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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Whales and a new red bicycle at Saguenay Fjord

We arrived at Ferme 5 étoiles (ferme5etoiles.com), a resort near the village of Sacré-Coeur (about three hours northeast of Québec City), late on Friday night and got up very early Saturday morning to bike 15 miles to Tadoussac to catch a Crosières du Fjord shuttle ferry (croisieresdufjord.com/en). This was our very first tour on our brand-new Co-Motion tandem bicycle, so we allowed ourselves more time than we needed.

With us and bike on board, the ferry motored into the mouth of Saguenay Fjord, where we immediately started seeing beluga whales. One swam within a hundred feet as the ferry stopped to let it pass safely. Most of the fjord’s shoreline is undeveloped national park, and the 31-mile ferry ride from Tadoussac to the first stop at L’Anse St. Jean is particularly beautiful. The cliffs at Cap Sainte Maguerite are spectacular, plunging hundreds of feet into the dark waters.

While others who got off the ferry at L’Anse St. Jean had to content themselves with strolling in the harbor area or taking a taxi into town, we were free to pedal a section of bike path along the river, and visit two art galleries, one in a tiny restaurant where we ate, one on a covered bridge.

Back on the ferry we motored to Baie Éternité, where we strolled hiking trails in the national park. Then it was back on the ferry to Sainte Rose du Nord, where a wonderful dinner of fresh local salmon and a comfortable room awaited us at Auberge Café de la Poste, which caters to cyclists. We’d biked 25 miles.

The next day’s ride from Sainte Rose du nord to our Sacré Couer was 43 miles, a long day for us on hilly roads. There are no villages, so we carried a picnic lunch. The first seven miles has a lot of uphill, but the next 30 or so miles are mostly level or downhill along the Rivière Sainte Marguerite. The scenery is magnificent, and the shoulders of the road are wide and smooth – this is part of la Route Verte (routeverte.com/rv/home), the network of bike routes that spans Québec.

We snacked beside a lake at mile 10, ate our picnic in a beautiful spot beside the river at mile 27, then finished the 43 miles in about four and a half hours total. Over two days, we’d traveled 50 miles by ferry and almost 70 miles by bike. Our reward was a log chalet at Ferme 5 Etoiles, right on the water, where we cooked our own dinner. Heaven! And that was only the first half of our Saguenay getaway.

Kayaks, hiking trails
and more whales

We’d had sunny, cool weather for biking, but the next morning the skies were gray and drippy. We lounged the morning away, walking a little on the tidal flats letting our legs recover, watching white whales passing on the fjord. Then we drove about 10 miles to the Baie Ste. Marguerite sector of the Saguenay National Park (sepaq.com/pq/sag/), where we had reserved a Huttopia (a very comfortable canvas cabin complete with real beds, a gas stove, lights and a fridge) for two nights. It cleared that afternoon. The fjord was calm and we should have gone kayaking, but we needed to stretch our legs gently after the previous day’s long bike ride, so we walked five miles (round trip) on flat, smooth trails out to the Halte de Beluga, an observation platform overlooking the whale sanctuary at the mouth of Baie Ste. Marguerite. At least a dozen belugas were rolling and spouting in the water below us.

The next morning, we were eager to get out in our sea kayaks. There are very few places along the fjord’s northern shore to launch boats, so we drove to the marina at Anse de Roche, intending to paddle back up the fjord to Baie Ste. Marguerite. The fjord was lovely in the morning light, but the clouds indicated strong west winds aloft and the breeze at the surface, combined with tidal currents, created a chop that bounced our 16-foot kayaks around like bathtub toys. Having seen last year how quickly the wind and waves can grow here, we played it safe and stuck close to shore, admiring the scenery, vacation cottages we wish we owned, and flocks of ducks and seagulls.

After an hour or so of paddling (no whales seen), we threw the boats on the car and drove 20 miles to Baie Ste. Catherine at the mouth of the fjord. This area is protected from a west wind. The visitor’s center there has a free boat launch and we paddled on flat, calm waters north toward the mouth of the fjord at Pointe Noire. Almost immediately, we saw two minke whales feeding at a distance. The water was clear enough to see starfish and sea urchins on the bottom as we paddled over. As the tide dropped, the whales disappeared, so we circled the shoreline toward Pointe aux Alouettes, enjoying the perfect day.

A sailboat moored out in the bay was a reference point, and we paddled toward it. Suddenly, without any warning, several minke whales began surfacing around us. As you can imagine, it’s exciting, awe-inspiring and a little disconcerting to have a 25-foot long, 10,000-pound critter materialize within a few yards of your kayak. We did our best to maintain the mandated 150-meter distance, but the whales seemed to want to be near us. We never felt threatened – nor, apparently, did the whales.

That two hours on Baie Ste. Catherine was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had in a kayak. We’ll never forget it. We had our own kayaks and paddling gear, but if you don’t, Azimut Adventures (azimutaventure.com) has rentals and guided excursions right there on Baie Ste. Catherine.

That evening, we watched a truly magnificent sunset from the Halte de Beluga, a fitting end to another wonderful getaway in what we truly believe is one of the best places on earth. We’ll be going back as soon as we can. If you want to visit, the folks at Tourism Saguenay/Lac St. Jean (saguenaylacsaintjean.ca/en) speak English and will help you plan a perfect adventure.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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