The Trans-Labrador Highway
So that we don't have to re-trace our route through Newfoundland and Nova Scotia we are driving 800km west across Labrador on the Trans-Labrador Highway. This predominantly gravel road has only existed for a few years.
Before it was completed you had to take a ferry from Cartwright to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and some parts of the route were very rough. This road was not shown on most of the maps we have, nor was it known to our satnav. Much of the information we were given about the TLH by other travellers was out of date.
This is how we found the TLH in July 2012.
Mary's Harbour to Happy Valley-Goose Bay
This 400km section is all gravel, mostly well graded. A few sections have medium pot holes reducing your average speed from 70kph to (say) 55kph. Because of the nature of the surrounding terrain it is often difficult to pull over to wild camp. However there are at least four or five potential wild camp sites (e.g. N52.40583 W56.09694, N52.57005 W59.23394 and N52.74561 W59.82865).
Happy Valley-Goose Bay has all facilities (supermarket, fuel, bank etc.) and an excellent well signed RV dump point with potable water (tap water in Labrador is often labeled as "must be boiled"). The dump point is just off the Happy Valley-Goose Bay to North West River road at N53.32797 W60.41016.
North West River has two worthwhile attractions, the Labrador Interpretation Centre and the Labrador Heritage Museum (a restored 1923 Hudson's Bay Company trading post.)
Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Churchill Falls
The first 105km of the 280km between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Churchill Falls is good tarmac. The reminder is very good gravel with a few minor shallow pot holes and a few short stretches of very mild corrugation. The average speed on the gravel is determined by the speed limit (i.e. 70kph).
Churchill Falls is company town built round a huge hydroelectric plant (generating 3865 megawatts as we passed). Tours of the plant are said to be good (but not on Sundays when we were there!). In addition to a fuel station there is a single multi-purpose building incorporating a hotel, restaurant, supermarket, school, swimming pool, post office gym, library etc.
At a pinch you could wild camp in the car park (but only in the summer).
Churchill Falls to Labrador City
The first 95km of the 250km between Churchill Falls and Labrador City is gravel, the rest is good tarmac. The first 20km of the gravel is quite rough with lots of road works (July 2012). The remaining 75km of gravel is good but we got our windscreen chipped by stones thrown up by a speeding roadworks 18 wheeler (thanks!).
As you approach Labrador City the road runs parallel to and crosses an active railway line.
In the rain the town of Labrador City (population about 7000) is not an attractive place. The only recommended tourist activity is a mine tour. Our guide book says tours run on Sundays and Wednesdays, the information centre says Fridays. We were there on Monday.
The town does have a dump point in an unpleasant industrial area (N52.94560 W66.89588). There does not seem to be any drinking water available. However at the visitor centre, on the way out of town, there is a tap round the back you might be able to use(N52.95063 W66.91901).
Labrador City to Mount Wright
This 40km section of road is good tarmac, but unattractive and industrial.
Mount Wright to Fire Lake
This 64km stretch of poor gravel road is relatively narrow and crisscrosses the railway line. Some pot holes and corrugation combined with heavy traffic, mine workings and road building (July 2012) make this the least pleasant part of the trip. Slippery when wet. Average speed under 50kph.
Fire Lake to Gagnon
This section of road (about 90km) is old tarmac with some pot holes and subsidence but no problems. Average speed about 80kph. Gagnon is an abandoned mine town. Some guides suggest it is an ideal wild camp area. I disagree.
Gagnon to Manic 5
This 175km section of generally good gravel road is being surfaced from the Gagnon end. (In July 2012 they had completed about 40km.)
There are some sections of mild corrugations. There is also one section of good tarmac in the middle, but it is very short.
Manic 5 is a large hydroelectric dam with free guided tours (in French with English subtitles) four times a day, well worth a visit if you like big concrete things. You are not allowed to take photographs within the dam or the generator building.
Manic 5 to Baie-Comeau
Two hundred and fifteen kilometers of good but winding tarmac road. No problems. When we were there the signed road-side truck wash near Manic 2 was, alas, not available.
The total distance from Mary's Harbour to Baie-Comeau is about 1500km (the highest point on the route is 700 metres). We took six days of fairly solid driving. We wild camped all the way without problem. The longest distance without fuel was probably about 400km. Some parts of the TLH are quite isolated but at no time was there an hour without other vehicles.
We were told by other travellers that it was advisable to "check in" and/or get issued with a loan satellite phone. This no longer seems to be an option, and given the level of traffic not necessary. Most of the large trucks seem to have CB radio and on some sections of the road Channel 10 is signed as the preferred channel (rather oddly Channel 10 FM when everybody seemed to be using Channel 10 AM!)
The arrival in Baie-Comeau is something of a culture shock after a month in Newfoundland and Labrador!