Keppel Island

Northern Peninsula, NL

Summer 2010.

I was starting to run low on Newfoundland Lighthouses which I could get to on my own.

There may be 83 in this province, but with 43 down, there were only about 10 more which I could get to without anyone else's help; the rest were either islands or ridiculously inaccessible by foot.

In fact, of the 40 lighthouses which I had left, 25 were on uninhabited islands. Since I don't sea kayak, getting to these islands was going to have to rely on the kindness of others: I was going to have to ask random fishermen for boat rides.

My Newfoundland friends insisted that I would have no problem finding someone willing to donate 10 minutes of their time to drop me off. Even so, I was weary of driving at least 200km(125mi) from my house, only to be rejected or unable to find anyone available.

Luckily I would soon find a list of Harbour Authorities.

I didn't exactly know what a Harbour Authority did, but it gave me a phone number for every harbour in the province - even the tiniest. I figured whoever this Harbour Authority was, that they would have to know someone in the community who could taxi me for the 500m of water between Keppel Island and Port Saunders (above).

I chose Keppel Island as a introductory target because it's relatively close to shore, has a wharf (as opposed to the islands which only have a helipad), and also because I knew the town had purchased one of the buildings and was working on renovating it (I hoped these last 2 factors would make a boat ride seem reasonable to this Harbour Authority).

I was still concerned with what a Harbour Authority's responsibilities entailed, where Nicole & I even joked about the seriousness of Harbour Authority; joking that he would surely mock my non-work desires to go to Keppel Island.

I eventually worked up the courage to call the Harbour Authority...

"Is this the Port Saunders Harbour Authority?"
"Yes b'y. This is (insert name I couldn't understand because of the accent)"
"Well, um, well, I was interested in going to Keppel Island to see the lighthouse. Do you know anyone who would be able to bring me over?"
"Yeah I can."
(me thinking Harbour Authorities are serious business & that he's doing me an authoritative favour)
"No, no, I just want to go hike around & take a few pictures of the lighthouse. Just a personal, casual visit. Not on business or anything."

"Yes I understand. I'll bring you over."

It was as simple as that. We settled on a date and he told me to call that morning when I was nearing Port Saunders.

The day would come & it was pouring rain at home. Even though Keppel Island is 275km(170mi) away, I was still surprised when I called the Harbour Authority and he told me that it was dry in Port Saunders and that there was no rain in the forecast.

It rained 99% of the way to Port Saunders - only stopping in Hawke's Bay, the last community before Port Saunders.

Nicole & I were both astonished at how the rain suddenly stopped 1km from Port Saunders.

We met Maurice (the Harbour Authority), hopped into the boat & we were on our way across the waterway. I asked him about the water freezing over & as I suspected, there were years where you could walk over to Keppel Island in the winter.

Maurice also told us about how he comes over to Keppel Island with his wife sometimes, just because the island's shore makes for a nice walk.

He also told us about a shark that was the size of his boat, which he noticed one day as he was boating near close-by Point Riche.

It may seem like a lot of storytelling for a 500m water crossing, but I was happy that we weren't speedboating & white knuckling across the strait. The rain was nowhere in sight & we were comfortably making our way over to Keppel. As we landed, we found the above coast guard building very close to the wharf. I was already excited with seeing obscure buildings which few people see themselves.

With obsessing over Newfoundland Lighthouses during all of the free time I have in this province, I have looked at the few rare pictures of these uninhabited islands more than a couple times - it was strange & pleasing to finally see and experience the sights with my own eyes after imagining it for so long.

The wharf side building was fine & all, but my excitement grew as I spotted the tops of the two lighthouses behind the knoll before me.

Leaving Nicole behind a bit, I speed walked up the rocky hill & climbed onto the helipad.

The square pyramidal wooden lighthouse was built in 1901. It is owned & maintained by the Town of Port Saunders.

The 1901 lighthouse was decommissioned in 1992 & replaced with the Keppel Island II Skeletal Tower.

An even bigger smile was on my face because we were getting two lighthouses for one boat ride! Newfoundland Lighthouses #44 & #45!

In addition to the two lighthouses & the wharf building, there was also a fog alarm building...

...which I had to infiltrate for full points!

There were a few empty beer bottles in the fog alarm building & you best believe that I was jealous.

Keppel Island was manned with light keepers until 1989 and this is noticeable by how many buildings survive to make up the complete lightstation.

The above building is one of two keepers' houses still standing. Maurice had told us how the Town of Port Saunders had also purchased these keepers' houses from the Coast Guard & were working towards renovating them so tourists could stay on the island. The Town went as far as putting in new floors & a new roof on one of the houses, but work had unfortunately stalled for some reason.

We spent a good 40 minutes at the lightstation. I had plenty to explore, and it was a nice enough day where Nicole was content to relax on the Coast Guard's helipad.

We ate some lunch, remarked on the beautiful day, and eventually moved along.

Since we were out here, probably for the only time in our lives, how could we pass on the opportunity to circle the small island?

The beaches were absent of sand; instead they had loose, flat pieces of slate. The rocks were slippery but I believe we made the best of it, enjoying the pleasant views & finding large mammal bones along the way.

Then again, if I enjoyed it so much, I guess I could just buy the island for myself.

We rounded Keppel Island, climbing up a hill to get a nice view of the spit of land jutting eastward.

We were a little late getting back because we forgot the cell phone & I still feel bad about it. Maurice didn't seem to care all that much, but it's just the principle.

We returned safely across the water & I was told that if I ever need anything, to go to his house (which he pointed out).

Newfoundland hospitality.

Our island excursion was successful & we celebrated by driving on the nearby airstrip.

This 'asking-for-a-lift-to-island-lighthouses' thing didn't seem all that hard...

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