Quebec Road Trip, Day 5
I woke up with a start. Wide awake immediately. What was that sound? No... that couldn't be... could it? I flung the layers of blankets off and frantically unzipped the tent. Kneeling on my hands and knees on the tent floor I scanned the water with my heart beating fast. Oh. my. Gosh. It was! The startling noise that had awaken me was exactly what I'd hoped it would be, but not something I'd ever imagined would ever actually happen. Whales! A whale woke me up this morning. Haha! What a funny sentence to see in writing! A whale breached and spouted so close to our campsite that it woke me up. Literally. I shook J's feet excitedly. 'Wake up! Wake Up! Whales!' I stage whispered for no apparent reason. Its not like there was anyone else around. He was up and moving faster than I have maybe ever seen him move. It would have been a pretty funny image of us both on our hands and knees with our heads poking out of the tent, J in only his underwear, both of us on high alert. But the whales! Oh they were amazing, breaching and spouting up and down the shore in front of us. I couldn't believe our luck.
We were camping at Paradis Marin just outside Tadoussac. We had the most perfect site right on the water with breathtaking views in every direction. And now we had whales!
We had a leisurely breakfast where a lot of food ended up on our clothes rather than in our mouths on account of us not wanting to peel our eyes from the water and pay attention to eating like civilized humans. Had I known how amazing this campsite and its entertainment would be, perfected only by beautifully sunny and calm weather, I most certainly would not have booked a ferry that afternoon to cross the St. Lawrence to the Gaspe Peninsula. I had visions of a long, luxurious afternoon of coffee and cookies lounging at our site while getting September tan with a front row seat to the frolicking whales. What a perfect opportunity to try out the travel hammock I had bought for this trip! The day unravelled in front of my like a silky soft ribbon... but, it was not to be.
Alas, we had a few short hours before we had to catch the ferry and we had to at least check out Tadoussac and all those cool things that the nice lady at the Tourist Office had told us about! Plus, there was the possibility of seeing more whales in Tadoussac, so there was that to look forward to! We clumsily packed up and were saying our goodbyes to the site and whales, lingering around in hopes of just one more sighting when a loud noise startled me again. A whale spouting again! But so close and loud! The whales were closer than they had been all morning. SO CLOSE. Maybe 15 meters away RIGHT off the rock at our campsite. It was unbelievable. Our new friends had come to say goodbye (obviously). What a splendid way to end a pretty much perfect morning.
On to Tadoussac. Our first stop was at the sand dunes just outside of town. When the city's tourist site claims "Tadoussac, where boredom is not an option," they're absolutely correct. You'll have a whale of a good time! (haha) I have no idea why there are sand dunes here on a shore that is otherwise very rocky, or how they came to be so spectacularly large, but what a wonderful surprise to see them! If you like birding, the dunes are known to be a stopover for some pretty interesting migratory birds. Even if you can't tell a chickadee from a heron, you should still be stopping and see the dunes. The first sandy viewpoint is right on top of the dune, but its from the lookout point that you can actually see the dunes themselves in all their grandeur. This short climb is definitely worth your time.
Back in town we parked for free behind the tourist office and walked down to the waterfront. The picturesque boardwalk is made for strolling hand-in hand, any time of day. We walked to the end where the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre is. Perfectly located where the Saguenay Fjord meets the St. Lawrence, this seems like an idea location for interpreting marine mammals. Or...... being thrifty and just loitering outside the Centre making your own rogue interpretations. Either way, it was a great day to be so close to the water in adorable Tadoussac. Like they say, you can't possibly be bored here! We sauntered out onto the rocks beside the Centre, and low and behold- more whales. Belugas this time! How incredible! They do live outside of Marine Land! Thank Goodness! The belugas were further away than the whales at our campsite, but the fact that they were belugas, a white arctic whale, makes them an extra level of cool. Before this trip I had no idea that there were belugas so far south in Quebec! It makes me think even more of Quebec as this mystical hidden gem of a destination. Although, as mentioned previously, the fact that English information is so limited that I likely fabricated all "travel facts" I previously knew about Quebec may play into this idea. That, and the fact that it's September and the summer tourists have gone home (YAY!).
It was time to start driving towards the ferry an there was still so much more to see in Tadoussac! I made a list of all the activities I wanted to fit in to our next visit to Tadoussac. The Saguenay Fjord National Park hikes that in are in town topping the list. Considering Tadoussac is only an 8 hour drive from Ottawa and there are so many great stops to break up the drive, I know we'll be back in the not too distant future.
We caught a ferry from Les Escomins on the north shore to Trois Pistoles on the south shore. We reserved the ferry the day before on the recommendation of the Tadoussac Tourist office. It ended up being a full ferry and people were turned away who drove in at the last minute. And that was mid-Setember, mid-week. I can imagine you would need to make reservations further ahead in peak season as the ferry is not very big. While we waited to board the ferry we were even more whales playing in the river. I was sure it was going to be a whale-infested 1.5 hour ferry ride over to Trois Pistoles! However, somehow we managed to not see a single whale on the journey. Not that it wasn't a very successful day as far as whale sightings went, its just funny that we saw whales everywhere except where I was sure we'd see them! Sneaky ginormous animals! Even sans whales, it was a beautiful day for a boat ride!
Bic National Park
It was late afternoon when we arrived on the south shore of the St.Lawernce. We made a quick detour to the 'Fromagerie aux Basques' a very recommendable cheese shop and bakery. We tasted a multitude of cheeses before settling on a 4 year old cheddar and a smoked something or other that was delightful. We grabbed a bag of 'rustic buns' to round out our veg-free picnic and headed north again.
A view from Chemin du Nord Trail, Bic National Park
We got to Bic National Park about an hour before sundown. The information booth at the entrance was closed and there was only some confusing information in French. We ended driving in to the Visitor Centre located in a big barn on the water hoping to find someone that would give us a campsite. A park employee was counting her till behind a closed gate. When she saw us standing there, she explained that the other Visitor Centre was staffed for another hour and we could drive to it to get a site. It was at the other end of the park, however, and a bit of a drive. Seeing our faces fall she looked around to ensure there were no witnesses and ushered us in behind the gate to her counter. She was exceptionally helpful and nice and gave us so much information. Its amazing how interacting with one person for 10 mins can totally make your day (well that and being woken up by a whale). She gave us a site at Camping Rioux which is much further from the highway than some of the other campsites in the park and, going a step further she suggested the best site within that campsite! She was our favourite Sepaq employee! She even said we had time for an easy hike along the water before the sunset. What a spectacular little spit of land Bic Park is. This tiny park packs a big punch. I had read a blog before hand that had said that Bic wasn't really worth the time, but I wholeheartedly disagree. We walked the Chemin du Nord that evening and the landscape was stunning bathed in the setting sun. The walk follows an easy path along the water. Each new bay was a photographer's dream. We saw fox and a bunch of very brave deer with a fawn who were not bothered in the least by our presence and even followed us for a lot of our stroll.
Our campsite was in a unique landscape: open to the whole night sky and all its starry wonder but also surrounded by enough trees to have a little bit of privacy and close enough to the water to hear the waves lapping the beach all night. Plus there was a very useful clothes line set up permanently. What a great little stop. Plus, again, there was something to look forward to in the morning! Seals!