Beach Camping in Subarctic Labrador, Canada

10 Jan 2011

Camping at 40 years old brings back the same summer rush I had for adventure in my earlier days exploring Gros Morne National Park. Last July’s excursion to a 90-km stretch of beach in Labrador called the Wonderstrands proved I was still able to hike 100 km of wilderness and camp for seven days – and call it vacation! It was so much fun.

Camping at 40 years old brings back the same summer rush I had for adventure in my earlier days exploring Gros Morne National Park. Last July’s excursion to a 90-km stretch of beach in Labrador called the Wonderstrands proved I was still able to hike 100 km of wilderness and camp for seven days – and call it vacation! It was so much fun.

The Wonderstrands is located in what is now the Mealy Mountain National Park Reserve. At 11,000 square km, it’s the largest protected area in eastern Canada. Best of all, it’s just a day’s ride from other fantastic adventures in the Labrador Straits region, including Gros Morne, Iceberg Alley and Battle Harbour National Historic Site. For my wife Rufina and I, it was only a kayak trip from Cartwright.

The sun was bright the morning we left Cartwright harbour for our four-hour kayak trip across Sandwich Bay. It was a great start to our camping expedition in search of adventure and escape from the hustle of everyday life. But we weren’t going to be reckless about it. This is the Labrador wilderness we’re talking about, so we were wise to seek local advice. We hired Tom Barrett from Experience Labrador, a small tour company based in Cartwright. Tom provided the kayaks, a boat transfer to West Bay at the north end of the beach, great advice, and much more.

As we paddled, we were thrilled to see whales feeding in these quiet waters, and entertained by the sharp squeals from a large colony of Arctic terns nesting on the nearby Green Island. Our destination for the day was the south end of the beach at the abandoned community of North River. This is where locals gather for family picnics and to fish for trout. We caught our lunch for the next day at sundown, just before we rolled out the sleeping bag to camp for the night.

“There is a bear heading this way,” warned Tom, who’d spotted the animal minutes earlier. “We should keep an eye out.” “Colour, Tom, it’s the colour that’s important,” I replied. While polar bears are a rare sight this time of year, black bears frequent the coastline in search of berries and fresh sea trout. We checked our belt-tethered whistles and ensured the bear spray was nearby before falling asleep. That night the only sound was the quiet wash of salt water rolling onto the beach.

Next day we said goodbye to Tom after he dropped us off at West Bay, an abandoned summer fishing station a further 60 km north. Over the next few days, we would hike and camp our way back along the Wonderstrands beaches to North River and rendezvous with Tom for the final leg of our trip home.

That night at West Bay was our first night camping alone, but for the company of two black bears. The next morning we whistled frequently to deter the bears as we packed up camp and started our hike back along the sandy beaches. Along the way we spotted numerous companies of eider ducks, guillemots and even a young wolf along the shoreline. The hike became an expedition as we traversed rocky outcrops making our way south to Cape Porcupine, the halfway point. We marvelled at the iron-rich topsoil that separated the Atlantic Ocean and peat bog to the west. Even the numerous streams that meandered to the coast deposited colourful arrays of black and orange sediment in these sandy beaches that disappeared to the far south, off and into the horizon. Our daily routine of breaking camp, hiking 10-15 km, followed by campfire meals and beautiful sunsets was a welcome repeat.

As the week unfolded we enjoyed the secluded escape, recounted much about our youth and reveled in our return to real adventure. For these 40-year-olds, our summer hiking and camping expedition along one of the most accessible Subarctic coastlines in the province came surprisingly easy in the not-so-wilds of Labrador’s south coast Wonderstrands.