Journey to Quebec’s Saint Lawrence River
An unpredictable haven for cetaceans, as well as hundreds of thousands of birds, Quebec's St. Lawrence River is an eco-traveler's dream. You can kayak with humpbacks, camp on a cliff, encounter massive seabird colonies, and scamper among snowshoe hares. Just whatever you do, don't spoil the view.
Finding that balance means offering a variety of experiences to a wide range of tourists. On the one hand, a visit to Ile aux Lievres couldn't feel more different than a whale-watching trip shared with a few hundred other rubberneckers. On the other, developing a constituency for conservation--and the income to pay for it--is more difficult when you're off the radar screen. Societe Duvetnor isn't profit driven, but the fluctuating cost of eiderdown and changes in tourism attendance can affect its bottom line. The limited access keeps tourist numbers low. In the past 10 years, in fact, only 75 Americans have visited.
Those visitors that do find their way here are likely to share my own fondness for a do-it-yourself wildlife encounter. I remember one other moment when the icons of the St. Lawrence estuary lined up for an unforgettable display. This lacked the dramatic punch of whale breath on my face, perhaps, but it was a keeper nonetheless. While hiking on the island's rugged north shore beach, Markie and I got separated by a hundred yards or so, as she gorged on handfuls of wild currants while jumping from rock to rock to search for sea glass scattered along the black sand beach. Far out on the tidal flats I spied birds feeding in the kelp, so I anchored my binoculars on my knees and started counting.
Three female eiders led a creche of 47 young birds, bobbing in the low surf, dipping and diving among mats of floating, golden seaweed. Seals basked in the sun nearby, and beyond them, a pair of minke whales patrolled the edge of a riffle of moving current. Farther still, belugas flashed from the open waters. Beyond them was a panoply of boreal wilds--water and island, vernal ridges and rocky massifs walling off the horizon. But the demeanor of the birds and seals and whales was perhaps the vista's most appealing aspect: They seemed oblivious to my presence.
This story originally ran in the May-June 2012 issue as, "Keeping It Real."
Making the Trip: Quebec
Getting There: Ile aux Lievres is a four-hour (and five-star-gorgeous) drive from Quebec City, which is served by major U.S. carriers.
Getting Around: A Quebec variant of French is most commonly spoken here, but English delivered with a smile will get the job done. The area is chock-full of inns and lodges and standard hotel offerings; one to consider is the Hotel Tadoussac, a rambling, historic hotel perched at the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord. Don't miss the Centre d'interpretation des Mammiferes Marins in Tadoussac, a whale science and conservation center with skeletons, models, and many modern interactive exhibits.
More Info: Mer et Monde Ecotours offers paddle trips of varying lengths that are suitable for novices and experts alike. Its riverside campsites are a mix of sandy sites and tent platforms that rival any in the world. Societe Duvetnor Ltee offers island packages with accommodations ranging from campsites to cottages. Rooms at the small inn include meals and boat transfers, and start at $185 per person on a double-occupancy basis. The second night is $125.