Saturday, July 30, 2016

How to explore Tadoussac, Canada

Cute BnB's are the way to stay in Tadoussac
   Tadoussac is a small town about three hours drive north from Quebec City deep in the heart of French Canada. Nestled in the hills where the St Lawrence waterway meets the only fjord on the east coast of North America, the Saguenay. Because of this ideal location Tadoussac was the first trading outpost set up by French explorers in New France. Nowadays tourists flock to the rugged village for its quaint beauty, easy hiking trails, and its facilities for whale watching.

The main draw for me of course is the whales. Even though I get to see whales all the time in Alaska and Hawaii through my work I love experiences different whales in different parts of the world. Here in Tadoussac you can see not just humpbacks, but also blue, fin, minke, and beluga whales. Most are here in the height of summer for feeding on the upwelling just offshore, although the belugas live here year round. You can see the whales from shore but the best way to encounter them is to hop on a whale watching cruise for up close and personal encounters.
Minke Whale Fin
Minke whale lunge feeding
Beluga surfacing
Beluga whale tail
There are two main companies that take out the bulk of the whale watchers here. I have used AML both times I've visited with very good results. The naturalist onboard answer your questions and give you a good idea of what species you are watching and information about the different behaviors. They will naturalize in both French and English. Both the big boat and the zodiac are wonderful platforms for whale watching here. I would suggest trying both, although if there is a chance of rain and you want to bring a camera then the big boat is the only way to go. Otis Excursions is the other zodiac only option that sends out multiple whale watching trips daily. I was surprised to see both companies heading out into extreme foggy conditions and come back with reports of good whale encounters.

Humpback Caudal Peduncle
Humpback in front of zodiac tour
The weather in summer can go from hot to cold, foggy to clear in a matter of minutes. So be prepared for it all. It will always be cold while underway in the zodiacs, although the companies do set you up with pretty heavy duty survival suits and waterproof pants before you head out. Taking care of your camera gear is top priority during inclement weather. The companies suggest against taking out cameras but leave it to your own discretion. Another option is to rent a kayak and head out on your own to enjoy the beautiful coastline. Sometimes whales will pop up a few yards off the rocks where spectators sit and picnic.

Tide Pool Discoveries

Mink on the hunt
Hiking Trails above town
Hotel Tadoussac
Greater Yellow Legs
 Besides the whales there are fun hiking trails through and around town which can give you wonderful views of the surrounding area. One trail that leads around the point from the main docks also leads to some wonderful tide pools at low tide. Sea stars, limpets, snails, and other small marine critters can be seen in the pools while shore birds and mink can also be spied.

Seafood feast at Restaurant du Boise
Plus the food options in Tadoussac are to die for. Just outside of town the Restaurant du Boise serves up heaping portions of locally caught seafood like mussels, lobster, salmon, crab, and tiny but tasty shrimp. Reservations and a healthy appetite are recommended. In town Le Cafe Boheme serves up some of the best coffee and espresso around with some amazing dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is a can't miss.

Misty walkways
The best part of visiting Tadoussac is the ability to drive a few hours and feel like you are in a part of Europe. French is spoken all around, although it is possible to get by with English. People are welcoming, the helpings are generous, and the whales right offshore. If it is quiet and peaceful in an exotic way that you desire, it is only a days drive away.

Common Loon
  Read about my first visit to Tadoussac back in 2013 here. And see some of the best whale pictures from here and around the world at

Friday, July 29, 2016

Witnessing the incredible Bay of Fundy Tidal Shift

Bridge at Low Tide
Shubenackadie River Bridge High Tide
   Having a background in marine biology and understanding the movements of the ocean better than most, I have always been drawn to the place where the biggest tides on Earth occur. That place is called the Bay of Fundy. It is located in between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces of Canada. Here the tidal shift has been recorded at a whopping 50ft difference between high and low in a single day.

High Tide
Low Tide
  Because of this phenomenon there are several places set up for viewing the tidal shift as well as a tidal wave, also called a tidal bore which rolls up the rivers and changes the direction they appear to be flowing.

Rafter and Kayakers on the Tidal Bore
Mom looking out
Adventurous Kayaker heading out to the tidal bore
   Adventurous kayakers and rafters on small dinghys line up, awaiting the tidal bore so they can ride the wave. Large standing waves are created as the river outflow flows underneath the onrush of the incoming tide. The tidal bore was only a couple of feet this day but we did have close to a 40foot tidal change. I tried to get pictures at low tide and then again at high tide from our vantage point on the Shubenakadie river.

  We stayed at a beautiful 19th century Victorian bed and breakfast called the Tidal Life Guesthouse. Run by two young guys who also run the best restaurant in town, you can expect a wonderful stay and one of the best breakfast you could ask for.

The long muddy walk
The rafts...with motors

The amazing Tidal Life Guesthouse

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Exploring Prince Edward Island, Canada

13km Confederation Bridge

Ferry with bow up
Ferry w/bow down
    There are two ways to drive to Canada's Prince Edward Island, the 13 km Confederation Bridge, or the Confederation Ferry. My mother and I decided to try both. Driving in from Nova Scotia we watched as the bow of the ferry rose up allowing us and many other cars and trucks drive deep into the multi level bowels of the ship. It was about 70 minutes ride to the island. A few days later we headed off the island in very different fashion. The 13km Confederation bridge was hidden from view by fog until the last second but then the modern marvel of engineering was visible in all of its glory. It was like all the fog dissapated in the blink of an eye. The island that both of these choices leads to is one not to miss.

Houses of bright colors, rolling farmlands, and famous local mussels are all in a days work here on Prince Edward Island.  The smallest of Canada's 13 provinces, Prince Edward Island, or PEI as locals call it, is a wonderful and relaxing place to spend a few days vacation or even longer. My mother and I stayed at a little bed and breakfast in the main city of Charlottetown. It is an easy town to walk around in and immerse yourself in the interesting history and culture of the island.

  Huge cathedrals and small Vicotorian homes proved a little insight into the first European settlers who came over from France (the Acadians) and from Scotland. In fact the owner of the BnB was a scottish woman who married a Canadian fur trader for the Hudson Bay Co. and ended up teaching and living all over Canada.

  Besides the incredible architecture, Charlottetown is a hub of art and theater on the island. Multiple playhouse have evening shows like Mama Mia and of course the famous Anne of Green Gables. The author grew up on PEI's north shore and the area still draws thousands of Anne followers. The play has been going strong here for the last 52 years which has got to be some kind of world record. Historical reenactments pop up around the downtown district throughout the day and it is not unusual to run across the actors in their period dresses strolling around the city, still in character.

Famous PEI mussels
  The south shore is famous for its red clay cliffs and beaches, which in turn makes for very good soil to grow potatoes. The north shore has beautiful white sand beaches and unusually warm water for this far north, although it wasn't warm enough to convince me to jump in. The nearshore waters are teeming with life for lobster fishermen and of course the delicious mussels that PEI is so famous for. I did convince my mother to go in on a huge bowl of mussels with me and it was quite easy to finish them all off, despite the daunting number they place in front of us.

   While there is not much wildlife on the island except some small foxes and a few bird species we happened to get lucky with a great Osprey encounter near the Anne of Green Gables house. Sitting atop a telephone pole this osprey was proudly looking over its nest, and the two young birds in it. While we were watching one of the young osprey climbed to the edge of the massive nest, lifted its wings, but then thought twice about attempting to fly and settled back in.
Young osprey thinking about flying

red sand of Bauer's Beach

Anne of Green Gables inspired house

Rolling farmlands and leading lines
Hay in the mist

Me and Mom's sweet ride through PEI