A twenty minute drive from St. John’s will take you to Portugal Cove where you catch the ferry to Bell Island. It is a short ride across “the tickle”. As you approach the great rock in Conception Bay you will marvel at the extreme height of the steep cliffs that encircle the island. So formidable is the island that one wonders exactly how it’s possible to get to the top. However, on arrival you will easily drive up the slope from the wharf to the tableland of the island above. Exploring the 9 by 3 kilometre rock provides all kinds of surprises.
One of your first stops could be the Bell Island Mine Museum and Underground Tour. The museum contains artefacts from the island’s history of iron mining that stretches back to the era of early exploration of the Atlantic coast of North America. The settlers of Sir John Guy’s plantation at Cupids, just across Conception Bay, recognizing the mineral potential of Bell Island gathered samples of ore and shipped them back to England for consideration by investors in the New Found Land. From the museum you are led into the underground shafts of No. 2 mine that ceased operation in 1949. Here you will experience in a mild sort of way what it was like to work underground. The guide will inform you of the rise and fall of iron ore mining on Bell Island.
Next take a drive out to the lighthouse. Here on clear day there are outstanding views of the Atlantic. You may see whales and icebergs.
On the sea off Bell Island there were some fierce naval engagements in the Second World War. The fully laden ore carriers departing from island were particularly vulnerable to attacks by German U-boats. Artefacts from the period of conflict on the sea are preserved in the island Legion. At Lance Cove an anchor commemorates those in the merchant marine who perished in the Second World War off Bell Island. Scuba diving expeditions are offered by Ocean Quest Adventures to the wrecks of ships sunk in September and November of 1942
Hikers and bird watchers will certainly enjoy Bell Island. A walk on any of the trails is recommended as the best way to take in the scenery and observe the wildlife. And as far as birds are concerned, countless Black Guillemot’s nest on the cliffs of the island and there are resident populations of a great number of other sea birds. You will become acquainted with the avian life of the island right from the moment you drive off the ferry and bird watching is even better at the Lighthouse.
After your return to the mainland be sure to explore the walking trails and dramatic rocky beaches of Portugal Cove – St. Philips. A walk down to the small beach at Beachy Cove is highly recommended. Here you can get up close to the chilly North Atlantic perhaps even see a few hardy locals attempt to get into the water. Except on the warmest of summer days you will probably have the beach to yourself so you can watch and listen to the sea in solitude. Easier to access is St. Philips Beach further along the coast. It is adjacent to the town wharf. If you visit in mid-summer you might be lucky enough to experience the activity when the capelin are running. This small fish is regarded as a great treat by Newfoundlanders and the time when they come ashore is a special occasion.