Red Bay N.H.S. is the number one attraction on the south coast of Labrador. From about 1540 to 1600 Basque whalers from Spain made this area their summer headquarters for hunting right whales. The whaler’s legacy was largely forgotten until archaeological excavations commencing in the 1970’s revealed a huge trove of artifacts as well as several sunken ships including the largest Spanish galleon north of the Caribbean.
The site consists of two interpretive buildings and Saddle Island where most of the activities took place. The first building contains the remnants of a chalupa, the small open boats the Basques used to harpoon the whales that were many times bigger than the boat, and a mural of whalers using a chalupa. The second explains the history of whaling through various artifacts including many from the Spanish galleon.
Then comes the best part – for only $2.00 you can make the short trip to Saddle Island and be left to explore on your own. Leaving at 10:00 AM on a warm, sunny day we had the island to ourselves. A circular hiking path had 34 marked spots of interest including aboriginal sites, shipwreck locations, tryworks where blubber was rendered and a Basque burial ground. On landing we were struck by the many varieties of wildflowers and the clarity of the water over the seafloor, studded below by sea urchins, mussels and northern whelks.
Walking up a ridge, we crested it to see an amazing sight. Directly ahead was the rusting hulk of a half-sunken freighter. In the mid-ground was an armada of gannets diving like avian torpedoes into a school of capelin with such rapidity that the booming noises of their splashes sounded like a low calibre machine gun. To top it off there was a majestic ice berg in the distance. We couldn’t tear our eyes away and stared awestruck for a good ten minutes.
Continuing on we came across a large gull rookery where small chicks were attempted to hide in the mossy undergrowth. They need not have worried – the moment we got close the parents would dive bomb so close to our heads that retreat was the only option. All too soon our allotted hour was up and it was back to shore.
Ending our visit to Red Bay we crossed the street to Whaler’s restaurant where junior enjoyed a ‘traditional’ Labrador meal of corned beef and turkey augmented with root vegetables, cabbage and stuffing. He said it was the best turkey dinner he had ever tasted. I had a very good fish soup after which I indulged in an ice cream sundae topped with squashberry, partridgeberry and cloudberry purees – delicious.
Most of the southern coastal communities have created walking trails to nearby look offs. While it might not be possible to climb them all, Tracey Hill Trail outside of Red Bay is a must. Constructed entirely as a boardwalk or steps to protect the fragile moss and lichens, the trail climbs to increasingly higher look offs over Red Bay. At one spot there is a small pond where the ubiquitous Captain Kidd is reputed to have hidden treasure. The highest point is a glacial erratic known as ‘American Rockyman’ for unknown reasons. From here we spotted 13 icebergs.
Getting to Red Bay is not easy, but is worth the effort, particularly if you are going on to Battle Harbour.
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