry ride over was nice, I got some intel from a local who gave me the places to see (not overly hard on an island of 5-6 small communities) but nonetheless very helpful.
As I drove around the Island waiting for the right light to capture the inn I came upon the furthest place on the island which was the small town of Tilting. The below scene caught my eye. As I usually do, I parked, pulled out my camera, tripod etc and started shooting different compositions even before setting up my tripod, then once I got it, with and without filters. This is what I came up with and am happy with the look. It was interesting to find out later (when looking for other ideas or views of the town) that this is the famous: "Keefe’s Fishing Stage", one of the most photographed & painted scenes by artists of different genres over the years. Not very unique, I guess, (except for the fact that a bird flew and landed on the top of the hut for the entire length of my 35 second exposure!) but at least, perhaps, I was starting to see as an artist ;)
Next I wanted to see one of these famous art studios (which are off the grid, self sustainable and only accessible by foot). I hiked (not accessible by car) to the Long Studio and although the light wasn't spectacular due to it being late afternoon, I still managed to capture it's essence in black and white. Cool Eh?!
As the sun was beginning to fall, it was time to head over to the Todd Saunders Masterpiece. I was fortunate that the sunset cooperated and I managed to get 2 very different feeling images of the often photographed Fogo Island Inn. Which one do you like more?
To follow up these 2 shots which I really love, I literally woke up to this the next morning! It was 15 minute minutes before sunrise and right before me was not only a FULL but PINK moon illuminating the waters of Joe Batt's Arm as fishermen left for sea. Post card worthy? Perhaps but definitely a good way to end my time on this charming island.
Further east, I visited Bonavista known for it's icebergs, awesome coastline (Dungeon Provincial Park) and delicious places to eat such as the Bonavista Social Club (unfortunately closed when I was there) and Neil's Yard (MUST VISIT for awesome crepes, teas, lattes and awesome/kind/ worldly owners).
I spent a few hours there simply chatting with the owners and sampling their entire delicious and healthy menu, followed by the rest of my time taking pictures of the coast as sunset approached.
And finally why they call it Dungeon Provincial Park:
The Dungeon, Dungeon Provincial Park
Random Snippets of Nearly Abandoned Towns in Northern Newfoundland on the way to St John's:
St John's, Newfoundland
St John's was an amazing city which I just didn't get to see enough of due to timing. I did the major things such as Signal hill, Cape Spear and Battery District but that's about it as I still had a tone of driving left to do in order to get all the way back west around the Avalon Peninsula, through Gros Morne again and up to L'Anse Aux Meadows (where the vikings originally landed in North America) followed by St Anthony where the Ferry would leave for Labrador the next morning.. I may not have got many pictures due to lighting and weather there but I'm certainly happy with the way the below turned out, although I'll admit I didn't have to do much, point my camera, play with composure. Let the colorful scene do the rest.
Labrador, Canada (into the wild)
The only real nature picture I truly felt inclined to shoot (and not just take snapshots) in Labrador was the one below as I didn't have a tone of time during prime light (golden hour, blue hour, 45 mins before or after sunset and sunrise etc) due to my trip nearing it's end and many hours spent in the car. My focus in Labrador was divided between admiring the wild/rugged landscape but mostly on staying inflated on the many many many kilometers of dirt/gravel roads. I drove slowly, did my best to avoid the massive pot holes formed over the winter and stopped at every chance I could for gas which was often 300-400 kms apart. Reception was sparse to none but thankfully a local suggested the free wifi located in road maintenance stations every couple hundred kilometers between towns.
The next time I felt inclined to pull out my camera was for a portrait of these 2 wonderful German travelers in their decked out Land Rover which had everything from a roof top fold away tent, bike rack, cabinets, a bed in the back, auxiliary heater etc. I know them much better now that they've stayed with me a few days while passing through Toronto, but at the time I was totally inspired and drawn to pulling over into a lookout (which they had made their camp for the night) to interrupt their breakfast and chat for a good hour before exchanging e-mails and continuing on our ways. Before I left I felt very inclined to invite them to our house for a few nights and to my and Jessica's joy they visied over father's day weekend, where we share tons of wonderful conversation, delicious food and a good relaxation. They're journey to travel the world together in this vehicle is an inspiring one and I'd suggest you check out their blog.
The drive home from Labrador went rather quickly and it gave me lots of time to reflect on how fortunate I had been throughout the trip. I had beautiful weather 95% of the time, met awesome people, had world class national parks to myself, saw a handful of truly wild beings (although I was just a bit too early for whale season), never felt rushed, tried unique foods and got plenty of good photos to add to my portfolio along with plenty of practice for Iceland in a few weeks.
The drive home along the northern shore of the St Lawrence in Quebec is stunning and I need to return one day to explore it's forests, farms, parks and wildlife in more depth along with an expedition to the Torngat Mountains (which are a whole other world in themselves) in Labrador for some serious mountaineering. Overall the trip flew by and I really got into the flow of waking early, capturing moments, driving and running throughout the day, shooting more around sunset and getting to bed early which had been my intention all along. I feel blessed to have this opportunity and have recharged just in time for my 10 days of photography and ultra marathoning in Iceland.
As I finish this ultra-marathon of a blog on my amazing past experiences, it's only fitting that I'm about to head out the door on 30km run!
Thanks for reading friends :)