Rugged Coastlines on Bonavista Peninsula, Newfoundland

On the eastern side of Newfoundland is one of the most picturesque peninsulas we’ve seen. With countless rugged capes, dramatic cliffs and spectacular sea stacks, we were treated to some of the most stunning scenery.

After exploring Newfoundland’s west coast it was time to move east. The only way to drive between the east and west coasts of the province is to follow the TransCanada Highway along the island’s northern edge.

Situated roughly in the middle of Newfoundland’s east coast is Canada’s most eastern National Park. Spread along the edge of Bonavista Bay is Terra Nova National Park. The 80 km of hiking trails in the park take you to the many lakes and inlets and to lookouts on the tops of small rounded mountains. It was cloudy and rainy when we arrived so we knew we wouldn’t hike to a lookout. Instead we followed a trail that took us toward Southwest Arm Lookout. It’s a nice area with dense vegetation surrounding a quiet pond. The ground is marshy and at times you follow wooden boardwalks to cross the wet ground. We could see kayakers further down the water and thought it would be a nice place to explore by kayak or canoe.

Just south of the park is the turnoff to Bonavista Peninsula. This large peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean creating Bonavista and Trinity Bays. On the northern coast of this peninsula is a lesser known lighthouse with spectacular coastal views. A short hiking trail leaves from Saints Peter and Paul Church in King’s Cove. The trail passes through Pat Murphy Meadow which was the inspiration for a Newfoundland folk song of the same name. The meadow’s name was one of our first indications of the long Irish history on Newfoundland.

King’s Cove Lighthouse is a tall white tower on top of a very rocky crag. The lighthouse is nice, but even better are the stunning views from its perch. From the rocky point we looked along the coast to see wonderfully, colourful layers of sedimentary rock projecting out into a very rough Atlantic Ocean. It was our first of many spectacular coastal views on this peninsula.

Note: If you’re driving to the lighthouse, follow the directional signs on the highway. Google Maps tried to send us somewhere else.

The names Bonavista and Newfoundland have interesting origins that are part of the same story. In 1497 John Cabot (Giovani Caboto) was sailing his ship ‘The Matthew’ for King Henry VII. The English king had hired the Italian explorer to search for unknown lands. The story says that when Cabot saw the tip of Bonavista Peninsula, he exclaimed in Italian ‘O Buono Vista’ (Oh Happy Sight), giving the peninsula its name. Apparently months later, when Cabot let the king know of the land he had ‘discovered’, King Henry VII called it ‘New Found Launde’. Although it is disputed where exactly Cabot first saw this new land, the Newfoundland government holds to its belief that it was near the tip of Bonavista Peninsula.

Not long after Cabot’s voyage, fishermen arrived to the shores of the ‘new found launde’ from Portugal, France and England. They only came to the area for seasonal fishing though, returning to their home countries in the off-seaon.

The town of Bonavista was established much later in the 17th century. Today Bonavista is a nice spot with a pretty historical centre and a busy harbour. A re-creation of ‘The Matthew’ can be visited in town at Ye Matthew Legacy Building. Bonavista was the location for the 2001 film ‘The Shipping News’. The rainy weather seemed to fit with our memory of that movie.

Not far from town, at the very tip of the peninsula, is a wild coastline with jagged inlets and rocky cliffs. On the highest point of the cape is the funny looking red and white stripped Cape Bonavista Lighthouse. The unusual shape of the lighthouse is due to the large 2-story lightkeeper’s residence at the base of the tower. The building today is only a replica since the original home, built in 1841, was damaged in a storm. Even though the lighthouse is no longer operational, the fog horn still works and as we discovered, it is very loud.

Surrounding the lighthouse is a spectacular rugged coast with deep inlets and a boiling ocean.

The rugged Bonavista coastline continues all the way to Dungeon Provincial Park. It is a small coastal park but has stunning views and a fantastic feature on its cliffside. Years of waves eroded the cliffs creating a large cavern. Eventually the roof of the cavern caved in leaving a huge dungeon like hole with two arches. It is still connected to the mainland and you can walk above the arches on the connecting bridge. Apparently one day this bridge will also collapse leaving sea stacks behind.

The park is free, and is not far off the road between Bonavista and Elliston.

The main reason we came to Bonavista Peninsula was to see puffins, Newfoundland’s official bird. Atlantic Puffins are quite small, the size of a pigeon but they are very cute. These black and white birds have large colourful orange and yellow beaks on the end of a round head. Topping off their cuteness are their sunken eyes that look like buttons on a teddy bear.

Atlantic Puffin, Elliston

These birds are very hardy and spend most of their lives in the roughest conditions. During the majority of the year they live in the middle of the North Atlantic. In summers though, they come to the east coast to breed. Six kilometers from Bonavista is one of the best places to see puffins in the summer. Elliston Point looks out on to a grass covered, flat topped island where puffins have their nests.

What makes this spot in Elliston special is that it is the closest you can get to their nesting spots. The lookout point is only 30 m from the island. Other nesting sites can only be seen by boat. The other part that makes Elliston special is that puffins may come near you on the mainland. Apparently, they are friendly and very curious and often land near people at the lookout. They won’t land if it’s too noisy or if there are a lot of people. We were told to be quiet and crouch low on the grass so we would look less intimidating. We did our best but weren’t lucky. No puffins landed near us.

Puffin, Elliston Point, Newfoundland
Puffin, Elliston Point, Newfoundland

We were there in September which is a little late in the season. What is a large colony mid summer was just a few stragglers in the fall. We did however see at least 6 puffins flying around their island. We watched as they flew between their their nests on the island and the sea. The birds dove into the rough ocean and came up with mouthfuls of fish. They then returned to their nests with small fish clutched in their mouths. Unlike many birds, they feed whole fish to their babies, not a regurgitated one. The island is also home to a number of other sea birds. These larger birds soared overheard while one of the puffin pair stood guard at the nest’s entrance.

Out of all of the birds flying around the island it was easy to spot which birds were puffins. They’re funny fliers and easily recognizable. We learned to watch for the tell-tale frantic flapping of wings as they approached. Even though there were only a few puffins, they were constantly flying to and from the rough ocean allowing us to watch and enjoy.

Our Bed & Breakfast host told us about another spot where we might see puffins. Although we didn’t see any of the cute birds, we loved the hike to the point beside Spillar’s Cove. Huge sea stacks dot the cliff edges and large rocks fill the deep inlets. They were some of the most spectacular coastal views we’d seen and we were the only ones there.

There is a hike called the Klondike Trail that follows the coastline between Elliston and Spillar’s Cove. You can do the hike or do as we did and drive between the two short hikes.

After leaving Elliston we were on our way to one of the cutest towns in Newfoundland, Trinity.

Tips for Visiting Newfoundland

  • The TransCanada Highway in Newfoundland is shaped like a horseshoe as it travels along the west, north and eastern edge of the island province. There are smaller highways leading to the various capes, but in order to get from east to west, you have to drive all around the northern edge. There are no shortcuts across the island. It will take a full day to drive from one side to the other. There are quite a few potholes across the province so drive with caution.
  • Watch for moose while driving, especially between dusk and dawn. With 125,000 moose on the island there are, on average 700 moose-car collisions per year.
  • If you’re planning to rent a car or RV, the best advice is to book early. Even when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic, there are not many available.
  • Newfoundland Standard Time is 30 minutes ahead of Atlantic Standard Time so do don’t forget to change your watch.
  • Don’t confuse St. John’s, Newfoundland’s capital city with St. John in New Brunswick.

Where to stay on Bonavista Peninsula

Camping – Lockston Path Provincial Park is located in the middle of the peninsula, not far from Trinity. We found this a convenient location as well as a quiet, clean and affordable campground.

Hotels/Bed & Breakfast – There is a growing number of availabe hotels and B&Bs on Bonavista Peninsula. Depending on what sites you want to see, you can find many options in Trinity, Bonavista and Elliston. We loved staying in Meems Elliston B&B. The friendly hosts, clean and comfy rooms and great location makes it a great option.

Getting to Newfoundland

Marine Atlantic ferries travel between Sydney, NS and western Newfoundland’s Port aux Basques (7 hrs) twice a day and to the eastern province’s Argentia a few times a week. If traveling to or from Argentia is a long 16 hour trip, usually overnight.  Another ferry travels from Blanc-Sablon, Quebec to St. Barbe on the Great Northern Peninsula. This ferry is much closer to L’Anse aux Meadow, however it is a long and difficult drive to reach the Quebec Port.

Most flights travel to St. John’s, but there are also international airports in Stephenville and Gander. Gander is famous for accepting planes from the US during 9/11.

Read more about Newfoundland – The Adorable Town of Trinity, Western Newfoundland, Gros Morne National Park, Vikings in Newfoundland, Conception Bay, St. John’s, Signal Hill, Day Trips from St. John’s

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