If you’ve ever stayed at the hostel on a clear sunny day in July, you may have heard the staff mentioning that they’re heading out to the Horse Chops. This may sound like an odd activity that is in some way related to horses, but in fact, it usually has more to do with whales.
Roughly a 10 minute drive from the hostel is a town called English Harbour.
This small community is known for its beautiful scenery and fabulous Arts Center, a restored heritage church where a host of Newfoundland bands and authors perform throughout the summer.
This community is also known locally for its sheltered bay, an ideal location for spotting and catching Capelin.
As a CFA (come-from-away), I have yet to develop the 6th sense, common to all Newfoundlanders, of knowing when the capelin are coming. I’m not sure if it’s a smell, a temperature, a certain turn of light, or perhaps just an ‘in’ with the local fishermen.
All I know is when a friend comes around telling me they’re here, I move.
Capelin can choose any beach to get romantic, but they tend to have a couple of regular haunts, and English Harbour is one of them. Perhaps the pebbles there feel better on their bellies than across at Sam White’s Cove? Better beach angle? More sheltered? Who knows. Well, probably lots of people.
Whatever it is, the result is that this small bay becomes a hub for rather large animals, with whales coming by the dozens to squeeze into these sheltered inlets.
So what? You may be thinking. Doesn’t this happen everywhere in Newfoundland? Yes. It does. But this is where the Horse Chops come in.
In English Harbour, along with most bays around Newfoundland, to catch capelin, and a glimpse of their larger predators, you need to be lucky. To be there at the right moment, just when all the action is taking place.
The Horse Chops is a cliff network that continues beyond English Habour, ending, eventually, with a helicopter pad. These high rocks provide a perfect lookout point from where you can see almost all of Trinity Bay. As a result, you can keep an eye out for whales, long before they’ve moved into the sheltered bays.
What’s more, the rocks are quite straight, providing a great wall against which the whales can corner the fish. Meaning that the whales are often feeding right at the base of the cliffs.
If this isn’t enough to get you out there, there is also a massive Kittiwake colony that nests on the cliffs. These guys are pretty new residents, only having made the Horse Chops their home for the past year or so. They are lovely birds that resemble small seagulls, and provide a helpful service in locating the fish and whales when they are playing hide and seek.
Oh, and of course, the views are spectacular.
The Horse Chops is a great spot to visit whether just for a few minutes to breathe in the view, or for a walk and a picnic.
The road along the cliffs is only accessible by quad bike, or by locals in 4x4s that know the terrain. Most people choose to just leave their car at the start, and walk out as far as they want. If you’re not sure, don’t risk it, CAA won’t come get you out here, and insurance definitely wouldn’t cover it.
There is a perfect spot to leave your car once you exit English Harbour, where any vehicles coming from either direction will see you. The road widens slightly and there is easily space to pull over.
On foot the track is no problem. There are a few steep areas with loose rock so just take it slow on those areas. If you’re not comfortable on some of those patches no problem, walkers can really stop wherever they have a good line of sight on the animals, and the kittiwake colony is right at the start.
Along the cliffs are mostly low growing junipers and crow berry bushes, which are lovely and soft to sit on, especially if you’re prepared enough to bring a blanket.
Time: 1-2h depending on the temperature, and the whales.
Equipment: Wind breaker – it’s always windy on the cliffs! Comfortable walking shoes, a packed lunch, and a camera.
To Get Here:
From the hostel follow Route 230 Northbound toward Bonavista for 2.7 kilometers.
Once out of Port Rexton you will take an exit to your right to Champney’s East and English Harbour.
Follow this road through Champney’s East, enjoying the view of Fox Island to your right. You will then pass through English Harbour, continuing along the beach through the town, and up the hill.
Once past the beach the road splits off to various driveways, just keep straight, ignoring the temptation to head to the big houses on the cliffs to your right. Though they too have nice views.
You will now be on a dirt road, follow this for another 300 meters or so until you come to a wider patch of road where you may leave your vehicle. From here get out, grab your lunch, coat, and camera, and start exploring!
The great thing about heading out here is that you’ll know you’ve gone wrong pretty quickly, because you’ll end up at someone’s house. As you’re in Newfoundland, they’ll probably invite you in for tea, so it’s a win-win!