It’s a beautiful day to be outside. After driving an hour from the ferry, it’s finally time to stretch your legs. At the end of the paved road, you follow the trail along the coastline. You’re surrounded by shimmering blue water, blooming Labrador tea and partridge berries, and old bones. Whale bones.
You’re on the Boney Shore Trail on the eastern coast of Labrador. Red Bay, named for the crimson granite cliffs in the distance, was once the largest whaling port in the world. Sailors from northern Spain and southern France traveled to this remote location to harpoon migrating right and bowhead whales. The Basque whalers rendered the blubber, extracted the oil, and made a lot of money off the valuable lighting source in the 16th century. When the whale population declined, the whalers left. But you can see everything they left behind at this national historic site.
The whitish-grey bones, which look like rocks at first, get larger and larger as you walk along the trail. It isn’t until you loop around and start to return—and see a massive whale cresting in the harbor—that the scope of what’s before you begins to make sense. Visit the museum to see a chalupa (a dingy used for whale hunting) and the skeleton of a 15-meter North Atlantic right whale. Ride a boat out to Saddle Island. The San Juan, which sank during a 1565 storm, is half-submerged in the harbor. Explore the island to see the remains of rendering ovens, a small lighthouse, and the cemetery where 140 whalers are buried.
Then return to the mainland for a simple lunch—a cod fillet with home fries—at Whalers Restaurant. Climb the Tracey Hill Trail boardwalk, up to American Rockyman Hill, for sweeping views. The barren landscape, with mountains in the distance, is behind you. The rugged coast, the islands, and the shipwrecks are in front of you. Another whale appears. You see its dark body, its enormous jaw, and its powerful tail. Water spurts from its blowhole. And newly formed waves start rushing toward the shore. It’s time to leave. The ferries don’t run on your schedule. But it’s hard to turn away from this peaceful, majestic creature.