Île Bonaventure

I drove down the coast from Gaspé to Percé (about 65 km), with a visit to the much heralded Auval, and then Chute De La Riviere Emeraudes. The latter was recommended - by email, after I'd been gone for a day - by the owner of the B&B I stayed in in Ste-Anne-des-Monts. This is why B&Bs kind of rock.

It was a weird experience - you park in an active gravel pit. You read that right: you park about 40 metres from the front end loader and the big machine shaking and sorting the rocks for size. You walk back out of the pit, down a 400 metre path to a nice chute whose primary oddity is the blue-green colour of the water. In this area, rivers are much more routinely the same light-to-dark brown induced by pine tannins that we see in Muskoka, so the water's pretty unusual. But otherwise I was a bit underwhelmed.

Then into Percé, where I - just - managed to catch the 1200 boat to Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park (this is the Provincial kind of National park). I was going to skip this, but it was recommended for the gannets by not one but two other sets of tourists I spoke with on the way here. And I was annoyed that the only way to the island is on a commercial boat that costs $35 and insists on taking you for a tour around both the Percé rock and all the way around the island before docking on the near side. All I wanted was to get to the park ...

But it was another glorious sunny day (a bit warm at 24C - it's been mostly 18-19C previously), and Percé Rock is, let's be fair, pretty damn impressive. It's this immense slab sticking up in the middle of the harbour, 433 metres long by 90 metres wide and 88 metres tall, and to add to the grandeur it includes one of the world's largest natural arches. It even has its own Wikipedia page - where I got the statistics.

Then Bonaventure Island. Driving into town, it looks fairly unremarkable, fairly flat. But this is deceptive: the shores are lined almost the entire way round with cliffs, although they're only 5-10 metres on the town side, which explains it not being obvious from a distance. But the back side of the island has 20-30 metre cliffs, and this is home (during the warmer months) to about 100,000 gannets. I thought they would have moved on by September, but no. Both the scenery and the birds are impressive as hell.

photo: One of the cliffs on the back side of Île Bonaventure, with gannets

Large red cliff with white specks of birds all over it

So ... I was definitely a convert to the boat ride. I took a LOT of photos.

Then we were unloaded from the boat and corralled. I mean that literally. From the dock, you proceed up a path with handrails on both sides into a round enclosure with only one roped-off exit. See, they need to EXPLAIN to you. I got one staff member to myself for the English explanation while the other 15 people got it in French. All he did was tell me about the trails, and the other usual stuff like stay on the trails and don't feed the wildlife. Now we could exit up the next handrail path to the little house where you pay your park fee - and finally you're free to roam on the island.

I went straight to the cafe because I meant to get a sandwich before I crossed, but didn't have time. A small ham and cheese sandwich was $10 and a Coke was $3 - on the plus side, the sandwich was reasonably edible.

I followed (on the advice of the park guide) Sentier des Mousses to the gannet colonies: there are four paths across the island, two direct and right across the relatively round island. But if you have the time and the energy, the less direct paths are recommended. "Mousses" translates (by the unreliable but still very helpful Google Translate) to "foam," but "Sentier des Mousses" is "Moss trail." That at least is a metaphor I can understand: moss-to-foam makes sense to me.

Good footing and not very strenuous, the trail was kind of a treasure. The terrain varied considerably the whole time, from regular mixed forest to rocky, meadows, and cliff-edge.

And then there's the gannets on the far side of the island. There are multiple viewing points, all easily within two metres of the gannets (I didn't mistype that - you're that close). And they ignore the humans completely. They squawk (a LOT), they fight, they feed the kids, they posture ... and they smell. Let's not forget the guano from 100,000 birds, it's memorable ... They're a lovely bird, kind of a cream white with black wing tips. Graceful in flight, awkward on landing - which inevitably leads to fights as the flop down and bump into another very territorial bird in this very crowded space ...

I took some video, particularly of a parent feeding its kid. The kids are kind of mixed gray and the same size as the parents by this time of year. Some still have their down feathers. Feeding is weird, because after the kid keeps banging its parent's beak, eventually the parent opens up and pretty much swallow's junior's head.

photo: Gannet feeding

A mostly white parent gannet appears to swallow the head of its mixed gray offspring

The walk back was along Sentier Chemin-du-Roy - and who wouldn't want to walk the King's Way? (Although that should be spelled "Roi" ...) Just as nice as des Mousses. I caught the last boat back to the mainland at 1700.

And now I got my first good look at the town. Percé is a tourist trap - overrun with places selling knick-knacks, the first of its kind that I've encountered. The contrast with the rest of the Gaspésie peninsula is extraordinary and unflattering. But I suppose the scenery kind of warrants it. I'm glad I'm here late in the season.

Dinner was at La Table à Roland, where I had Cod "Gaspé-style" (boiled, with some fried onion and bacon on top). It was pretty good.

I then walked two doors down to try samples at Microbrasserie Pit Caribou. They're one of the best known in the region, although more because they bottle and distribute their product than because they're exceptionally good. I had their porter last night (okay), tonight I had the "Bonne Aventure" (Red), "Black Berliner," "Pale Ale Austra," and the guest tap, Naufrageur Carrick (a Scotch Ale at 11%). Unfortunately, this evening of tasting fell more under "educational" than "good." I didn't even finish the Bonne Aventure - malty, but got worse with each sip. The Black Berliner was fascinating, but kind of the way a car accident is fascinating: sour, smokey, and with a hint of sweet pickle. I drank it all because it was so, so ... horribly interesting. The Austra wasn't bad - a pale ale so hoppy it could easily be mistaken for a mild IPA. And I can't blame Pit Caribou for the Carrick - that's from Naufrageur (another microbrasserie). Imagine someone took a red ale and dropped a big shot of straight-up scotch in. Now add a hint of cream soda.

Suffice to say Pit Caribou isn't really my brewery.

A good day - Bonaventure has left one hell of a mark. Good walking, and the birds were incredible.

photo: Percé as the sun goes down

A house on a cliff and the huge Percé Rock with a hole through it