Bonavista – Oh Happy Sight!
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
When Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto (or John Cabot as he is locally known) first set eyes on North America in 1497, his first words were “O buono vista!” When translated into English, this phrase means “Oh happy sight!”, which is certainly fitting for what would become the town of Bonavista, the historic site of Cabot's landing.
I totally get why he loved the place. I took a trip to Bonavista for our Stay Home Year mini vacation. It was my first time there and I too yelled – O buono vista!
The first thing you do when you get to this historic town is park your car and get out and walk. Every street is dotted with charming old homes and most have kept their original craftsmanship. The people in Bonavista take great care in preserving their past.
Take time to admire the architecture and the extraordinary detail in each well-preserved home. The main street is next to the ocean and as you walk you can smell the fresh sea air and feel the cool breeze from the ocean. You will be serenaded by a choir of grey and white sea gulls when you walk along the beach and watch the kids find pink star fish and sea urchin eggs.
The people there are extremely friendly to the point that I thought every waitress at every restaurant knew me from somewhere because of the way they greeted us. They warmly told us to “Come on it and take a seat,” or “Can I get you a cup of tea, my love.”
You will not be bored in Bonavista. Your first stop should be Dungeon Provincial Park. It is a natural scenic attraction. It is famous for the collapsed sea cave with a natural archway carved by the sea. It is a great place to take pictures and admire the rugged coastline.
Then take a drive to Elliston to see the John C. Crosbie Sealers Interpretation Centre. It is the first of its kind in the world. This unique facility features a striking Museum and Art Gallery and a powerful seaside Memorial Statue and Monument. At Porter’s Point, rests the bronze statue of father and son, Reuban and Albert John Crewe, and a Memorial Monument listing all those in the 1914 disaster ensuring these men are never forgotten. It is incredibly moving to stand next to this monument and read the names of those lost at sea.
If you love hiking try the Discovery network, this 7.7km coastal loop is rated moderate to difficult. It features several headlands with magnificent ocean views. At the halfway point is the Green Island Lighthouse, built in 1857 and one of the few remaining staffed lighthouses in the province. It then goes around the headland and through Murphy’s Cove, which was abandoned in the 1960s. If you love urban exploring then you will love this cave. You might see fishing boats, whales, and seabirds.
A must see is the replica of John Cabot’s ship – The Matthew. In 1497, this small wooden ship called set sail from Bristol, England destined for the Far East. Within six weeks, they made landfall. They landed, not as intended in the fabled land of Cathay, but on the shores of the New World. Here, they discovered a treasure that would change the course of history.
Do not leave without seeing the Cape Bonavista Light. It operated from 1843 until 1962, is now a provincial museum, containing an exhibition about life in a lighthouse during the 1870s. From the lighthouse you will see herds of whales dancing and frolicking offshore.
Be sure to bring your stretchy pants because the food in Bonavista can rival any five-star restaurant in the world. Drop into Mifflin's Tea Room where everything, including dessert, is made fresh from scratch. The bacon wrapped scallops are to die for and the home-made lemon meringue pie itself is worth the trip. The Boreal Diner prides itself on using locally grown food and you can taste the difference. We ate at several restaurants during our stay and everyone of them was exceptional.
There are a load of little knick-knack and specialty stores to go poking through including East Coast Glow a creative iceberg water cosmetics studio. If you love art, go to the Heritage Shop in the Ryan Premises, it offers the best in local art, craft and literature that reflect the history and heritage of Newfoundland and Labrador. You can spend a day going in and out of all the little shops.
If you are looking for a place to stay, google “Bonavista accommodations.” There is an abundance of B&Bs and cabins to rent. Most are right on the water’s edge.
Overall, Bonavista is a great place to vacation, the food was delicious, the accommodations were excellent, and the people are ambassadors of our friendly Newfoundland culture.
Bonavista is located on the Discovery Trail, Route 230, just 3 hours from both Gander and the Argentia ferry, and 3½ hours from the capital city of St. John's.