Whale watching in La Belle province

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/10/2015 (2538 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I’ve never really thought of Quebec as a maritime destination, but now that I know it is, it makes perfect sense.

After all, the massive province is adjacent to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and skirted by the St. Lawrence River — the passage linking the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Because the salty ocean waters flow inland and mix with freshwater, the resulting two-layer circulation creates optimal conditions for certain marine mammals. The high density of species, the proximity and accessibility of watching sites, and the relatively calm waters make the St. Lawrence one of the best estuaries in the world for whale-watching.

RoseAnna Schick Quebec might not be your first idea when it comes to maritime vacations, but there are plenty of great spots to catch a glimpse of whales, seals, even porpoises.

The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park is home to 13 species of marine mammals. Harbour seals and beluga whales frequent the waters here year-round, while spring migration brings the likes of humpbacks and blue whales — the largest mammals to have lived on earth. One of the best (and windiest!) locales for viewing is Cap de Bon-Désir, where you can stretch out on smooth rocks and witness whales, seals, and even porpoises swim right by.

For whale-watching on the water, the town of Tadoussac is ideal. First take a tour of the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre where you can see a 13-metre long skeleton of a sperm whale, take in exhibits and videos, and learn how to sing like a whale using their own specially crafted “belaine-o-phone.” Then climb aboard a zodiac excursion and head out on the river just before sunset to seek, observe and photograph whichever mammals decide to make an appearance.

My absolute favourite thing about coastal landscapes is beaches, and Tadoussac has a fantastic one. The expanse of the beach varies substantially depending on time of day, and when the tide is out you can beachcomb for treasures in otherwise inaccessible places.
Don’t leave town without stopping in at the Tadoussac Chapel, Canada’s oldest wooden church and designated national historic site. Built in 1747 at the confluence of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence rivers, the small structure was erected when Tadoussac was an active fur-trading centre.

There are plenty of quaint towns and villages along the St. Lawrence, on both the north and south shores. With nine ferries in Quebec’s maritime region, it’s easy to hop back and forth for lunching in Saint-Siméon, dining in Rivière-du-Loup, and exploring the many shops, cafés, galleries, spas, and other area attractions.

There are also islands to visit like Île aux lièvres. This unspoiled enchanting retreat in the middle of the St. Lawrence is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s the breeding and feeding ground for all kinds of birds — blue herons, cormorants, gulls, ducks, and many species I’ve never even heard of. It offers over 40 kilometres of hiking trails through forest, over meadows, and along coastlines, stretching and zig-zagging from one tip of the 13-kilometre long island to the other.

The shoreline showcases breathtaking scenery like deserted beaches edged in brier roses, trails winding through jutting rocks, and loads of tumbled driftwood. An observation deck on the north end provides spectacular views of harbour seals just hanging out on rocks, basking in the sun, and making the strangest guttural sounds.

With so many distinctive things to see and do, Maritime Quebec is a special place indeed. I highly recommend adding this marine land to your bucket list.

RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. Email her at rascreative@yahoo.ca

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