Cycling Adventures, Cycling the Bonavista Peninsula

Icebergs and friendly folk are just two of the draws for adventure in Newfoundland.

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By Kent McPhee

“I’se the b’y dat pedals me bike”

A trip around the Cabot Loop on Newfoundland’s Bonavista Peninsula is a wonderfully compact way to experience the essence of rural Newfoundland in a few days of cycling. You’ll see why the island is referred to as “The Rock,” why it should really be referred to as “The Bog,” why it’s known for its picturesque fishing villages and why rural Newfoundlanders are the friendliest people.

Birds, ‘Bergs and Bogs

Starting at Charleston along Highway 230, the road is mostly flat and inland. The landscape is full of boggy wetlands interspersed with dramatic bedrock outcroppings holding back an intricate network of ponds and lakes. Trinity East is classic coastal village with houses strewn about willy-nilly. Stop and stretch your legs along the gorgeous Skerwink Trail. Just don’t get too close to the cliffs while you are taking in the view! It’s here that you might get your first glimpse of an iceberg. They’re easy to spot and sometimes they come close enough to shore to make swimming out to them seem like a reasonable thing to do. One ‘berg further out had a barge attached to it – apparently they were harvesting the ice to make vodka.

Keep an eye out for moose as you approach Port Union, the only “union-built town” in North America. An active historical society here has restored “The Factory” where you can learn about the rise and fall of the Fishermen’s Protective Union, like the United Farmers movements in Canada but with less success politically. On your way out of town, drop by the Catalina harbour, you might get to see the shrimp boats unloading their catch.

If you’re the type of cycle tourist who normally camps, you’ll find plenty of opportunity for wild camping, although there is an official campground at Elliston’s beach. Don’t miss Elliston, and not just because it’s one of the few spots to go for a swim. The real attraction is puffins…thousands of them! You’re bound to get a few great photos, but don’t forget to take the odd gander out to sea – the cliffs are great for iceberg and whale spotting too.

Bonavista, with its lighthouse, is the biggest town on the peninsula. This is where it all happened in 1497: Giovanni Caboto, or John Cabot as he preferred to be called when his English backers were around, cried out “Bueno Vista!” as he discovered the New Found Land here. A beautiful museum boasting a full size replica of Cabot’s vessel, The Matthew, commemorates the occasion. Don’t miss the Ryan Premises, a national historic site dedicated to the influence the fishery has had on the East Coast since Caboto’s voyage.

Heading out of Bonavista, the terrain gets more challenging. While it has the low traffic volumes typical of the peninsula, Highway 235 tends to follow the coastline a little more closely. This means hills, but the extra effort is rewarded with great views of the rugged coastline.

Newfoundlanders

Eateries tend to be family-run and are great for meeting locals. Shirley, who runs Suzie’s Cafe at Birchy Cove, served the best “Newfoundland fish” I’ve ever tasted. In Newfoundland, “fish” means “cod” and I asked how hard is it to get now that the cod fishery has been shut down. She said small amounts can be taken inshore by the locals. My supper was caught that morning! It was getting dark and she mentioned that a lot of cyclists set up their tents across the highway in a wild blueberry patch with a fabulous view of the bay. She offered to pick me up later and take me to the Five Coves Garden Party. A Newfoundland garden party features enjoyable conversation, a barbecue and beer garden, traditional Newfoundland food, games and lots of local musicians of every stripe.

Don’t be afraid to fine tune your trip by asking the locals for advice. You’ll experience the warmth of Newfoundlanders first-hand. They can tell you if there are icebergs around, or where to get a decent Fish ‘n’ Brewis, or what happens to the shrimp after it comes off the boats. You might run into a classic old salt with an abundance of stories about the old days when “them fish was mad.” On a walk down to the abandoned fish flakes at Plate Cove, one such fellow and I had a conversation I’d already had many times.

“Where do you call home?”

“Edmonton.”

“Oh right, I’ve got a nephew (or sister, or son, or …) out in Alberta, workin’ the rigs (or in a bank, or construction, or …).”

Out-migration is a big topic on The Rock, nobody wants to move off the island. After spending a few days cycling the Bonavista Peninsula, “you’ll knows yourself” why.

In between bike rides, Kent designs and develops software in Edmonton, Alberta. His earliest memories involve going for long rides in the child seat on his mom’s green Raleigh Superbe.

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