Most Americans never make it to Newfoundland. If they get as far as Cape Breton, at the eastern end of mainland Canada, the prospect of a six-hour ferry ride to western Newfoundland usually stops them right there. Those who do venture across generally drive a few hours north, check out the spectacular scenery of Gros Morne National Park, then head back.
But Newfoundland's "other" national park, Terra Nova, on the island's less-traveled east coast, is slowly being discovered -- though we're talking in relative terms. Terra Nova National Park is about 200,000 acres and gets all of 200,000 visitors a year, almost 80 percent of whom live in the combined province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Terra Nova doesn't have the rugged beauty of Gros Morne -- think Appalachians rather than Rockies -- but its 200 miles of rocky coastline, coves, sheltered inlets, and deep fiords are gaining recognition as one of the province's best spots for kayaking.
Even novices can handle the relatively calm waters of Newman Sound, a vast, sheltered fiord at the heart of the park. The water of the inner sound is full of sea urchins and jellyfish, though the biggest wildlife action is probably overhead: It's a bird sanctuary, with breeding and migratory colonies of kittiwakes, puffins, common murres, razor-billed auks, gannets, and Leach's storm petrels. Most fabulous are the bald-eagle sightings; about a dozen pairs nest in the trees around the sound. Newman Sound also brings in the occasional minke and humpback whale and a school of pilot whales or white-sided dolphins.
Experienced paddlers like to head for the outer sound, where you can still spot icebergs as late as July. Just outside the sound lies a series of small islands, which also makes for sheltered paddling.
Protected areas or not, this is all oceangoing kayak territory. The wind can whip up anytime, even in the sheltered sections of the inner sound. And those icebergs aren't just for show: The water is cold (the average surface temperature in August is 54 degrees). Luckily, there are so many inlets and different spots for kayaking around the park that, if it's too windy in Newman Sound, it may be just fine at Charlottetown, at the southern entrance to the park, or Malady Head, at the northeast entrance.
You can bring your own sea kayak and equipment or leave it to the park's concessionaire, Terra Nova Adventures (www.terranovaadventures.ca, toll free at 888-533-8687 or 709-533-9797). Terra Nova rents kayaks ($45 per day for a single), gives lessons, and leads trips that last from a few hours to up to five days. Being true Newfoundlanders -- i.e., very friendly and helpful -- they'll customize your trip, including cooking to order. Ask for a very Newfoundland meal of pan-fried cod cheeks with partridgeberry pie, and they can probably deliver.
If you don't want to kayak every day, there are multitudes of trails for day hikes or backpacking. Campsites range from full service with electricity to primitive sites reachable only by hiking or boat. Among the best are Minchin Cove and South Broad Cove, abandoned former logging and boat-building communities, where the slabs of wood once cut for lumber can be found floating just offshore. If you're hiking and only want to walk one way, you can arrange for a pickup or drop-off with the water-taxi service provided by Ocean Watch Tours (www3.nf.sympatico.ca/oceanwatch, 709-533-6024).
For those who want indoor plumbing and a roof over their heads at the end of the day, civilization exists just outside the park boundaries. Two good choices are Pinetree Lodge & Cabins in Traytown (709-533-6601) or the Lilac Inn in Glovertown (toll free at 877-733-6038 or 709-533-6038).