Blog WHS Visits

WHS #800: Red Bay

I did not ‘engineer’ my 800th visited World Heritage Site: my Canadian itinerary was already set before I decided to go to Tunisia first. With no ‘misses’ in between, the Red Bay Basque Whaling Station became my #800. The place does not sound as exciting as Okavango and Uluru for example, which were my #700 and #400 respectively. But in the end, I was happy with it as I found it an enjoyable site in a rather remote location.

If you look up on a map where this is located, you will see how remote and isolated it is. Labrador's first "big" town - with the beautiful name Happy Valley Goose Bay - has only 8,000 inhabitants and is 550 km away. Fortunately, Labrador is part of the province of Newfoundland & Labrador, so the province subsidizes a ferry that runs daily between the tip of Newfoundland (near L'Anse aux Meadows) and Blanc Sablon (an hour south of Red Bay). Ideal for the WH traveller.

I was a bit concerned about this ferry beforehand: it gets very bad reviews, the company has a terrible website and you can only reserve by phone.  On the spot, it turned out not to be too bad and both trips were right on time on a spacious ship. There was also a lot of freight traffic and a single tour bus on this 1.5-hour crossing.

The drive along the Labrador coast the next morning was beautiful. You see mountains, endless coniferous forests and fast-flowing rivers. There was even more snow here than in Newfoundland, also bordering the road (this was June 22!). The villages looked tough to live in, they reminded me of those in Greenland. On the Town of Red Bay Facebook page, an interesting glimpse into what it means to live there is given: volunteers are needed to shovel snow / professional snow blowing equipment is for rent. And remove your boats from the dock when the cruise ships are there! Surprisingly, Red Bay is on the itinerary of some of the large cruise lines. Their summer schedule for example shows the HAL Nieuw Statendam arriving, with 2666 passengers on board. Seven other cruise ships are expected between July and September 2022.

In town, the Visitor Center was closed but the Exhibition Center at the bottom of the street wasn’t: it features exhibits on the life of the Basque whalers here, who arrived with about a thousand men during the summer season. It was the start of whaling on an industrial scale and in 70 years the Basques depleted the waters.

I quickly moved on to the quay, where I joined the boat that brings tourists to Saddle Island every hour. There were only 3 other passengers. On Saddle Island you can take a one-hour walk along the archaeological sites. Because of the bird breeding season, part of the island was closed and we had to return via the same path. Fortunately the sites have signs with numbers next to them, otherwise, you would have walked right past them. The Basque remains mainly consist of ovens. There is also a cemetery. After being excavated, they have been covered with earth again. So at best you see an elevation in the ground. Even worse is the situation with the underwater finds: from the coast, you can stare at the water, where a few meters deeper (invisible) must lie a complete ship.

A few minute's drive outside the town of Red Bay (but still included in the core zone) lies the Boney Shore Walking Trail, a trail focused on whalebones. It lies high enough to have beautiful views over the bay again: there is an inland harbor and a seaside part. Islands protect the entrance, and the remains of buildings and ships can still be seen, but people haven’t lived there for a long time. The whalebones were a bit difficult to find at first – they are not on the beach and not on the path, but just in between. They look like stones, but their shapes still betray them.

Along the coast here you will also see many interesting water birds that are typical of this northern climate. I'm not good at recognizing them, but I think I've seen Common loon, Common eider, and Red-breasted merganser, among others.

To celebrate my 800th milestone, I ended my visit at the Whalers restaurant in Red Bay (the only restaurant in town). They have good Fish & Chips here, and I finished it off with a piece of Bakeapple (= cloudberry) Crumble pie!

Els - 3 July 2022

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