Well -hope I’m going to see whales.
This is going to be my second try – the first was in South Africa – and for those of you who read my blog regularly – that didn’t work out that well.
Actually – it worked out seriously badly. And my husband and I had one of our infrequent knock-down/take-out fights about the experience. Turned out that I had one agenda (see whales) and he had another (go to wineries). The highlight of that mis-adventure was the hotel (amazingly beautiful – with a private butler) and the dolphins. No whales.
But this time – I’m hoping for much much better results.
Because of COVID-19 – Canadians can’t travel into the US until late August at the earliest – and honestly – I’d be amazed if the border opens up before late September. So while we can fly to Europe, the Caribbean – actually anywhere except the US and Australia and New Zealand – effectively our travel is restricted to ‘Chez nous’. That’s French for Our House. And by that we mean within Quebec and minor excursions into Ontario.
So – I’m going to Whale Country.
There is a huge section of the St. Lawrence Seaway that is semi-salty – has ocean tides, and some seriously amazing geography. And the result is a version of Whale Heaven. Krill (a Norwegian word for Whale food) inhabit the lower temperature zone of the seaway in huge huge numbers. And the tidal shifts mean that twice a day those Krill are drawn up from the lower reaches into the warmer water.
Whale Buffet in the making.
There are 13 different types of whales that come into this part of the St. Lawrence between May and October – and the Bulgas make this area their year round home. The best time to visit of course is while the weather is warm, even hot. This doesn’t bother the whales of course – and it will make your time on the boats a lot more pleasant. It is definitely cold in a zodiac in the middle of the St. Lawrence – even in July!
We knew that Whale Watching Center was a place called Tadoussac, but honestly – that’s all we knew. I couldn’t even have found it on a map!
Looking back, I think a bit more research might have been in order because, while Tadoussac is of course the ‘Visitor Central’ – it’s a town completely devoted to tourism. It barely exists outside of the months of June, July, and August when tourists ‘flock’ to see the Whales.
I’m using the term ‘flock’ with a bit of a sarcastic grin. While there is little question that there are a lot of tourists in this tiny tiny town – this is a huge recreation area. Folks come to do a lot more than stare at whales. They hike, they bike, they climb the massive sand dunes, they fish, and they kayak. Boy do they ever Kayak.
Keep in mind that while Tadoussac is clearly ‘Tourist Central’ – it’s not like New York – or even Quebec City. It’s simply too hard to get here.
The drive from Montreal to Quebec City is a simple 3 hour jaunt on Super Highway – your pretty standard stuff. Once past Quebec City however, the coast road turns into a 4 lane snail trail thru not so picturesque towns that have sprung up to capture the tourist dollar. And the driving is tough – watch out for cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and even strollers. Fun looking, not so fun for the driver.
As you get closer to Tadoussac, the towns do get cuter. Also smaller and more likely to be clustered around a cove.. old fishing villages that have seen the light – and it’s tourism.
We kept checking Google Maps – and suddenly realized that our road ended up at a ferry! Man I thought I had ferries turned off… wait a minute – I did have ferries turned off. Why am I headed for a ferry anyway?
Turns out that the ONLY way across the Saguenay Gorge when you are on the coast road is by car ferry. You want to go to Tadoussac by the coastal route – you are taking that ferry.
The good news – it’s huge, it’s COVID-19 friendly (even the bathrooms – thank goodness), and it’s free. And we hit it perfectly – no traffic to speak of, and they were just starting to load it up. So we followed the directions of the masked man in the yellow visibility vest – (Ok that sounds weird – but trust me – it’s the truth) and drove onto the ferry.
I immediately walked up the three flights of iron outside stairs to the ‘observation’ room – which was closed due to COVID – and lined up for the bathroom. Why, oh why, is there always a line-up for the ladies room.
The view was spectacular – and made me want to take a boat trip up the gorge – which it turns out is closed at this time of year to keep the whales safe.
Once across the Gorge, we were right at our lodging for the night – a cute little tourist lodging called Hotel Gagne. It featured breakfast, a room with an en-suite bathroom, and great reviews. It was on a large pond that fed into the Gorge, and while the view from our room (more on that later) wasn’t great – the location was perfect. 15 minutes walk from the marina and beach were the boats to go Whale watching could be found.
My husband had done the research on restaurants – and had our dining completely planned out.
I had done the research on whale watching (Ok- different priorities) and had picked out the smallest Zodiac Adventure with the highest ratings. And I’m glad I did. Called Tadoussac Adtremont (I kid you not) – these folks had just one zodiac – but it featured a plastic cover with large windows that you could move out of the way – and more importantly – comfortable re-cycled seats from a defunct airline.
According to their website – tourists were required to wear masks at all times – so that felt safe. It was also a lie. Once the boat got started, the Captain climbed into the driver’s seat on top of the plastic shell and out of sight of the tourists. And the family next to us immediately ditched their masks. Thanks.
However – we opened our window so the rather harsh breeze was blowing from us to them, and kept our faces looking outward. I think we will be ok.. I hope we’ll be ok. But I really want to see the whales, the family has 2 kids who are sitting next to me, and theoretically should be safer, and anyway – the boat has left land.. I’ll just be careful.
The long ride out to where the whales were playing was spent in comfort – sitting on cushy seats, and not holding on to a railing exposed to the rain and cold. Once at the site – we could move onto the back of the zodiac to get straight outdoor shots – the best view – or kneel in our seats to shoot over the heads of the other folks.
And we saw Whales! Several Minke swam past, at least 2 Bulgas – easy to spot with their white skin – and the highlight – an hour spent watching three Humpback Whales – a mom, a dad and a baby (only a few months old).
The baby of course was the best – diving, jumping, flapping his fin – doing all the whale stuff you see in movies.
The down side – and you should know this – is that whales in general are endangered, protected, and respected in Canada. So no going closer than 100 meters. This meant that the ability of your captain to predict the movement of the whales was key.. If they swim towards you – you get the best views! And our captain was an expert. We were perfectly positioned to get the best possible views.
And while I did the best I could with my iphone – a proper camera with a long lens and a motorized drive would be much better. But I didn’t come to take pictures – I came to see the whales.
It was great!
So now I’m checking Whale Watching off my bucket list. I’m finally able to say – yes – I’ve seen whales..
Signing off to work on her next blog – The Soup Lady