This is the second part of my journey into Quebec. Check out part one here.
Sleeping under the stars and getting out on the Saguenay Fjord was exactly what I was longing for, so, after spending the previous day in La Baie and St. Rose du Nord (story here), I board the morning Maritime shuttle to Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay to Rivière Éternité and the national park of the fjord.
We took our bags (luckily, mine was small!) off the Bateau Mouche and went to the visitor’s center to acclimate and learn about the park. Soon we would ascend the peak to see a 30-foot high statue of a Virgin Mary. A man who credited his survival to the Virgin slowly transported, by foot, the 14-segment statue over one hundred years ago.
On the hike, we were accompanied by Park Rangers Graham Park and Marie, who provided commentary on how the fjord was formed and supplied information about the inhabitants of the forest—the animals, the ancient aboriginals and the remaining gorgeous white oaks left behind (because they were too high up the mountain). So many were taken for sailing masts at the turn of the century because of their strength and straightness.
The 5-hour hike was breathtaking for two reasons—the beauty and the steep incline! We passed several benches and overhanging decks to view the fjord which we happily took advantage of. The flora and fauna were amazing. When we reached the Virgin Mary, we were blown away by the view. On the way back, a baby black porcupine was spotted in a tree. Many interesting bird-calls could be heard. When we had finished the descent (much faster than the ascent!), I dipped in the cool waters of the fjord to cool my aching muscles.
We were driven a short ways to the campsites and set up camp in the Huttopia tents—my kind of camping! (Guests can make prior arrangements with park rangers to be driven or will have to walk.) Sheets, blankets, comforters, pillows, and towels are delivered to the site. We enjoyed cooking beans, potatoes and steaks on the gas burners and grill.
The caterers—Elfes du Fjord—specialize in organic and vegetarian cuisine and served up pre-baked potatoes, salad with blueberry vinaigrette and borscht soup (and will also deliver to campground!). Local micro-brewery beer and marinated steaks purchased from the nearby market completed the meal. It was a fantastic dinner, enjoyed under the stars and around the campfire. There was even an Aurora Borealis spotting. There are eight Huttopia tents that definitely need to be booked in advance.
The next morning we were up early, using Canadian quarters for the coin operated showers, sipping cowboy coffee and devouring pastries at the camp. We all packed up, brought our knapsacks to the dock to be stored, and went out canoeing in a Rabasca—a ten-person canoe perfect for our eight-person group plus two park rangers. It was misting lightly and perfectly still. While we were out on the fjord, a black seal came by to say hello. It was a magical morning in a place that is almost as pristine as it was thousands of years ago.
The Saguenay Fjord seal seemed to be setting us up for the next adventure: extreme whale watching in Tadoussac on the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
Saguenay-St.Lawrence Marine Park
The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park encompasses the fjord and the Greater and Lower Estuaries of the St. Lawrence River. The governments of Quebec and Canada created the park to protect marine mammals, fish and birds for generations to come.
It was a natural choice to go whale watching in this abundant playground, but I was not prepared for the complete soaking that occurred as soon as we ventured into the Greater Estuary of the St. Lawrence. This is not for the faint of heart, but it was fun and I am glad I went. Groupe Dufour Croisiéres provides heavy rain pants and jackets even though it was 80 degrees. Luckily, my friend Eric had a dry sack for my 35mm camera. I was only lacking rain boots.
As soon as we came off of the dock, and left the calm Tadoussac Bay for the St. Lawrence River, the 35-person zodiac became an adventure ride. Our captain zipped over the river as the handsome deckhand gave commentary in French and English while laughing at us as we all got drenched. We saw many blue and humpback whales, and for the returning, “calmer part” of the three-hour tour in the Lower Estuary known as “the nursery,” we saw grey seals and several endangered St. Lawrence white Beluga whales, (reminding me of my trip to Seal River Lodge in Churchill, Manitoba).
Tadoussac is worth spending time in to visit the antique Hotel Tadoussac (famous for being “The Hotel New Hampshire” in the movie of the same name), the French Quebec style bistros and pubs, the boutiques, the Petite Chapelle, and the impressive Marine Mammal Interpretation Center where I witnessed an interesting actor performing whale songs with a special instrument:
The final part of my journey begins with the Maritime shuttle to the quaint village of Anse du St. Jean (St. John’s Cove). Relive the first chapter here.
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