At 1,153 feet, Centre Hill in Sunnyside is the highest point on the Avalon Peninsula and the isthmus connecting it to the rest of the island.
We climbed it on one of those stinkin’ hot days last week when the humidex was screaming 99, which any sane person takes to mean: go to the basement and stay there until the rain comes. But not us. Instead of staying indoors we realized a two-year-old dream of visiting Sunnyside to tackle Centre Hill.
On the way out the highway, we stopped in at the Bull Arm interpretation centre, which is just before the turnoff to Sunnyside, and watched a silent movie on the Hebron project. Hebron employs a good number of Sunnyside residents as, of course, does the nearby Come By Chance Oil Refinery. Massive well-kept houses, spiffy boats, side-by-sides and quads are testament to the good salaries being made in some households.
I was hoping to do a bus tour like I did back in the Hibernia construction phase, but tours are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and the third Saturday of each month at 10:30 a.m. We were there on a Friday.
Children must be at least six years of age and those under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult and those under 19 must have an adult sign a waiver. There is no fee, but visitors must wear closed-toe shoes. To reserve a spot, contact BullArm.BusTours@kkc-gbs.com or call 709-463-1033. Tours continue until October.
So after a sandwich and a quick visit to the facilities, we drove the five miles to the far end of Sunnyside and parked at the well-marked trailhead across from the government wharf to begin our ascent of Centre Hill, which operated as a fire watch tower from the 1930s to ’60s. It was 1:40 and the sign informed us that the 10-km return trip should take four hours.
Shorts and stouts
As soon as we got out of the vehicle the stouts, or horseflies, started to dive bomb us. We covered ourselves in Skin So Soft and DEET which prevented them from biting, but did not deter them from swarming our upper bodies for the entire trip. I did not try to swat them away, but if I moved my arm in the normal way one does to walk, it would bump into a stout or two. We got used to the drone.
The hike begins with a short overgrown ascent that crosses a dirt road leading to a spectacular waterfall and swimming hole in the Centre Cove River.
It then meanders through wet valleys dissected by boardwalks that need some tender loving care.
It’s been a decade since the Centre Hill Trail Association built the extensive trail/boardwalk system that allows hikers to get through the many bakeapple and pitcherplant bogs between the town and Centre Hill. In the past 10 years, nature has reclaimed some of the wood. We had only been walking about half an hour when one of the two teenagers in my charge took a knee high soaker that would have been much worse if he hadn’t kept his other foot on the half of the boardwalk that was still intact. Once he schlepped his leg out of the muck, he rinsed off in nearby Leech Pond. He travelled the rest of the day with one wet sock and boot.
It’s a shame the trail has disintegrated, but I understand the prohibitive cost of upkeep and maintenance on a 10-year-old nature trail that crosses wetlands in Newfoundland. Perhaps the new town council this fall can apply for government or private (oil sector?) money to upgrade the path. It would be a shame to let it revert back to a nature trail as the ground is so wet hikers wouldn’t get through except in winter when the ground is frozen.
Somehow I don’t think the summit would be quite as welcoming as the day we were up there.
We plodded along through dead forest and open meadows with fresh moose prints firmly embedded in the wet mud.
After about an hour and a half, we were at the base of Centre Hill where we came upon a tent platform and camping shelter for campers to leave their gear before entering the Hobbitville forest that precedes the abrupt ascent that makes up the final 15 minutes or so of the hike. The last hurrah requires hands as well as feet to get up. The sweat blurred my vision. I had to mop my entire head with my shirt. We drained the last of our Gatorade and water.
This was not the Sunnyside that is often enshrouded in thick fog. This is the Sunnyside for which it was named. We must have been there on the clearest day of the year. For 360 degrees, the views were resplendent. Placentia Bay to the west with Come By Chance in the foreground and three oil tankers in the bay. To the east, Trinity Bay with Bull Arm and Deer Harbour.
We rested and sent a few emails — cellphone coverage was perfect — before starting back. It had taken exactly two hours to get to the top and, with our stop for a dip on the way down, it was exactly two hours back.
Centre Cove River reminded me of Manuels River with its deep swimming holes carved by waterfalls. What a great way to cool off on one of the hottest most humid days of the year. It’s the only time in my life I remember being fully submersed in my clothing outdoors in Newfoundland and not feeling shockingly cold when I came out. I walked back to the car sopping wet and warm.
After our hike, we set up camp in a splendid spot on the recommendation of the lovely Robert Snook, outgoing mayor and descendant of the first permanent residents of Sunnyside who came over from New Perlican. It was hot enough to sleep in the open, but the vampire mosquitoes kept us safely inside the mesh.
Mayor Snook told us of a short (just over one kilometre) hike to Truce Sound where a white teepee commemorates the place where John Guy first made contact with the Beothuk in 1612 — and called the area Truce Sound because of the good relations that were established between the two parties.
So, if you’d like to go to Sunnyside and not hike uphill, you can still enjoy a beautiful trail and even a soak in the gorgeous Centre Cove River.
When we woke up, Sunnyside was shrouded under a veil of fog. It was hard to believe it was the same place we had entered less than 24 hours before.
Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.