Travel writer falls for Bonavista

Staff ~ The Packet editor@thepacket.ca
Published on February 19, 2009
Joanne OConnor(left) and her friend Carole Cadwalladr (whos also a journalist for The Observer) on a whale-watching trip in Trinity Bay. Photo courtesy of Joanne OConnor

Joanne O'Connor is a London-based travel journalist and editor of The Observer, one of Britain's leading Sunday newspapers.

O'Connor made a trip to Newfoundland this past summer, seeking inspiration. She found Bonavista.

The article she wrote, based on her time in the town of Bonavista, was published in The Observer on Feb. 1. It was referred to as one of the world's best-kept holiday secrets.

In a letter response to The Packet, O'Connor revisits her stay and explains why it was hard to leave.

Joanne O'Connor is a London-based travel journalist and editor of The Observer, one of Britain's leading Sunday newspapers.

O'Connor made a trip to Newfoundland this past summer, seeking inspiration. She found Bonavista.

The article she wrote, based on her time in the town of Bonavista, was published in The Observer on Feb. 1. It was referred to as one of the world's best-kept holiday secrets.

In a letter response to The Packet, O'Connor revisits her stay and explains why it was hard to leave.

I wanted to visit Newfoundland ever since I read the Shipping News. I know the book's not that popular with a lot of locals but for me it really captured the atmosphere of the place and piqued my curiosity. I love the great outdoors and places which are a bit off the beaten track and that's why it has always appealed to me.

I probably wouldn't have thought of going to Bonavista, but I was traveling on an itinerary that was put together for me by Ken Sooley of Cape Race Cultural Adventures. I really liked the sound of what the company was doing... restoring old outport houses and encouraging tourists to venture to parts of the island they might miss out on otherwise.

We spent a few days in the Battery in St. John's, before travelling up to Heart's Delight where we were really looked after by the locals. Our final stop was Bonavista, and for us this was really the icing on the cake.

There's just something about the atmosphere of the place and a real sense of being out on the edge of things, which I liked. I also liked the fact that it's a working town and not too touristy.

We stayed in an old outport house on the shore, which Ken had restored and within a couple of days we were made to feel like locals.... we had a couple of raucous nights at Walkhams Pub where we got to know the owner, Harv. He still has an old pinball machine that my friend Carole bought at a garage sale and decided to leave behind, as she didn't think we'd get it on the plane! Now at least we've got a reason to go back there.

I think the thing that really struck us about Newfoundland is just how friendly everyone is. They really have the time to stop and talk and if you ask directions, people will insist on showing you the way themselves. If

you are from a town like London, that's a real breath of fresh air.

The chance to spot whales and icebergs from the shore was also pretty amazing. I'd never seen an iceberg before so that's one memory that will stay with me for a long time.

O'Connor says she received a good response when the piece first ran in the Observer in August. A second piece on Bonavista, which ran a few weeks ago, was an edited version of the original.

"I got several emails from Newfoundlanders who lived abroad and said it made them feel homesick," O'Connor notes.

"I would love to go back and see some more of the island, but we'll definitely drop in on Bonavista to visit Harv and our pinball machine.