A trip to a UNESCO World Heritage Site is an experience you’ll never forget. Newfoundland and Labrador boasts four of Canada’s 18 honoured sites, each one recognised for its outstanding natural and cultural significance.
Read on to find out why you should add these four destinations to your bucket list immediately:
Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve
Newfoundland and Labrador’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site was bestowed with this prestigious title in 2016. Mistaken Point, on the Avalon Peninsula, is home to a 565-million-year-old sea floor that hosts the fossils known as Ediacaran biota. Have your camera ready – it’s not every day you get to clap eyes on the oldest-known-evidence of our planet’s first multicellular life forms.
It’s the ultimate step back in time as you bear witness to the ancient Ediacaran in the mudstone bedding planes along the incredible coastline. The fossils remain in perfect condition, largely owing to the fact that access is by guided tour only.
Newfoundland is famous for its quirky location names (fancy a quick trip to Dildo?) and Mistaken Point fits right in. It was so named for the way sailors would often confuse it for nearby Cape Race on a foggy evening. They would turn north, anticipating Cape Race Harbour, but would run aground onto rocks instead.
Red Bay National Historic Site
The Basque Whaling Station of Red Bay was named Canada’s 17th UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. Gran Baya, as it was called by the Basque fishermen who established the operation, holds the most complete archaeological record of the industry’s beginnings, including 15 whale oil rendering ovens and a cemetery with the remains of 140 Basque whalers.
The historic township of Red Bay is dotted with clapboard houses along vast headlands against a backdrop of meandering icebergs that drift by throughout the year. Listen to the stories of 16th century Basque as you immerse yourself in this richly historic outpost.
In addition to the priceless Basque artefacts from the work stations, including the whalers’ personal items, the shallow waters off Red Bay also harbour precious archaeological remains. It is here the oldest shipwreck ever found in Canada lies dormant, the 450-year-old San Juan, a 250-ton galleon sunk in a storm in the Strait of Belle Isle in the autumn of 1565.
Gros Morne National Park
Hit the aptly named Viking Trail on the west coast of Newfoundland and immerse yourself in Gros Morne National Park, one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites along the Trail. Gros Morne was granted this honour owing to its rare example of continental drift, with its topography shaped by colliding continents and clashing glaciers.
Hike the soaring mountains perched high above vast beaches and forests brimming with moose and caribou. Enter the lofty fjords on a scenic boat trip up Western Brook Pond, where you’ll glide by waterfalls tumbling down sheer cliff faces. Feeling energetic? Trek to the top of Gros Morne Mountain on a 16-kilometre loop, amid wildflowers and roaming wildlife.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the world-famous Tablelands, half a billion years in the making. It was here that geologists proved the theory of plate tectonics. This rocky ridge is made from peridotite, a material found only in Earth’s inner mantle, thrust to the surface during geological upheaval eons ago. Its toxicity to plant life gives the Tablelands its eerily beautiful barren surface, carved by glaciers over millions of years.
Ready to re-join civilisation? Explore the culturally-rich seaside communities, such as the eclectic, artistic hub of Woody Point, whose unusual and inspiring beauty has lured artists and writers to take up residence.
L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
A visit to this first and only authenticated Norse site in North America will transport you back to where Vikings once stood. Here, on the edge of Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula, Norse expeditions from Greenland made their home along the coastline framed by spectacular craggy cliffs in 1000 AD.
Today, Viking interpreters in full costume tell tales of a bygone era as you tour the recreated base camp and explore the ruins with its original artefacts. Listen to the story of Snorri, the first European child born in the New World, and gain an insight into these truly adventurous people who used their keen navigation skills to explore North America a full five centuries before Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain to the Caribbean.
About two kilometres from this globally-recognised archaeological find is a fanciful recreation of an 11th-century Viking port of trade called Norstead. Stop here to partake in Viking games and explore a recreation of a Viking ship, the Snorri, which sailed here from Greenland all those years ago.