We arrived in Bonavista in the evening. The town marks the point where the explorer Giovanni Caboto first spied the slightly desolate shoreline of Newfoundland. Sailing under the English flag, Giovanni’s name was promptly anglicised to John Cabot, the name to which the Newfoundlanders affectionately remember him by. The town consisted of a fairly liberal spread of saltbox housing, the freshness of the paintwork presumably correlating to the fastidiousness of the owner – some clearly weren’t that fastidious at all. We pulled up to our rented property a neatly painted yellow number, shaped like a cube with a pitched top. It was beautiful and well equipped, which was fortunate. It was fortunate because Bonavista didn’t seem to have a whole lot to offer. In fact, it seemed only slightly more improved upon than the desolate cove Signor Caboto had spied five hundred years earlier.
Bonavista means “good view,” as I surveyed the coast from our window, I could see that it was aptly named. Giovanni Caboto had called it right, he hadn’t gone with “Grandevista” or “Bellavista,” he’d been realistic. It had a picturesque end of nowhere vibe. The sun broke through the mist to shine a harsh red, which illuminated the growing dusk. We were glad of the household conveniences, the shower being particularly welcome, our previous nights in Terra Nova National Park had made us grateful for the warmth. We lit a fire pit and toasted s’mores, which are an incredibly sickly pairing of marshmallow, chocolate and cracker. Undeterred by their unpleasant consistency and overpowering sugar content, I savoured my s’more – we’d earned it – and took in that good view.
The story of Terra Nova begins…
Terra Nova, or New Land, is a large unspoiled patch of Newfoundland, located among many other large unspoiled patches of Newfoundland. Indeed, the only distinction I could establish between Terra Nova and the surrounding untouched forest was its status as a Canadian national park. We drove hours out from St John’s through miles of untouched wilderness.
Forest stretched the full expanse from St John’s to Terra Nova, broken only by the odd rocky crag or one of the many lakes. Newfoundland is a patchwork of fresh water lakes and sounds, which open out to the sea. Its waters teem with fish. It is the fish that have historically been the region’s main source of wealth, such wealth as it had. The soil is certainly nothing to write home about, which brings me to my principal grievance with Newfoundland, its trees. I’d imagined tall and ancient trees untouched in centuries, slowly going about their business in the deep dense woodland.
The reality was very different. Conditions are such in Newfoundland that the trees remain short, thin, and decidedly young looking. The soil is neither rich nor deep, and conditions are harsh. This is not the environment that I imagined the black bears and moose to be roaming. The forests felt dense and young, similar to the woodland cultivate in the UK for logging purposes. They weren’t in short the proud specimens of my imagination. Though, this is not to say that the overall effect wasn’t impressive. The landscape resembles that of windswept Scotland, broken jutting stone and misty sheer lake valleys.
Terra Nova National Park therefore felt slightly redundant, as we arrived after hours of driving. Here was a patch of preserved Newfoundland wilderness, placed squarely in the middle of Newfoundland wilderness. We had arrived, however, and it was time to engage with the wilds of Newfoundland that meant camping, fishing, and a significant amount of exploring. I was keen to get things moving, I was in search of the real Newfoundland after all.