Hiking Through Neverland (In Newfoundland)

In grade five, my elementary school put on a musical version of Peter Pan. Always happiest out of the spotlight, I was pretty chuffed when I was given the role of pirate George Scourie. My task was to dress like a sailor, leap off a cardboard pirate ship and die in a sword fight. After that, I joined the other bit-part actors offstage—where we spent the rest of the evening watching the 1953 Peter Pan Disney animation.

As my classmate’s versions of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys sang and danced their way across the stage, I watched the film and became entranced by the idea of my own Neverland. What if there actually was a hidden island somewhere in the world, I wondered. Could I find it? Over the years to come, any place with a snug cove, rugged cliffs and trails through a tangled forest called out to me. In retrospect, I think I’ve been looking for Neverland my entire life.

Brook Point, King’s Cove

It turns out I didn’t need to follow the second star to the right, straight on till morning to reach my goal. I just needed to go to Newfoundland and Labrador. Although J. M. Barrie’s Neverland is located on an island far, far away, in Walt Disney Pictures’ new film adaptation of Peter Pan & Wendy (premiering April 28), Neverland is found on the Bonavista Peninsula, a rugged finger of land jutting northeast into the sea, about 300 kilometres from St. John’s.

Setting out for the Peninsula, I headed to the multi-coloured seaport of Trinity where I based myself at the Artisan Inn. Marieke Gow, co-owner of the Inn, had recently hosted the Peter Pan film crew and was able to fill me in on their secrets. She explained that Disney’s locations for Neverland weren’t just easy to identify, but most could be reached by trails found in the region’s new UNESCO Geopark.

Arch Rock, Little Catalina

Spread across 280 kilometres of coastline, the Discovery Geopark earned its status in 2020. It includes 10 developed geosites, crisscrossed with trails showcasing some of Bonavista’s most intriguing geological, natural and cultural landscapes. For Gow, the spectacular scenery is just part of what makes the area such a perfect Neverland. “It’s unlike anywhere else, but it’s the unpredictable and unique way that our nature, weather and people interact that makes this place so magical,” she told me. Then—very Peter Pan-like—she pulled out a map and showed me how to find Neverland.

Spillars Cove:

Diane Selkirk

With only a few hours of daylight left, I decided my first hike would be the 3.4-kilometre loop trail along the craggy cliffs of Spillars Cove near the top of the peninsula. As I made my way across the headland, the wind was powerful. Soon, I caught sight of the famed sea stacks (and briefly lost the trail). The cove itself turned out to be a ruggedly exposed bay (perfect for hiding a pirate ship) between Spillars Point to the east and Cape Bonavista to the west. I didn’t spot Hook—but I did catch sight of a couple of whales.

The Dungeon:

Diane Selkirk

Just across Spillar’s Cove, and up the road from the town of Bonavista, the 3.5-kilometre Cape Shore Trail offers access to Dungeon Provincial Park, named for a huge collapsed sea cave (in geography terms known as a gloup). The trail along the cape is an ideal one for catching the sunset (and for spotting puffins), but the clear green waters that rush in and out of the dungeon are best seen in the bright sun. This is when the colour appears almost tropical—though the icebergs that float past from spring and into early summer give a clue to the temperature.

Tickle Cove:

Tickle Cove Sea Arch

With a name that wouldn’t be out of place in Neverland, the trail out from the traditional seaport of Tickle Cove makes up for its short length with astonishing views of the red arch which was formed by the force of the sea. As you walk along the trail you’ll also see large erratic boulders that were moved across the landscape by ancient glaciers. While you’re here, it’s worth taking a detour to Keels—stopping first to hike the 3.5-kilometre King’s Cove Lighthouse Trail then heading on to the village to see the Devil’s Footprints, huge hoof-shaped indentations which local stories claim were left when the Devil danced over Keels.

Trinity Area:

Diane Selkirk

While Gun Hill wasn’t a film site, no visit to Trinity is complete without a hike up to this viewpoint. The three-kilometre trail gets a bit steep in places, but the views of the town, the bay and Admiral’s Point Lighthouse are wondrous. It was from the top of Gun Hill that I plotted out the last part of my visit to Neverland and headed to the beach at Admirals Point. Picking my way over a rough landscape covered with delicate wildflowers and tangled bakeapple vines I made my way to the edge of the water, where wind stung my cheeks and all I could see were cliffs, ocean and horizon. Then a sailing ship suddenly appeared out of the mist.

In that moment I realized I really had found Neverland: a place caught between childhood, adulthood and adventure—where the landscape is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and hikes can take you to magical places.

Disclaimer: The author was hosted by Trinity Inn.

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