Can I see all three UNESCO Sites in four days?
Recently, I caught the bug. Nothing catchy. I’m talking about the travelling bug. I want to go out and explore more of my own province. You see, Newfoundland and Labrador is blessed with a wonderful conundrum – there are so many places to visit, it makes it quite difficult to find time to get to them all.
We are the proud owners of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And they sit in fairly close proximity to one another. Which is what inspired me to plan my trip around them. The only problem, I have a short window in which to see these places. I only have one long weekend in July to fit it in.
So, I sat down with my Travel Guide App at my kitchen table and began to plan my journey. I felt like a digital Jacques Cartier. I also enlisted the help of Fred Sheppard, a Public Outreach Officer for Parks Canada. Fred outlined the travel times and the route needed to achieve my goal. If you’re ever in Gros Morne National Park, you should really look him up, he is a font of knowledge.
Gros Morne National Park
Friday Morning: 1-hour drive from Deer Lake Regional Airport
One of the incredible things about driving north on the Viking Trail from Deer Lake is that moment when the park is revealed to you. That was my fondest moment of first visiting Gros Morne about 15 years ago.
“You’re coming along that highway just outside of Wiltondale, and you see the hills in front of you and you start climbing up, and you know you’re coming into something different,” said Sheppard. “The landscape doesn’t feel like Newfoundland”.
When you first lay eyes upon The Tablelands, you may not believe them. It looks nothing like anything you’ll find in the province. In fact, it looks like something out of Lost in Space. One would expect to see the Mars Rover as opposed to humans. These rocks are special. How special? Well, they are, in fact, made up of the earth’s mantle. The result of tectonic upheaval which took place nearly half a billion years ago.
And you thought you were old?
The rocks are strikingly brown in colour. This is due to the fact that it is made up largely of Peridotite, a dense rock that is rich in iron, among other minerals. Most plants find it difficult to grow from Peridotite, which accounts for this surreal barren landscape.
You can take a guided tour of The Tablelands with Gros Morne Adventures – in partnership with Parks Canada – to hear the full geological story. I highly recommend it.
Western Brook Pond
Have you ever stared at something for a long time trying to determine if it was real or not? That is the feeling you get from Western Brook Pond.
This magnificent fjord comes equipped with 2,000 foot waterfalls and a 16 kilometre pond that is nearly 500 feet deep. A place that is guaranteed to give you a fresh perspective on things. It’s so breathtaking, you’d swear it was designed on a computer. But, these aren’t special effects, this is the aftermath of glaciers moving across a landscape.
Located North of Rocky Harbour, there are several ways you can experience this place. Your options begin with a 40-minute walk to the dock, where you can step onboard a tour boat for a two-hour trip through the fjords with BonTours. Or, for the more advanced adventurer, you can take a guided day hike up the eastern edge of the gulch for a once in a lifetime photo op.
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
4-hour drive North of Gros Morne National Park
As you enter this place, you know. You know that something special happened here. And as you step out of your car you can almost feel the history. It’s thick in the air.
When asked why the site was so important, Fred told me “that site is the earliest evidence of Europeans in the western hemisphere.” Which, when you think about it, is quite a feat. After all there were no flights to St. Anthony back then – no elite or super elite seating, no in-flight entertainment – just a long hard sail across the North Atlantic.
A thousand years ago, this small community perched at the tip of the Northern Peninsula was inhabited by Vikings. Here you are transported back a thousand years to the beginning of the second millennia. You can see how they lived. Eat what they ate, play games they may have played – you can even see a replica Viking ship Snorri, named for the first European baby born in North America.
Red Bay National Historic Site
2-hour drive from L’Anse aux Meadows to St. Barbe
2-hour ferry ride to Blanc Sablon, Quebec
1-hour drive to Red Bay
My next stop is the Red Bay Whaling Station in Labrador. In order to get there, I must first catch a ferry in St. Barbe. The voyage by sea is just shy of two hours. You will dock in Blanc Sablon, Quebec. From there, it’s a short drive to Red Bay.
Once you reach Red Bay you are greeted with a unique combination of Labrador coastal living mixed with a rich tapestry of culture and history. A long time ago, in the 1500s, this place was filled with thousands of Basque whalers who were hunting whales for blubber. In turn, that blubber was then rendered into oil and shipped back to Europe.
The whaling station itself can be found on Saddle Island, which lies at the mouth of the bay. You can still see the remnants of the ovens used to render whale oil and the cooperages. They still stand where Basque hands once built them.
“You can smell, you can see, you can imagine these Spanish Galleons anchored out there, the smoke rising from the rendering pits… you’re stepping back in time”, says Fred.
It really is an immersive experience. And if you pause and feel the silence, even for a second, you can almost picture the hustle and bustle of this thriving industry. It is truly spectacular.
The End of The Road
So, I’ve discovered that it’s completely doable. If I plan accordingly, I can visit all three UNESCO sites in a single long weekend.
However, I think Fred put it best when he said, “yes, seeing all UNESCO sites in one long weekend can be done. But, if you want to get a feel for the place, you really should spend more time here”.
And, you know something? I’m inclined to agree. If you can find the extra days on your calendar, I highly recommend staying longer. You won’t be sorry you did.