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A Boat Trip to Bonaventure Island in The Gaspe

It was only recently that I heard about Bonaventure Island (through another blog) in the Gaspé area of Quebec. Its home to an astounding 280,000 seabirds.

I knew I had to take a boat trip and check it out for myself when I was in the area. The island is justly famous for its 100,000 gannets – one of the largest and most accessible colonies in the world.

Unfortunately Mother Nature did not cooperate on the day I visited. It was a day of thick fog, rain, thunder and lightning. Still I’m very glad I had booked a day in my schedule to go.

"Perce Rock - in the fog"

Perce Rock – in the fog

There are a number of companies in the town of Percé offering boat tours. Most take you by Percé Rock – a monster sized natural arch – one of the largest in the world – and then continue on a tour around Bonaventure Island – a four square kilometer speck of an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. You’re supposed to see (and we did a bit) thousands of birds nesting on the cliffs – and loads of grey seals swimming or basking on rocks – before being discharged on the dock of Bonaventure Island. Then you can take as much time as you like to explore the island – as long as you’re back for the last boat at 5 pm.

"Grey seals basking in the fog"

Grey seals basking in the fog

Our boat offered the chance to sit up on deck exposed to the elements or below where the rain couldn’t get you. I was looking for the whole experience and opted to enjoy what view I could. The entire trip is narrated in French and English with descriptions and names of birds given that you pass by.

"Masses of nesting gannets on the cliffs"

Masses of nesting gannets on the cliffs

Once you get to the dock on Bonaventure Island a very different – almost civilized world greets you. Bonaventure Island was inhabited until as recently as 1971. At that point the Quebec government evicted the remaining 35 families living on the island and in 1985 it and Percé Rock became Parc national de l’île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé.

"What is now the restaurant on the island"

What is now the restaurant on the island

Once you’ve landed on the island you have to decide how you want to spend your time. If it’s a nice day then perhaps one of the longer hikes might be in order. None are that difficult or require much hill climbing but you do have to be mindful of the fact that the boats return every hour on the hour.

"A description of the hikes on the island"

A description of the hikes on the island

"No matter what you have to hike across the island to see the gannet colony"

No matter what you have to hike across the island to see the gannet colony

Since I didn’t have a lot of time – and thunder was crashing overhead – I chose to hike the Sentier des Colonies – and ended up doing a round trip hike in just over an hour – though I was moving. The trail takes you through lush forest on a gradual climb to reach one of the high points on the island.

You know you’re getting close to the end because you can hear the birds well before you see them.

You’ve arrived when you see a shelter and just down from it you can stand mere feet away from the gannets behind a rope barrier. It’s a magical place. I certainly felt privileged to get so close to the birds. If the weather had been better there would have been tremendous appeal in watching the comings and goings of the birds for an hour or more. As it was I enjoyed observing a bird with a six foot wingspan find a landing spot on a crowded piece of land.

"The birds are just behind the rope barrier

The birds are just behind the rope barrier

"Gannets have a 6 foot wingspan"

Gannets have a 6 foot wingspan

"Handsome looking gannet"

Handsome looking bird

"The miserable looking brown blobs are the baby gannets"

The miserable looking brown blobs are the baby gannets

It was pouring rain when I was in the viewing area so I really didn’t stay for long. But by the time I had returned to the area near the boat dock the rain had stopped – at least for a brief period. It gave me a chance to get my bearings as I could finally see the mainland and get a sense of the lay of the land.

"Descending back to the dock area"

Descending back to the dock area

"Beautiful shoreline along the island"

Beautiful shoreline along the island

"Now you can see Perce Rock from the boat dock"

Now you can see Perce Rock from the boat dock

The boat trip costs $20 and can be arranged when you arrive in Percé.

Have you done the boat trip to Bonaventure Island?

Leigh McAdam

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A big thank you to Quebec Maritime Tourism for a complimentary ticket. 

Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • Jackie Smith says:

    This sounds like a perfect outing even in bad weather! It would be fun to see the same terrain in a sun lit backdrop to see the difference.

    • @Jackie I’m glad I went and considering the things I’ve done in the last few weeks I’ve been really lucky with the weather. But even 15 minutes of sunshine or no rain would have made my bird watching and photographing a lot more fun and easier.

  • Hi Leigh, I have not heard of Bonaventrue Island. It looks so beautiful even in the rainy weather. I love your photos – the charming houses, the scenic landscape, the gannets, etc. I’m curious why the government evicted the residents – was it for their own safety or was it because the government wanted to make the island into a park?

    • @Marisol I’m disappointed in my bird shots but it was raining so hard that I didn’t want to chance ruining my camera. The eviction was because they wanted to make the island a park.

  • Marcia says:

    The gannets are beautiful, so is Bonaventure Island. Too bad the govt kicked out the residents. Must have been hard for them to move.

    • @Marcia I imagine getting kicked out of any place is really hard when it’s not your doing. It was all done to set up the park and ultimately protect it for future generations but that doesn’t make it any easier.

  • Muza-chan says:

    What a beautiful place :)

  • Life Images by JIll says:

    whatever the weather it looks like a great place to visit. I have always liked the idea of living on an island – but I don’t think it will ever happen – sigh – oh well – I can visit through fabulous blogs like yours.
    Have a great week – thanks for the tour – and for stopping by my blog today.

    • @Jill Bonaventure Island has a long history of human habitation starting with the Mi’kmaq who settled the land hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived. In the 1750’s Channel Island immigrants began arriving. The Acadians also came, British Samericans, Scottish settlers …the list goes on.

  • Mary {The World Is A Book} says:

    It’s too bad you didn’t have the perfect weather but what a great adventure and trip. I can’t believe how many birds there are on the island. Did it smell with all the birds there? I’m glad you got some relief in the weather at the end to see the gorgeous coastline. I don’t think I’ve ever seen gannets before – they’re beautiful.

  • santafetraveler says:

    That looks so wonderful. Makes me miss the east coast. We used to travel to eastern Canada a lot when we lived in NY. Would love to go back. Great photos.

    • @Billie The bulk of the license plates I see are from Ontario and Quebec but I have met a lot of people from Calgary too and the off American though their visits are way down from what they used to be.

  • Mette - Italian Notes says:

    Even with the fog the landscape and bird life looks beautiful.

  • noel says:

    What a beautiful and scenic place, those Gannets are quite striking.

    I would like to invite you to come link up with us for Travel Photo Mondays, the link is up for the whole week, hope to see you there next week.

  • Cathy Sweeney says:

    Bonaventure Island looks so mysterious in the fog. That’s an amazing number of birds! Love the photo of the restaurant – did you eat there?

    • @Cathy There’s always a bright side to bad weather – and that is the mood and atmosphere that it lends to a landscape. I snacked at the restaurant and must say I liked the view from the place.

  • Nancie says:

    What a great trip, and I am amazed at the price. Those birds are gorgeous and is the island!

    • @Nancie I agree re the price. I think $20 for the boat trip and a chance to spend the better part of the day on the island is a steal of a deal. It’s perfect for budget travelers.

  • This looks like a wonderful excursion. I love your photos of Perce Rock and the restaurant on Bonaventure Island. Those gannets have interesting heads, and I think the fog added to the atmosphere.

  • Yet another place that is on my travel wish list – I don’t know how I’m going to make it to them all!

  • Kari says:

    Hello, thinking of going to do a boat tour and to see the gannets, and just wondering what company you took and if you would recommend?
    Thanks!

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