After almost 12 years, I finally made it home to St. John’s for a real vacation. While we visit Newfoundland and Labrador every two to three years, we generally stay on the west coast between Channel-Port aux Basques and Red Bay, Labrador, spending most of our time in Gros Morne.
In 2011, we brought three other couples to the province for their vacation and all travelled in motor homes along the west coast, with two couples taking a week to visit St. John’s. This year, we came alone so we could spend eight to 10 days in St. John’s at Pippy Park and we could fill our Christmas gift lists. All the children and grandchildren will be delighted with gifts from Newfoundland.
Finding Pippy Park is not straightforward. Once you turn onto Allandale Road you come to a four-way intersection but with no signs. We decided to stay straight and did find the entrance to the park.
Once inside, the sign advising where to turn into the campground is located past the entrance one needs to take.
It’s no mean feat to drive into the maintenance yard to turn around, just because someone can’t place a sign where it belongs. The maintenance men were good about it and told me that this is a regular occurrence for first time visitors to the park. And it’s been that way for years.
The cost for a one day stay is $45 on a regular site and I was advised a pull-through site was $56.
We asked about a discount for an extended stay. No. Laundry was $2.75 to wash and $2.50 to dry clothes. The park offered no site location maps, no WiFi unless you wanted to sit in your car in the open area, the sites are not level to accommodate motor homes, there is no advertising for city shopping and, with those high prices, absolutely no incentive to stay.
This park offers basics only — unless you consider rain and a muddy site as attractions.
Compare the cost to a waterfront resort in San Diego, Calif., on Christmas Day 2012 for under $40, and a major resort in Tucson, Ariz., for $600 for a month, a few days in Whistler or a few weeks in Maine and you know what I mean.
In fact, other than two parks in Ontario, this is the most expensive park of the over 100 parks we have visited in the past 18 months.
So, instead of spending a week or more in St. John’s and buying Christmas gifts, we stayed three days while I prowled Duckworth and Water streets, visited The Rooms, had supper with a friend and left town with my money still in the wallet. Frankly, the prices at Pippy Park are a ripoff and we will not return.
Oh, I will definitely be back home, but never to Pippy Park.
The commission running the park can improve things considerably by simply reducing prices, offering incentives for longer stays and discounts for seniors and preparing packages for tourists with city maps and information on shopping, tours, restaurants, attractions and, like all the great advertising says, making tourists feel welcome. But myopia was always a problem and it looks like some things never change.
I am not the only one who finds this hard to take. I have met a few tourists who will not complain; they will not write; they just will not return.
Unfortunately, they all pass negative messages to other travellers. Pippy Park is quite large and unique in its location and pristine environment.
It deserves high praise for its good aspects but, as a campground, it fails visitors and, by extension, it fails the merchants of St. John’s.
Newfoundland and Labrador has the best advertising for tourism, bar none. The advertising is doing the job of bringing tourists to the island. When we got on the ferry at North Sydney in mid-August there were dozens of other motor homes and trailers from across Canada and the U.S. We thought we would have difficulty making reservations at campgrounds.
Not so. It appears most visitors stayed on the west coast as we saw very few on the highways and fewer in the campgrounds as we crossed the province.
Coming across the island, the lack of good signage is very evident and for some campgrounds, almost non-existent.
I mentioned this to many of the owners who told me, almost without exception, that they were not allowed signs and, in several cases, were ordered to remove signs.
The province spends millions on advertising to get visitors to come here and then refuses to give them directions? What is that all about? It seems to me that the premier needs to drag her ministers of Tourism and Transportation into her office and order them to co-operate and fix this. And then order them to go to their departments and bang some heads.
Get it planned by Christmas and get it fixed by May 2014, before visitors get lost stumbling around looking for that special attraction so well advertised on TV, website and emails.
We spent some relaxing days at the Grand Codroy RV Park in Codroy Valley, a few great days in Hatchet Cove near Clarenville, a marvelous week at Riverside park in Brigus and a few days pleasant days at Celtic Rendevous RV park on the Southern Shore, where the ocean views are spectacular.
A very pleasant surprise was the George Huxter Park right on the Indian River in Springdale. I can see myself there next June fishing salmon just below the falls. Of course, our trip would not be complete without the few days we spent in Gros Morne and, as I write this note, we are set up for a few days at a nice spot called Zenzville Campground in Kippens. This is one of the few campgrounds on the island open after the end of September and I hope more people stay here to encourage them to remain open for visitors.
All told, our vacation lasted six to seven weeks on the island and every day is a blessing; rain or shine. Newfoundland is home; always was and always will be. There is nothing like a boil-up in the woods and a feed of trout to make me feel at home.
And yes, I will do my Christmas shopping for family here in Newfoundland. There are sales on at the end of the summer season and I’ll be able to get better gifts at reduced prices, and the shops of Gros Morne, Stephenville and Channel-Port aux Basques will be a few dollars richer.
Mark Walsh lives in St. Stephen, N.B.