To celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Viking landing in Newfoundland, a replica of a Norse 'knarr' cargo ship was built and sailed to Newfoundland for the festivities in 2000. After the ripples had died down, this ship is now used for whale-watching voyages out of St. Lunaire, very close to Saint Anthony. The Vikings had different types of ships depending on what their main use was. Shorter and wider (54 feet x 15 feet) than a raiding longboat, the Knarr was used as an ocean-going freighter. Because its deck was higher than a longboat, rowing was usually done standing up when entering or leaving harbour. There were small sheltered areas at both the bow and stern were some of the crew could take shelter from the elements. However, with no pumps, bailing was a constant requirement - usually the job of children when aboard. We had a great whale-watching ride on this craft with Viking Boat Tours!
L'Anse-aux-Meadows National Historic Site is the first (and so far only) authenticated Viking site in North America. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1978, the very first year such designations were made, which gives you an idea of its significance in human history.
Your visit here starts with a tour of the interesting interpretation centre, which shows a 30-minute movie about the history of the site. You can then check out the many artifacts and reconstructions from the time of the Vikings and, of course, the small souvenir shop.
Once you exit the interpretation centre, you can follow a trail outside that takes you to the ankle-high remains of some workshops and dwellings. This touch lets you look around and try to imagine what it must have been like to be a Viking and arrive at this new land -- the area probably looks the same as it did 1000 years ago.
Shortly afterwards you will come across some re-constructions, where costumed staff can answer your questions and do some demonstrations of Viking techniques.
The site is open from June to early October. Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In contrast to the L'Anse-aux-Meadows National Historic Site, that focuses on archaeology, Norstead feels more lively, having being intended as a reproduction of a Viking port of trade.
Despite its commercial aspect, the site doesn't feel "cheap" and the buildings are said to be historically accurate. It's almost as if the site showed what L'Anse-aux-Meadows might have become had the Vikings stayed here a bit longer!
The highlight is the full-scale replica of the Viking ship Snorri, which was sailed from Greenland to L'Anse-aux-Meadows by a crew of nine men in 1998. Aside from the boat shed where the Snorri lies, there is also a chieftain's hall, a small church and a workshop. Costumed guides are also on hand to show or explain the Vikings' methods.
Norstead is open from mid-June until mid-September every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Every year around mid-July there is a Viking Festival, but unfortunately we missed it!
The Viking Boat Tour was the best whale watching experience of the three voyages that we have had (compared to Grand Manan, New Brunswick and Tofino, British Columbia). The ship itself is very comfortable and quite roomy - there was a considerable crowd onboard but there was lots of room to move around. They supply wet-weather gear as part of the package (and we needed it briefly as we passed through a shower at one stage). The scenery looking back toward shore was spectacular and the trip got even better as we soon came upon a pod of Humpback whales. We were able to slowly come up behind them and it was amazing to see their vague dark outlines under the water just before they surfaced. Several times, we just sat bobbing on the waves with the engine off listening to the sounds of the ocean and the whales blowing as they surfaced! Other sighting possibilities in this area are the smaller Minke whales as well as some Fin, Sei and Killer Whales. We paid US$21 each for our great experience! See my Travelogue for a few other photos from this whale watching excursion!
L'anse Aux Meadows has been archeaolgically verified as the first settlement by Europeans. Because of this it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Norwegian Vikings from Greenland built a series of buildings in approximately 1000 AD.
Although it has been verified that it was Europeans that occupied the settlement, they were not there to settle North America. There were there to winter and get supplies. There are no wild grapes in that area (which means they may yet find another settlement much further south that caused them to call America Vinland). What they did was find old-stand lumber (which is now gone), an unlimited supply of fish, and iron to fix their ship.
L'Anse aux Meadows was first visited by Europeans when a 30-man Viking ship from Greenland, captained Leif Eriksson, landed there during a voyage of discovery to the west. They found the area and climate to be so hospitable that they decided to spend the winter there, before sailing back to Greenland in the spring with a load of lumber and wild grapes that they had found growing nearby (hence the name 'Vinland' in the Viking Chronicles). As word got out in Greenland, more ships sailed west and eventually the settlement consisted of 8 wood-framed huts overlaid with sod roof and walls. There are even records of the birth of the first European in the New World taking place at this location. However, this area had also been used by the native population (called 'Skraelings' by the Vikings) since about 6000 BC. The result was eventual conflict and deaths, culminating in a retreat back to Greenland by the heavily out-numbered Vikings. L'Anse aux Meadows would gradually decay for almost 1000 years before it was once again brought back to life. Today, Parks Canada administers the site and puts on wonderful demonstrations of how life took place inside the huts. These huts had long narrow fireplaces in the middle, used for heat, light and cooking (note the roof-vent in the photo). In addition to the buildings, there are other sites that show the original foundations of other buildings. Admission is US$6 for adults, open from June 1 - Oct. 14.
We had not even heard of Norstead before we made it up to L'Anse aux Meadows. We kept seeing all these signs advertising Norstead - A Viking Port of Trade, and wondered what it was and if it had anything to do with the historic Viking site at L'Anse aux Meadows.
As we had no idea what it was, we landed up leaving the area before visiting.
Norstead is an attraction on its own - just opened 4 years ago. According to its website, Norstead replicates a Viking port of trade as it may have looked during the Viking era. They have costumed interpreters, and a rebuilt Viking ship similar to the one that brought the Norse to L'Anse aux Meadows.
The reason I put this tip in here even though we did not go is to make sure that you consider it if you land up at that corner of the world - don't be like us and miss it because you didn't know it was there. (Also, please do not rate this tip, because we did not visit it)
If you are following our Newfoundland holiday, click here to get back to my Newfoundland page.
L'Anse aux Meadows is an actual fishing town in Newfoundland - just a little bit north of the Viking site. After we left the Parks Canada site at 5pm, we drove around the town - a small town of approximately 15 or 20 houses. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it, so no picture until our next visit, but it is a typical NL fishing village - very picturesque with homes on a rocky shore and fishing boats in the harbour.
As we had not left enough time in NL, we decided not to stay in the area overnight - as such we missed the hikes in the area, Norstead - the attraction that replicates a Norse trading post and St. Anthony with its museum on Sir Wilfred Grenfell. Instead, we ate a Newfoundland-type jig dinner at a restaurant called the Tickle Inn, and started back south to find a B&B closer to Gros Morne.
The early Norwegians built a settlement that consisted of three sets (perhaps families) of huts (total of 8) covered with a sod roof.
Nearby is also the site of the first North American furnace to smelter ore into iron. They found the furnace - used only once - that was used to smelt local bog ore into 3kg of iron which was then forged into iron nails which were used to fix their ships.
The settlement was used for about ten years before being abandoned by the Vikings. There is no archaeological proof, but there may have been conflicts with the local natives. Regardless, the settlement decayed for almost 1000 years before it was discovered by a Norwegian couple in the 1960's and studies done to verify what was there.
Parks Canada recreated one of the living huts based on what was found in the ground. They also put on demonstrations of how life took place inside the huts. The living huts had long narrow fireplaces in the middle.
Admission in 2004 was Cdn$7 for adults, open from June 1 - mid Oct. (We landed up buying a Parks Canada historic sites pass as we knew we would be visiting a number of Parks Canada sites on our holiday).
The evening before we went on our whale-watching excursion, my wife and I parked our car just off the main road and took a walking trail up a hill with a great view out over the water at St. Lunaire. After we had been at the scenic lookout area for a short while, we were approached by Paul Compton, his niece (blond) and her friend from Toronto. We struck up a conversation and it turned out that he is the owner of the Viking Boat Tour that we had already booked for the next day! He said that he had noticed that we locked our car as we left on the walk so he knew that we must be from "away" as there is no need of that here! We had a great old chat and, as we stood there, we could actually look down on whales close in-shore as they surfaced. It was so quiet that, even that high up, we could hear them blow a few seconds after we first saw the spurt from the water! It was a very enjoyable time in the early evening as Paul filled us in on all the details regarding whales in the area. We even managed a glimpse of a distant iceberg far out on the horizon - the only one we saw that late in the summer (early August). The experience was one of our fondest memories of the whole trip!