Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Press: Evening Standard - A wilderness for wimps

A wilderness for wimps
Evening Standard (London), Aug 16, 2006 by REBECCA FORD

THERE are still places here where no human has ever been," said my guide, as we watched an eagle surfing the breeze. I felt a tingle of excitement. Few things are more tantalising than wilderness - the word itself oozes promise. Trouble is, it also tends to conjure up images of an exhausting journey to a malaria-ridden corner of the globe - where you're expected to lug around a hefty rucksack and live on beetles.

But there are some wild places that are accessible. I was staying at the Humber Valley, a new all-season resort in Newfoundland, five hours' flight from Gatwick.
It is essentially an upmarket, and rapidly expanding, activity centre with a restaurant, smart chalets and special outdoor programmes for children.

But while it is extremely comfortable - my chalet turns out to be a sleek house with three en-suite bedrooms, a sundeck and a fridge as large as my car - it is surrounded by a landscape so unspoilt that sea kayakers frequently catch sight of humpback whales, and golfers often find moose wandering across the pristine greens of the resort's stunning course. Newfoundland is huddled against the eastern coast of Canada. On the map it resembles some primitive sea monster craning its neck across the Atlantic.

It has been settled by Europeans for centuries; John Cabot, an English explorer, named it New Founde Isle when he came here in 1497. It was thoroughly mapped by Captain Cook in the 18th century and he made such a good job of it that his charts can still be used today. The coastline is dotted with intimate communities that rely on whaling and fishing, but much of the island is still largely unexplored. It is a raw assortment of mountains, glacial lakes and dense green forests that is home to caribou, lynx and bears.

The resort has been built on Newfoundland's quiet western coast on the tranquil shores of Deer Lake, a 20-minute transfer from the airport.

Depending on the time of year you can go skiing and snowshoeing or try caving, and the sailing is inspiring.

But as I discovered, if you go between May and October, one of the best ways of enjoying the untamed landscape, and of working off the breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup, is to go for a walk.

I made for Corner Brook, a former logging community and the nearest town.
It's the starting point for one of a number of short, family- friendly trails close to the resort. An easy amble along forest tracks and I was soon standing above a gorge so steep that stunted trees clung grimly to the rocks, their branches pointing upwards as if they didn't dare look down. I felt as if I'd stepped into one of those expansive Caspar David Friedrich landscapes.

A short walk later and I was back in the comfort zone of Corner Brook raiding Tim Horton's (the local equivalent of a Krispy Kreme store) for coffee and squidgy doughnuts and marvelling, not for the first time, at the genuine friendliness and warmth of the locals.

But it's not all wilderness-lite. More adventurous walks can be had in Gros-Morne National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site with forested hills on one side and bare brown slopes on the other. These are the Tablelands, flat-topped mountains forced through the Earth's crust when vast geological plates collided. Made from a rock that is toxic to most plants, they remain lifeless and forbidding millions of years after they first appeared. My guide tells me it is one of the few places on earth where you can see the Earth's mantle.

The trail continues past stunted spruce trees, known locally as tuckamore, and then into thick forest, where a narrow path leads steeply down to the sea. This slice of paradise is known as the Green Gardens, a stretch of coast where lush meadows line the rocky shore and dramatic sea stacks jut defiantly from the water.

We sat down and looked over the Gulf of St Lawrence, stretching our eyes in search of surfacing whales, while a bald eagle soared lazily overhead. All this, and I didn't even need a rucksack.

Barwell Leisure (020 8786 3071) is the only operator to the Humber Valley Resort from the UK: seven-night packages from Pounds 658pp based on four people sharing a three-bedroom chalet with return flights from Gatwick. Two people in a three bedroom chalet starts from £924pp. For further information visit or