Out of this world: Hiking the history and beauty of the south coast trails of Labrador

25 Aug 2011

Where on earth can you hike trails for seven days straight that are at once beautifully wild and off the beaten path, yet also accessible and within reach of a comfortable B&B every night? Ruggedly scenic trails, weaving along and above the ocean, affording the occasional sighting of a whale or an iceberg as they hum with history spanning thousands of years? It sounds too good to be true, but this is the experience editors from Trailpeak.com, Canada’s premier interactive trail mapping network, had earlier this month. As hiker Kurt Turchan wrote in one of his regular blog updates along the way, “Why go to Stonehenge when you can feel a primordial connection here?”

The two Trailpeak.com editors, Kurt and Jodie, arrived in Deer Lake, western Newfoundland, August 9th, to begin a journey that would take them on foot between historic communities along the south coast of Labrador. Although the focus of their visit was southern Labrador, they also managed to include two incredible hiking experiences on the island of Newfoundland, both before and after their ferry crossing. And they suffered a serious case of hiker’s itch when the drive to the ferry at St. Barbe took them through UNESCO World Heritage Site Gros Morne National Park, home to some of the most incredible hiking trails on the continent. “Admittedly, driving past some of the main trailheads was hard to do,” wrote Kurt. “The scenery was breathtaking.”

But finally, with the 380km drive complete, the pair arrived in St. Barbe to catch the ferry for Labrador. Here, they had time to fit in two walking trails before embarking. Trails that included Thrombolites (3-billion-year-old life forms) and a fishing boat graveyard. As an added bonus, their ferry crossing came complete with a whale of a show, as giant humpbacks breached alongside the boat.

One of the highlights of Kurt and Jodie’s trip was actually their first hike through the wilderness from L’Anse au Clair (close to where they arrived in Labrador), to Forteau, home to the tallest lighthouse in Atlantic Canada. The misty, rocky coastline, dotted with ancient boulders and wild flowers felt mysterious and atmospheric. In days gone by, the footpaths and trails were used to link communities and they were the only way to get from one village to the next.

“This ‘Pioneers footpath’ as it's known, will surely get popular with hikers hoping to travel from B&B to B&B,” wrote Kurt in his blog update. He later added, “Sunset at (Point Amour) lighthouse allowed for some fantastic pictures. We had the whole area to ourselves and wondered what it would be like to be a lighthouse keeper. This is a must-see hiker's stopover. We felt a certain pride in walking into this important national historic site.”

 From Forteau, the hikers headed along the Battery Trail, rich in history and wild berries… soon to be ripe for the picking. One local told Kurt and Jodie about how she would come out of school in the evenings as a young girl and fill a sack full of partridgeberries on her way home.

At Battle Harbour National Historic District, the hikers found themselves immersed in centuries-old history.

 “Battle Harbour astounded me,” wrote Kurt. “I’ve never seen anything like it… This is one of the most exceptional points of interest in Labrador.”

Not only did the hikers wander along the scenic pathways of the past in Battle Harbour, but they also got to see icebergs along the trail. And when they visited nearby Caribou Island, they discovered old abandoned communities, forgotten cemeteries, and a family of arctic foxes.

“You can hike all day on Caribou,” wrote Kurt. “It would take several hours of ridge walking, with descents into valleys, historic settlements, and coves. The Island will be all yours.”

As the weeklong hike eventually wrapped up along the stretch of coastline near Red Bay, which is historically renowned for its 16th-century Basque whaling past, icebergs became the final theme. Not only did Jodi and Kurt spot several along the trail overlooking Red Bay, but on their return to the island of Newfoundland, they walked the Fishing Point and Daredevil Hill Trail near St. Anthony, where giant bergs – chunks of the Petermann Ice Island – “littered the entire coastline… feet away from the shore.”

Kurt summed up his feelings about hiking along the wild coastlines of the Big Land (as Labrador is often called) in his final blog post:

“The appeal is simple. It's pristine and un-crowded (30,000 people live in all of Labrador), it's got coastal treks from B&B to B&B that range from high cliffs to red sandy beaches – and it's steeped in history and unrivalled points of interest that could draw crowds.”

For more information and to read Kurt’s regular blog updates during the hike, visit the blog section of newfoundlandlabrador.com. And for GPS downloads, imagery, directions and detailed accounts of each hike, visit Trailpeak.com

All photos courtesy of Jodie Taylor and Kurt Turchan of Trailpeak.com