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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The boat trip costs $20 and can be arranged when you arrive in Percé.
Have you done the boat trip to Bonaventure Island?
A big thank you to Quebec Maritime Tourism for a complimentary ticket.