After spending a day in Portland, we pitched our tent at a campground in the picturesque town of New Harbor, near Pemaquid Beach and Pemaquid Lighthouse. Yep, everywhere you go on the Maine coast there are lighthouses.
We spent a wonderful evening near the campfire, surrounded by candles, eating s’mores and enjoying each other’s company. Before this trip I had no idea what s’mores are; I hadn’t even heard of the word. Of course, I was aware of the relation between marshmallows and campfires here in North America – sometimes you can learn something from movies – and I couldn’t wait to try it. Those things are delicious! S’more is a contraction of ‘some more’ and it’s easy to see why. I had four of them that night.
There’s a reason why we chose New Harbor as a place to camp. The tiny harbor of New Harbor is one of three places with a ferry connection to Monhegan Island. The other two are Port Clyde and Boothbay Harbor.
Monhegan Island is located about ten miles (sixteen kilometers) off the mainland. It’s a small and rocky island, barely larger than a square mile, and only accessible by boat. The island is car-free and the small village of Monhegan is the only settlement. Its population doesn’t exceed 100 and some of the residents are only there during summer.
Explorer John Smith first visited Monhegan – derived from the Alonquian word Monchiggon, meaning ‘out-to-sea’ – in 1614. This year the islanders celebrate the island’s quadricentennial anniversary. At the time of Smith’s visit the island was an important fishing area to the Native Americans. Even nowadays the economy on Monhegan Island runs on what the ocean provides. Fishing and lobstering are still the main industries. In summer, flocks of tourists come to the island, boosting the economy and helping to keep the community alive.
Artist Colony and Tourist Destination
Monhegan has been a summer retreat for artists and writers, who are attracted by the wilderness, quiet atmosphere and isolation of the island, for more than a century. The artist’s colony is still very much alive, especially in summer. Several art studios and galleries can be visited. The lighthouse, dating from 1824, is another highlight on the island and offers great views of Monhegan village. Other attractions in the village are the Monhegan Historical & Cultural Museum, Ice Pond and the excellent little Monhegan Island Brewery. Fish Beach is the center of the fishing industry on the island. It’s surrounded by fish houses and there’s a nice seafood restaurant – it’s impossible to find fresher seafood.
To visitors it may feel like stepping back in time. The roads are unpaved, there are no cars (except for a couple of pick-up trucks used to transport luggage from the ferries to hotels and other accommodations) and most of the island is still covered in undeveloped woodland.
These woodlands can be explored on about twelve miles (nineteen kilometers) of hiking trails. They run over rocky ledges towards high cliffs overlooking the ocean. Lobster Cove is an easily accessible place at the southern tip of the island. There’s an old shipwreck and the meadows are wonderful places for a picnic. The brewery is about halfway from the village to Lobster Cove. Just try not to stop for a pint or two of local beer. We didn’t succeed, that’s for sure. Other trails lead to, for example, Whitehead and Gull Cove. Make sure to wear hiking boots and watch out for poison ivy.
We spent the entire day on the island – hiking, eating lobster, drinking beer and visiting art shops – before heading back to the tiny harbor to catch the ferry back to the mainland. The ferry ride took about an hour and twenty minutes one way. It can be a rough ride, so if you’re prone to seasickness, make sure to take some medication beforehand. During our roundtrip we spotted a few porpoises, a minke whale, a couple of harbor seals and a bald eagle. Seeing a bald eagle definitely was an unexpected highlight of the day.
Back at the campground, we lit another campfire and finished off our hot-dog-and-Budweiser dinner with some more s’mores…