As I waited in the staging area of the Marine Atlantic Ferry terminal, I noted the sheer number of vehicles loaded up with coolers and freezers. Everyone was headed to Newfoundland for the third week of moose season. We had left Pennsylvania Friday around noon and driven 23 hours to North Sydney, Nova Scotia crossing the border at 3:00am. The border crossing turned out to be far simpler than expected. We chose to cross at the newer 24 hour border crossing near Calais, Maine. It was a good decision. We were the only vehicle at the border and were greeted by a friendly young Canadian lady who immediately recognized that we were hunters. She checked our passports, asked how much cash we were carrying and then waved us around to a parking spot to do the paperwork for our rifles. Despite earlier suggestions, we chose not to make maple syrup, hockey, and beavers the center of our discussions with the border guards, and we also elected not to end the response to every question with “eh”. In short order, we were checked in and on our way. As we exited the border crossing building we were welcomed to Canada by a pack of coyotes howling just out of sight from the border.
It was pitch black as we rolled north through New Brunswick on empty highways. We had filled the tank shortly before crossing the border, but only after increasing our stress by not choosing to do so after leaving 395 near Bangor, ME. Needless to say, there aren’t many gas stations open in the middle of the night on tiny roads through the middle of Maine. Fortunately, we had made it to a 24 hour Irving oil station near the border. It was a welcome stop despite the rather creepy dude in the long, black leather trench coat wandering about the place. I’m pretty sure maybe he lived there.
With a full tank, after leaving the border we were able to roll through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as sunlight began to appear in the East. My traveling companions were my best friend Joe, and our mutual friend John.
Joe and I had first met John in southern Colorado while elk hunting. The funny thing is, I had briefly met John prior to that when I sold him a bow case via Craigslist and he lived virtually right up the road from Joe. Yet we met when John walked in behind us at the Colorado lodge we had both coincidentally chosen to pursue elk from. We became far closer friends through a series of life-threatening events on that trip that would take too long to tell for this post. Maybe some other time.
As it was we found ourselves rolling through Nova Scotia on our way to a moose hunt we had planned for almost two years. As we headed toward the ferry terminal, traffic became less, and the country more rugged and beautiful. I think I counted 6 bald eagles along the way. We had chosen Joe’s big Ram truck as our mode of transportation. This easily allowed us to stow six big coolers in back and still gave us room to let one person sleep in the back seat while the others drove or navigated. It was an effective system and we made it to the terminal in just under a full day of driving with only brief stops for food and fuel.
We had arrived way early for the ferry as planned. We didn’t want to be late and you can never anticipate what you are going to encounter on routes like I-95 around New York, Boston, New Haven, etc. But despite a bit of rain, the ride thus far was uneventful.
After grabbing some lunch at one of the few little eateries in North Sydney we rode to Sydney and then back-tracked a bit to a beautiful overlook we had bypassed along the way to take a few pictures.
Eventually, we made our way back to the terminal to await the 9:00pm boarding call. I was amazed at the numbers of trucks, cars, RVs, and commercial equipment waiting for the ferry and the lot was nowhere near full. The MV Blue Puttees is named after a heroic Canadian army force from WWI and can hold 450 cars and roughly 100 commercial vehicles as well as about 1000 passengers in her private cabins and reclining chairs.
It was amazing watching the loading process. Or at least the little bit we saw. We were fairly close to the front due to our early arrival. In short order we were called aboard and parked on deck one, also known as the bowels of the boat. We would not be the first ones off. But that was okay. Our concern had been making the ferry in a timely fashion. We had all day Sunday to reach the far Northern end of Newfoundland.
We had the foresight to have booked a cabin on the ferry. While small, these private rooms afford passengers the opportunity for a good night’s sleep, their own bathroom, and a shower. While the room could be considered challenging with four large people, for us is it was fine.
After a 23 hour drive, I flopped in to my bunk and don’t remember anything else about the ferry ride until the announcement came on that we would be docking in about an hour. We had departed North Sydney, Nova Scotia after 11:00pm and would arrive in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland at about 7:00am. After the announcement, I showered and then searched out the on-board barista for a coffee before going outside to watch a bit of the unloading process.
Unloading went much faster than loading with only a few delays waiting for people to get to their vehicles. We were close to being the last ones off the boat and we were still on our way North through Newfoundland in 40 minutes.
We decided to bypass the popular Tim Horton’s locations near the ferry terminal and wait until later in the morning to stop for breakfast. As you might guess, those near-ferry restaurants were packed with folks coming off the ferry. It is worth noting that the ferry actually has a really good restaurant on board. More on that later. As it was we headed North on the Trans Canada Highway toward Deer Lake noting many moose and caribou crossing signs along the way as well as more adamant messages about moose.
Warning! The following statement will make the top 5 understatements of the year: Newfoundland is astonishingly beautiful! It can not be described in pictures or words. Stunning doesn’t do it justice. The combination of lakes, estuaries, bogs, highlands, forests, and animals is just amazing. As we rolled along I tried to keep track in my head of the things one could do there on vacation but I think the ideas began leaking out of my ears. All of this was highlighted with the trip through Gros Morne National Park. I can’t wait to go back to the island sometime and explore with my wife and our little RV.
Our chosen destination for our moose hunt was Mayflower Outfitters near Roddickton which is near the northern end of Newfoundland. For reference, the ferry is at the southern end. It was a long drive. We made our way up the T.C.H to Deer Lake which is home of the largest passenger airport on the island. Because of the airport a lot of people fly into and hunt near Deer Lake. We continued North up route 430 from there but not without noting the silliness of naming a town on an island with no deer “Deer Lake”.
Beyond Deer Lake we had another 350 kilometers, roughly 4 hours of driving to make it to the Mayflower Outfitters lodge. Most of this drive was right along the coast but no less beautiful than the rest of Newfoundland. Traffic was slight to non-existent. We were getting a bit giddy by this time. Due to the French town names and strong French-Canadian influence in the area we began frenchifying (not a real word) everything.
The funny road signs for “bump” became an announcement of “La boompe”! Moose crossing signs became “Les Moose”!
There may also have been the addition of the stereo typical, nasally “Onh, onh, onnnnhh” added to most sentences. As we made the right turn onto rural route 432, we decided we should arrêté already before we did something embarrassing in front of our hosts. Incidentally the only thing vaguely french they did was drinking wine.
We had programmed our GPS and printed directions to take us to Mayflower Outfitters in Roddickton, NL. As the kilometers on the GPS clicked down toward zero, we were nearly in the center of town. Now Roddickton is not an enormous town by any stretch of the imagination, but the motel parking lot we turned into under the Mayflower sign was nothing like the rural lodge pictured on the website. A nice woman at the front desk quickly realized we were looking to go moose hunting and directed us back down the road, beyond the intersection with 432 to a much more rural setting. Who knew there were two Mayflower Outfitter locations? In our defense, it is all owned by the same family and the hotel provides more of a tourism bent to the business.
When we arrived at the proper version of Mayflower Outfitters, a long driveway (about 5 kilometers) led back to the pictured lodge on the lakefront buried deep in Newfoundland wilderness. It was just what we dreamed of. We were met by Craig the chef who directed us to our rooms, suggested we unpack and then he’d give us the guided tour.
Let’s talk about Craig for a minute. When doctors go on vacation they usually don’t doctor. When lawyers go on vacation they usually don’t practice law. When I go on vacation, I leave my computer home and don’t even say the words “project management”. But when Craig takes vacation from his job as chef on the very ferry we rode on, he goes to Mayflower Outfitters and chefs for all of moose season. This is his love and he is very, very, very good at his job. As a testament, I gained seven pounds while in camp despite fairly significant amounts of walking each hunting day. Craig did magical things with simple moose meat. I suspect he could do magical things with just about any variety of food. Additionally, he was a fountain of knowledge about all things Newfoundland. I truly enjoyed each chance I had to chat with him.
We backed the truck up, unpacked our gear and established residency. We occupied the upper story of the lodge with Joe and I sharing one room and John occupying the other. Once settled in, we got the lowdown from Craig on how to “use” the facility. Our room had it’s own heat, bath, and two beds. We would have electric most of the time during the day when the generator was on, but it would be off at night and when nobody was in camp. The water was drawn straight from the lake. It was probably okay to drink but there was plenty of clean, filtered, bottled water for consumption so just use that to be safe.
As far as the rest of the lodge, there was a common room with plenty of seating, a television, oil stove, magazines, etc.
From there the kitchen was always “on” with fresh baked goods, water, some sort of Newfoundland specific cool aid in an urn on the counter (not remembering the name), and an open invitation from Craig to feel free to eat or drink whatever you could find in the kitchen at any time. If he didn’t want you to eat something you wouldn’t find it.
Breakfast was served around 5:00ish which is when the generator would be started. Craig put out an open invitation to join him in the kitchen prior to that if you were up and so desired. He would be happy for the coffee and conversation. I participated every chance I got. Lunch would be around noon or when everyone was back from the morning hunt, and dinner 8:30 or 9:00 when folks returned from hunting. It turned out these meals were something to look forward to as much as the possibility of seeing a moose. In fact, most of them included some form of moose meat.
Up next: We meet our fellow hunters, guides, and host.