Weathered Cliffs, Creaky Tuckamore and Sea Stacks Along the Skerwink Trail in Newfoundland

To clarify, a “skerwink” is the local name for a shearwater—a group of 37 pelagic bird species. Pelagic birds are ones that spend most of their lives on the ocean.

In nesting season, these birds weave in and out of the imposing sea stacks that have been gradually eroded away from Newfoundland’s Bonavista Peninsula. The Skerwink Trail, true to its namesake, weaves its 5.3-kilometre length through the province’s dense tuckamore forest, giving hikers a panoramic view of the rugged coastline—no wings necessary.

The trailhead is located in Trinity East, an hour’s drive east of Clarenville. You’ll know you’re on the right path, so to speak, when you hike past the signpost arch along a well-maintained strip of gravel, leading you past colourful vacation homes and walled-in gardens. At the edge of the hamlet the gravel ends, but it’s clear that the Friends of Skerwink have been diligent in their upkeep of the dirt trail. From here to the one-kilometer mark, the hike could be a really nice stroll through the woods anywhere on the island.

Abundant blueberry bushes and ground-hugging partridgeberry plants crowd the sides of the path here, so that in late summer you’ll get both a hike and a snack! Here the trail splits in two; the preferred route will take you to the coast, the latter inland route is highly recommended in thick fog—the trail abuts the cliff in several spots, and you wouldn’t want to join one of those bird species in flight!

Not five meters past the fork, the trail takes on a completely different character. To start, instead of looking towards your feet for ripe fruits, you’ll be staring 30 meters straight down at ripples of granite covered in crashing surf. In Newfoundland, a coastal hike means…don’t fall in! From here out to Skerwink Head (the halfway mark), you’re hiking on top of worn cliffs of sedimentary rock; visible layers of deposited strata heave diagonally out of the ocean.

Wooden planks covered in wire mesh provide a sure grip on the path, but a few steps off into well-worn vantage points provide fantastic photo opportunities: black sand beaches where capelin spawn, petrels staring back from lichen encrusted roosts, and for those brave enough to inch towards cliff edges, beautiful blue harebells (hey—my day job’s in botany!).

The outward stretch of the trail turns from the cliff into damp forest, and passes through grassy wetlands, until Skerwink Head comes into view through lichen covered branches. The barren promontory juts out from the cape like you’ve run out of solid land. Standing on point, with the ocean far below and trees to your back, the solitude is peaceful enough that you really start to identify with the birds that call this coast home. On a nice day though, it won’t be too long before another hiker, who has also come to enjoy one of the province’s finest views, sidles up alongside you.

Closing the loop, the hike back into Trinity East passes back through the tuckamore. The forest on this side of the cape creaks and groans in discontent—this section was hit hard by Hurricane Igor in 2010.  However, like the Newfoundlanders who have rebuilt their communities and this very trail since, this forest is resilient—new spruce growth already peaks out from tufts of grass along the boardwalk. 

Passing out of the forest onto a pebble beach, one grassy meadow and one lily covered pond away from the parking lot you started at, you might be tempted to come back in a few years, and see how the regeneration is getting on.  That, or you’ll start to envy those lucky seabirds!

Story and Photos by Paul Sokoloff