Red Bay Harbour, Labrador

 July 27, 2005

 By Brian Newhook

 Weather: Fog, overcast with showers, 18 degrees C
Trip Length: 2 hrs total
Paddlers: Brian Newhook, Angie Brace
Kayaks used: 2x Seaknife SK-17 Pro


Map of Red Bay Harbour (source

Red Bay is a beautiful community with a lot to see. Located approximately 80 kms from the ferry terminal in Blanc Sablon, QC, it has very sheltered waters perfect for beginners like us. We spent the night in Pinware River Park just 32 kms from Red Bay which is only $10 a night for a campground. This park is located on a beach peninsula in the town of Pinware. The sites are nice and sheltered but unfortunately there are no showers in the park. The beaches in this area are amazing. We had no idea there were this kind of beaches in Labrador. The mighty Pinware River we are told is a fantastic salmon river, so you anglers may want to plan an extra day to take this in.

The one warning we had heard about going to Labrador was the flies. And let me tell you, they are all right, the flies are terrible. When we arrived at the park I asked the ranger, “Are the flies as bad as people say?” Hoping for a “no b’y, they aren’t that bad”.  Instead I got a grave look and “they are worse than anyone has ever told ya”. Ouch. After the first night, I counted 27 fly bites on Angie’s face.

After eating breakfast in the car, we drove to Red Bay. Unfortunately the weather was not so nice with thick fog and light showers. Driving into the community we couldn’t see anything. We went to the visitor’s center, a world class facility that showed a video on the history of Red Bay and the Basque whalers that used this port over 400 years ago. They also have a reconstructed Basque whaling boat that is about 450 years old. Well worth a visit!

Down over the hill there is another visitor’s center with more to see, including artifacts found in archaeological digs on land and beneath the ocean. There are relatively well preserved remains of whalers clothing found in grave sites, pottery, and various items from ships found beneath the ocean in Red Bay harbour. Eventually the rain held and the fog lifted a little, enough to see Saddle Island and a cruise ship called “Northern Star” out in the harbour. So we quickly offloaded the kayaks and hit the water. We launched right behind the visitors center next to the dock.

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Once we were on the water we went to take a look at the “Northern Star”. It is a smaller cruise ship, and I believe it’s the one that does the adventure tours around coastal Newfoundland and Labrador. It looked very luxurious.

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Next we wanted to see the wreck of the Bernier, on the eastern side of Saddle Island. We couldn’t see it in the fog but knew roughly where it was. After a few minutes we could see it in the fog. It had become grounded many years ago in a storm but is still largely intact.

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Then we explored Saddle Island. There are guides that can take you around the island and show you where they found Basque whaler remains and artifacts. You could easily spend a few hours on this island looking around. There are interpretative signs all around the island, describing the history of the area as well.

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Further inside Red Bay is a smaller island called Penney Island which houses some older condemned buildings. We were told that this was where Sir Wilfred Grenfell had a small hospital set up. Right now there is not much left and as we paddled around the island we could smell the rotting wood of these buildings.

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On the western side of Red Bay is the Boney Shore, where the beaches are littered with whale bones from the Basque whaling of years ago. Also on this side is Tracey Hill, with a trail leading up to the top with what we hear is a fantastic view, but given the weather we decided not to go.

About this time the rain started to pour really hard, and like Forrest Gump said, it seemed to “come straight up from the ground”. So we decided to turn back and head for shore. There was some underwater archaeology going on in the harbour, and there were certain areas marked off that we couldn’t enter as a result. Look out for these markers. We were told that as of now they have found four Spanish galleon wrecks in the harbour and are currently seeking UNESCO status. We thought it was definitely worthy of this recognition and it is certainly a world class historic site. Be sure to plan a full day to allow time to see the visitor’s center, Saddle Island, Boney Shore, and Tracey Hill. There is also a great display at the town hall of a 400 year old right whale skeleton, not to be missed. 

As stated above, this is a very sheltered harbour and is great for beginners. You can paddle from the mainland to Saddle Island in just a few minutes. Be sure to bring lots of insect repellent, you will need it. Many stores in the area sell Mosquito jackets for $20 as well. You may want to fill up your car in Newfoundland before heading across on the ferry, as gasoline is a lot more expensive in Labrador. Also along the south coast of Labrador is the L’Anse Amour lighthouse historic site, the tallest lighthouse in Atlantic Canada.

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