Bonavista: One Great View After Another

Saturday, June 14, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Day 5:  Trinity, NL and Bonavista Peninsula.  Upon our arrival at the Artisan Inn in Trinity yesterday, the enthusiastic innkeeper, Tineke, overwhelmed us with a wealth of information, including two boat tours that she recommended.  Since we had not seen any whales at Witless Bay, the company name Sea of Whales caught our attention, so we called the owner, Kris Prince, who told us that he takes whale watchers out in the icy waters of the north Atlantic in a 25-ft inflatable Zodiac.  Yes, a lightweight inflatable boat jostling among behemoths of the sea.  Lest we concern ourselves about minor issues like capsizing, Kris assured us that each passenger would be suited up with a flotation suit before embarking.  Say what!?

It is impossible to overstate the concern I had about the stability of this vessel after hearing I would need to wear a full-body life preserver.  And I am a non-swimmer.  This appeared to be a bit more adventure than I had bargained for, though Ken seemed quite enthusiastic, noting that we had never heard of anyone drowning on a whale-watching tour.  Relief surged through me when Kris dutifully informed us that he had not seen any whales the previous day and advised that today might not be a good day to go either.

John Cabot surveys the new land he found
Instead, we drove northeast on Highway 230, following it all the way to its terminus at Cape Bonavista where John Cabot is thought to have first spotted land in the New World in 1497. The intrepid explorer is commemorated with a statue in Bonavista's Landfall Municipal Park, and we added our own tribute by planting a letterbox near his perch overlooking Bonavista Bay. The nearby Cape Bonavista Lighthouse, in service since 1843, is a provincial historic site and today houses a museum.

Cape Bonavista Lighthouse
Standing near the lighthouse looking at the icebergs offshore, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  As we gaped with wide-eyed wonder, an immense iceberg—about the size of a large three-story house—suddenly began to collapse and break apart.  A loud crack announced the impending doom, and within seconds, tons of ice had disintegrated and fallen into a mass of icy debris, rapidly dispersed by the powerful waves discharged by the breakup.  Having taken an excessive number of photos at the lighthouse area, our cameras had been stowed, inaccessible for an event so instantaneous that only those with camera already aimed could have captured it.

A central Newfoundland woman did just that recently.  Videotaping an arched berg as it began to calve, the woman and her husband were in a small boat about 150 feet from the iceberg.  As the audio reveals, she clearly felt in peril, a reaction which drew ridicule after this footage was posted on YouTube.  Having witnessed a similar event from a much safer distance, we found her response rather understandable.  In fact, we were quite thankful we were not in a Zodiac near the iceberg we saw break up—flotation suit or not.

The 'dungeon'
Departing the lighthouse, we dropped in at Dungeon Provincial Park to check out its collapsed sea cave and natural archway carved by the sea.  Icebergs were abundant offshore there, enhancing the spectacular views of ocean waves pounding against the rocky shore.

Dungeon Provincial Park
Across the park access road from the "dungeon" we saw a most curious sight.  Inside a fenced area were dozens of seagulls, yet none outside the fence nearer the water.  No doubt there's some explanation for this, but it remained an amusing riddle to us.

The sea is on the opposite side of the fence from the gulls.  Maybe they're vegetarians?
With assistance from some locals, we found the town's Foodland, a well-stocked grocery store, where we purchased food supplies for lunch and dinner.  After another vehicular picnic at the picturesque Bonavista harbor, we checked out the adjacent Matthew Legacy Museum, home to a replica of the Matthew, the small wooden ship that brought Cabot and a crew of twenty across the Atlantic as the fifteenth century was winding down.

Matthew Legacy Museum
Told as a personal narrative from the perspective of a fictitious young crew member, exhibits effectively relate the harsh conditions of the age and of the six-week ocean crossing. The museum's star attraction, of course, is the full-size reproduction of the 1497 vessel, fabricated in 1997 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Cabot's original voyage, that changed the course of history.

Based on some intel from a Nova Scotian couple we met, we detoured through the coastal village of Elliston (pop. 336) in search of an iceberg that reportedly had grounded itself on the beach.  Our inquiries about the stranded berg produced only puzzled looks from the locals in Elliston but it mattered not, for they offered up two authentic alternatives—the puffin site and the root cellars.

Gotta love that puffin chair
Formerly known as Bird Island Cove, Elliston is home to two tiny islands that are brimming with seabirds.  Visitors throng to a headland just a short distance from the parking lot to observe hundreds of pairs of nesting puffins and seagulls across a channel that's only about 25 yards wide.  Though the birds can easily be seen with the naked eye most of their legion of fans view the tiny fascinating creatures through a camera lens, occasionally rewarded by a genuine close-up when a friendly puffin flits across to the promontory.

Puffin pafarazzi
Elliston's red-headed stepchild attraction, which comes to prominence when the puffins migrate back to the sea after mating and child-rearing, is its self-proclaimed title as "Root Cellar Capital of the World."  The town's landscape is dotted with diminutive doorways leading into the earth.  More than 130 cellars are still in use, the oldest dating back to 1834.

An Elliston root cellar
Today more curiosity than necessity, these sturdy structures enabled local families to preserve the produce of their gardens through the long winters.  Our root cellar tour guide, an Elliston park employee, offered a lovely example of one of the many varieties of Newfoundland dialects.  With villages so isolated, local dialects remained true to their various historic influences in each particular town.  One Newfie native who lives in Corner Brook in the southwest confessed that he sometimes struggles to understand some people from the northern parts of the island.  Listen to the Irish and Scottish influences in her speech patterns as Maggie describes a typical root cellar.

Continuing southward on Highway 238 took us back to the 230 and to Trinity.  With no time to linger longer in this cozy hamlet and wanting to get an early start tomorrow, we decided to hike to the top of Upper Gun Hill before dinner.  In addition to a spectacular view of the village, we had clues for a letterbox at the summit.  Late afternoon offered up the most flattering light on the village below, and though we found no letterbox, yet again, the 360° view with the sun descending over Fisher Cove was ample reward for the challenging 355-foot climb.

Trinity village from Upper Gun Hill
 Back down at Cove Cottage, we took advantage of its laundry equipment while we prepared dinner and began to pack up to leave.  Tomorrow we move on, returning to the Trans-Canada Highway on our way to Twillingate Island.

More Photos from Today

Dungeon Provincial Park
Dungeon Provincial Park
Cape Bonavista Light Station
Bonavista Harbor
Bonavista Harbor
Bonavista Harbor
Matthew replica
Matthew Legacy Museum at Bonavista Harbor
Newfoundlander pony, a sturdy work horse threatened with extinction
Elliston celebrities
Upper Gun Hill Trail, above Trinity