Avondale - Conception Harbour

by Alex McGruer

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Map of Conception Harbour-Avondale Area - thumbnail, click on image to enlarge

A tour of the Conception Harbour Avondale area is a must for beginners and experienced paddlers alike. The area has an interesting history in all corners.

There are two great places to launch:

(1) the Avondale wharf, and

(2) The conception Harbour Marina and slip.

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Conception Harbour launch site ( Photo Alex McGruer)

Avondale launch site ( Photo Alex McGruer)

For purposed of easy directions we will use the Avondale wharf launch site.

Leave St. Johns on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH), headed west until you reach the Avondale turn-off approximately 60 km from the TCH Torbay Road overpass. Turn down the Avondale access road. and drive until it reaches the Conception Bay highway. Turn right and travel approximately 500 metres.

The public wharf is on your left. Try not to block the slip as people with trailers and large boats use it all the time. Directly out from the wharf is a shallow area called the "Sand Bar." A kayak can pass over that with no problem. To your left (river left) is a marked channel. The familiar green and red channel markers show a deep path for larger boats.

The Sand Bar is interesting in its own right. 

If you paddle in shallow areas, there is a pressure wave created by your boat that will slow you down considerably. Nowhere have I seen that as pronounced as here. You paddle across deep water, then hit the shallow area and the boat seems to put on the brakes. It is a great exercise in physics for beginners. Just beyond the sand bar on river right are a couple of cuts in the rock. A square hole just a little farther up suggests someone was trying to mine here.

These little cuts are worth a look. One goes in almost 400 feet. A number painted in the end reads "115" (metres?). Once a copper mine, it has long since been abandoned to nature and the local kids. The mine or cave poses no apparent dangers and is an interesting diversion. Take a good light!

There is a nice little beach to the left on the mine to take out.

I have been told that the Sand Bar was created by tailings from the copper mine and the mussels and shellfish that anchored themselves to the tailings. I have some doubts. The mine was dug in the early 1800s but was abandoned a very long time ago.

As you leave there, a three nautical mile paddle to Salmon Cove Point takes you to an automated light station with a little exposure to wind and waves. A split in the rock can entice good paddlers to take a little trip through the narrow passage. It's fun but be careful.

Along the way the beaches are great for stopping for a brew up.

From Salmon Cove Point you can turn around or make a one nautical mile crossing to the other side, and follow that shore down. It is an interesting paddle with the community of Conception Harbour unfolding as you go.

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Salmon Cove Point split (left). Salmon Cove Point (right). Photos Alex McGruer.

This town used to be called Cat Cove because of a large wild cat that was said to frequent the area. As that passed into mythology the name was changed by both church and state to Conception Harbour. This reflects a strong Catholic presence in the area.

Just north is an area called Kichuses. This community had an interesting source for its name. A woman called Kit Hughs had a pub in the area, so when a fellow was interrogated by his wife on his whereabouts the answer came back, "Just at Kit Hughs'." That was turned over time to a name Kitchuses (only in Newfoundland).

Two and a half nautical miles in from where you did your crossing (just south of the church) lie the wrecks of three old whaling ships. One - the "Globe" - lies on the surface. You will have to look under your boat to see the other two. Watch your boats here, some metal protrudes toward the surface. Old derricks and rails. All of these boats went to their grave when the whaling industry died.

If you dive, just beyond these boats are a couple more wrecks. One is a schooner.

From here, a trip across Conception Harbour to Middle Arm puts you into the seasonal anchorage for several beautiful yachts. Paddling among these yachts, likely puts you in the middle of a "who's who" of the Newfoundland gentry. 

From there, paddling northeast will bring you to Ballyhack Point and another light station. Sea gulls nest close to shore and will likely make your travels well known. Just around the bend is a small cove that has a very private beach with good take-out sand. It's ideal for a boil-up stop or to catch some sun. 

From there, a one and a half nautical mile paddle brings you past two nice beaches, some beautiful homes, between the channel markers (or over the Sand Bar) and back to your car in Avondale.

Avondale was once called Salmon Cove, a far too common name. If you hang around at dusk you will see why it was named. Sea trout jump, as do salmon making for a good sports fishing area once upon a time.

The locals are very friendly and quick to point out items of interest. One elderly gentleman watched a friend and myself surf back into Conception Harbour. Upon landing he said he had his hand ready to dial 911 had we gone over. It was nowhere near as bad as he thought, but it is nice to see someone watch for boaters.

Northeasterlies can cause the Conception Harbour side of Gasters Bay to become rough. The prevailing winds are southwest, and even with the northeast blowing you around, it is sending you into good take-outs and toward the little marina. Normally Avondale and Conception Harbour are like a mill pond; if there's a gale blowing elsewhere and you can still paddle in this area.

At night, Avondale takes on a new persona with planktonic phosphorescence or, mare ia amour as a friend of mine calls it. Roughly translated it means "the ocean in love," likely badly mispelled in Italian. As your paddle touches the water, a galaxy of stars explode before your eyes.

After darkness, shooting stars are visible in the Avondale area, and the northern lights can be seen from time to time as well. This is a rare treat on a dark night from a kayak. For wildlife, watch for bald eagles, mink, seals and the odd minke whale.

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Avondale secluded beach (left). Avondale from my boat (right).
Photos Alex McGruer.

This trip can be broken down into two different trips. Launching can be done from several places. The area is for the most part well protected and quite beautiful.

For reasons both obvious and all my own, Avondale and Conception Harbour present the best paddling I have ever done. I am comfortable paddling there alone, taking beginners, doing a romantic sunset paddle or a fast blast to burn energy and shake a rough day.

Six to eight nautical miles that can be broken up a half dozen ways, who could ask for more.

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