The way to Twillingate

Canada’s collection of wild North Atlantic islands provides a tranquil yet vibrant getaway.

An impressive rainbow highlights the quaint fishing village of Twillingate. (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
An impressive rainbow highlights the quaint fishing village of Twillingate.
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
Twillingate is far away, but when you get there you may find yourself envisioning your return.
The small Canadian island is on the northeast side of the province of Newfoundland. If you look on the map, you will clearly see that this wild North Atlantic area is full of islands – but Twillingate is truly one of a kind.
The way to Twillingate starts when you land in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, on its own a lovely place to visit. Rent a car and begin your magical way into the wilderness towards the small island; point to point, it is 450 km., or around five-and-a-half hours of driving.
Delightfully, there are many sites and small towns along the way that are worth a visit or a longer stay if you have the time (as I did) to enjoy a real road trip, exploring the entire eastern region of the island. As you climb to the northwest you will be traveling on the Trans-Canada Highway, the country’s longest road at 8,000 km., traversing east to west all the way to the other side of this very large country.
First, you will pass through Terra Nova National Park. Stop in the lovely visitors center, which has some great features, including an ocean aquarium and a large “touch tank” full of coastal creatures you are allowed to touch and feel. Nearby are some short hiking trails, to acquaint you with the natural world of the island. Grab something at the eatery, then return to Highway 1 on your way towards Gander.
Gander has a very rich aviation history, mainly due to its use in World War II as the closest North Atlantic landing spot between North America and Great Britain. Gander Airport was used as a major supply base for anything sent to assist the countries and forces fighting Nazi Germany. The aerial route was even more important because the Germans used their famous submarines, known as U-boats, to destroy the Atlantic marine supply.
In the late ’60s, the airport was used primarily as a refueling point for transatlantic flights. To learn about this period, visit the North Atlantic Aviation Museum, right on Highway 1.
As you leave Gander, take road 330 heading north to road 331, then road 340. At Boyd’s Cove, turn right towards a unique encounter with the truly ancient inhabitants of this land, following signs to the Beothuk Interpretation Center. The center is a provincial historic site, detailing the lives of the earliest-known people on the island, dating back some 3,500 years.
The last Beothuk died in St. John’s in 1829; until the end of the ’70s, it was thought that the Beothuk people were wiped out at the hands of the white settlers. Now, however, it is believed that as was the case throughout the Americas, the end of this population was the tragic result of a simple sickness such as the flu, which the white men brought over from Europe.
This also likely explains why the local tribe avoided contact with the white settlers who finally took over the island, thereby cutting off the Beothuk from their vital resources. Typically, throughout America, there was active trade between the native peoples and the Europeans; they exchanged fur for knives, blankets and kettles. In contrast, the Beothuk endeavored to avoid any contact with the white settlers. As a result of this disconnect between the populations, the story of the Beothuk is not as clear that of other native tribes. A visit to the Beothuk Interpretation Center will offer you the opportunity to hear their story and better understand the natural history of this indigenous population.
Continuing on the way to Twillingate, on road 340, you will be reminded that you are traveling on a maze of islands connected to each other by small, short passes. A very colorful little town that began as a fishing village, Twillingate is V-shaped, located between two islands, providing a perfect sheltered harbor with a rapid exit to reach fishing grounds.
Just like other small fishing communities along this part of the coast, in 1992, when a cod moratorium was declared, Twillingate’s fishing community was forced to find another source of income.
They were successful in creating a tourism gem from their enchanting, isolated town.
While Twillingate is one of many ports scattered along the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador, this port has everything in one place, including a beautifully rugged coastline that is wild and inspiring, picturesque houses and wharfs with pastoral colors. There are historical streets (with lots of parking), and the busy, small port fills with fishing boats that roll in with the very best catch of fish, crabs and lobsters, after spending a week to 10 days out in the ocean.
Every corner of Twillingate has a vantage point on the town and shoreline. But to get the best view, climb up to Long Point Lighthouse, right at the northern tip of the island, a beautiful, historic site open for visitors. Adjacent to the lighthouse are fascinating hiking trails and high lookouts onto the ocean. This is a magical point to spot seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales.
In the right season (May-June), you can even see icebergs, as 10,000-year-old icebergs break free from Greenland and travel south in the North Atlantic waters until they melt and disappear. The Twillingate Museum is ready to show you how this has all unfolded throughout the town’s long history.
For a refreshing side visit, check out the unusual Auk Island Winery, where they make wine from Newfoundland berries and fruit (not grapes), as well as specialty wine using iceberg water. You can also go out to sea on a fishing trip; for whale watching or iceberg trips, contact Iceberg Quest, which will make sure you see whales and other area marine wonders.
There are many restaurants and lodging options, and three to four days is ample time to invest in this wonderful ocean-side town.
After a road trip to Twillingate, you will begin to know and understand Newfoundland, with much left to see on a future visit.