Road trip to Canada's Gaspésie Peninsula follows a path of rogues, pirates and explorers.
Story and photography by Linda Aksomitis
Although I’m a prairie girl, I’d always longed to explore the great waterways that circle Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, known locally as Gaspésie. To me Gaspésie was a place that truly belonged to adventurers: explorers and mapmakers, rogues and pirates, and finally, traders and settlers. At last I was about to become one of them.
My three-day adventure at Gaspésie began with a climb up 122 steps to the top of the Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse—the tallest one in Canada. At the top I could see where the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the world’s largest estuary, became the St. Lawrence River. The sky met the sea in layer after varied layer of blue. The lighthouse is the gateway to Forillon National Park, but I soon discovered that climbing it is just one of many ways to get a spectacular view in Forillon.
Brave hikers follow a trail that zigzags up Mont St. Alban’s rocky cliffs to an observation tower at the top. Since it was too wet to climb the day I visited, I stood on the plateau between a cliff and the inland sea, with herring gulls, great black-backed gulls and common eiders as my companions.
Another reason I’d always been drawn to visiting Gaspésie was to see Percé Rock, one of the largest and most spectacular natural stone arches in the world. The cruise to Bonaventure Island that took me around the rock was the highlight of Day Two.
As the boat drew close to the rock, the view was everything I’d imagined, with its sharp contrast of red limestone rising out of the deep blue sea toward the clear sky. I watched Percé Rock shrink in the distance until I was distracted by a dolphin, leaping in a graceful arc across that same blue world.
Then I saw the birds—thousands of northern gannets speckling the cliffs on Bonaventure Island like white rocks. As the ship came closer, a few swept out over the water, cawing at the seals sunning themselves on the rocks below. With a wingspan of up to 6 feet, gannets are the largest birds in the North Atlantic. To me, they were nothing short of magnificent.
Bonaventure Island and Percé Rock National Park are home to North America’s largest migratory bird refuge. While some species had already left for their winter homes, a mile-long hike across the island let me get a close look at the gannets.
I watched them peck one another, flap their wings and strut across the grass, then effortlessly lift off into the air, circle out over the water and come back to land. I took in the show until it was time to make my way back across the island for the last boat to the village.
Day Three on Gaspésie featured a boat ride of a different kind. This one I paddled myself, like the adventurers of centuries long past. A group of us gathered in front of a yurt, a kind of felt-lined circular tent dating back to the time of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Aube Aventure in Cap-aux-Os provides the all-weather shelter. I partnered up with Suzie Loiselle, my new Quebec friend, to push our kayak into the clear water. With a little work, we soon established a rhythm and were gliding over the waves.
We weren’t the only ones enjoying the Gaspésie sea. Curious young seals popped up and down in the water around us the way gophers pop out of the prairie back home. The longer we stayed out, the more inquisitive the seals became. I had to be careful not to whack the whiskered babies that dipped down under our kayak!
Before I was ready, our guide had us paddling back to shore just ahead of a thunderstorm. We beached the kayaks and raced to the yurt to escape the first sprinkles and eat our lunches. Inside the yurt, I was still an adventurer, exploring Gaspésie, trying to forget it was time to return home.