A UNESCO Trilogy - Three World Heritage Sites
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has identified over 800 places in the world that are of outstanding natural and cultural significance. Two of them - Gros Morne National Park and L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site - are located on the west coast of the Island of Newfoundland. A third - Red Bay National Historic Site - is part of the Labrador Coastal Drive. It is a short drive from Blanc Sablon, Quebec, which is reached by ferry from St. Barbe, Newfoundland.
Day 1 - Stand Upon the Earth's Mantle
Gros Morne was named a World Heritage Site because it provides a rare example of continental drift, plus spectacular scenery caused by more recent glaciation.
Today, we will explore the southern part of the park. Start at the Discovery Centre just outside Woody Point. The flat mountain seen from Route 431 is the Tablelands. It is the first of the park's major geological attractions and the only place in North America where you can walk on the earth's mantle.
There are a number of trails of varying intensity in the area. A four-kilometre, moderate trail into the Tablelands can be completed in about two hours, or try the more strenuous nine-kilometre Green Gardens trail that ends with a staircase to a rare pillow lava formation.
Explore Woody Point and overnight in the area.
Day 2 - Beautiful Beaches & A Glacier-Carved Fjord
Today we explore the central and northern areas of the park.
Rocky Harbour is the largest town in the area, and a good place to pick up any supplies you need. At Norris Point, the Bonne Bay Marine Station is the site of a major research project by Memorial University. You can take a peek at research in progress, and see into Bonne Bay via the underwater camera.
Next it's off to Western Brook Pond, one of the park's most popular natural attractions. Not really a pond, it's a huge glacier-carved fjord. A 45-minute walk along a boardwalk from The Viking Trail brings you to the tour boat that operates here. The fjord's walls stand 2,000 feet tall in some places, and several waterfalls stream from the high country into the pond.
Tonight stay at Cow Head - which has a fabulous beach - and end the day with a performance at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival. Depending on the night, it could be dinner theatre, a local comedy, or maybe a drama based on a shipwreck.
Day 3 - A Visit with Vikings
The Vikings were a truly adventurous people, and were skilled navigators who lived in North America five centuries before Christopher Columbus set sail. There had been speculation that Vikings from Greenland and Iceland had reached North America - and specifically northern Newfoundland - but there was no concrete proof until the 1960s. Adventurer Helge Ingstad and his archaeologist wife Ann Stine Ingstad found a series of collapsed sod huts and other evidence in L'Anse aux Meadows, which proved that indeed the Vikings had been there around the year 1000 AD.
Today the remains of the original archaeological dig remain covered, but some of the artifacts are displayed at the site's interpretation centre. A few of the huts have been reconstructed and interpreters in period costume show visitors what life was like in that long-ago time.
About two kilometres from the World Heritage Site is a fanciful recreation of an 11th-century Viking port of trade called Norstead. Viking games and a recreation of a Viking ship, the Snorri, are among the highlights. Overnight in the L'Anse aux Meadows-St. Anthony area, keeping in mind it's a two-hour drive from here to the ferry at St. Barbe for tomorrow's travels. Check the ferry schedule and arrive at least one hour before sailing time.
Day 4 - Basque Whaling Station
This morning drive to St. Barbe and take the 90-minute ferry ride to Blanc Sablon on the Quebec-Labrador border. An hour's drive north brings you to Red Bay National Historic Site.
Early European explorers of eastern North America brought back tales of the vast marine resources, including whales. By the mid-16th century the Basques had established whaling stations in Newfoundland and Labrador, the largest being at Red Bay in southern Labrador.
The Basques built a large industrial complex here that processed whale blubber into oil. The remains of the try works are on Saddle Island, accessible via a two-minute boat ride. Here, more than 130 men are buried who lost their lives in this dangerous endeavor.
The two interpretation centres portray the life of a whaler. Of particular interest is a recovered and preserved chaloupe, the small boat from which the men hunted.