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THE HOLE IN THE ROCK

 

Quebec's Gaspé Bay Peninsula offers nature at her best.

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   The Gaspé Peninsula's relaxed atmosphere with beguiling landscapes plus numerous historic and present day attractions was a fascinating place to visit. As Highway 132 curved between tiny villages along the St. Lawrence, each vista was more impressive than the last. Magnificent flower gardens graced the front lawns of spacious homes on one side and, on the other, the intense blue of the water was mesmerizing. Everywhere beautiful red cliffs, dense forests and the hilly terrain of the impressive Chic Choc Mountains highlighted the scenery. The roar of breaking waves along the rocky shore added background music to this incredible scene.

   If the French language is unfamiliar don't worry, when English isn't available, a smile and impromptu sign language goes a long way. Making guests feel welcome is a way of life in Quebec. Gaspé is the heart and administrative centre of the Peninsula, and residents of the entire region is referred to as Gaspésie (pronounced Ga SPAY Zee).

   As we descended our final incline into Percé at the eastern end of the peninsula, the inspirational view of an enormous rock jutting towards the gulf was unbelievable.

The Gaspé Peninsula's relaxed atmosphere with beguiling landscapes plus numerous historic and present day attractions was a fascinating place to visit. As Highway 132 curved between tiny villages along the St. Lawrence, each vista was more impressive than the last. Magnificent flower gardens graced the front lawns of spacious homes on one side and, on the other, the intense blue of the water was mesmerizing. Everywhere beautiful red cliffs, dense forests and the hilly terrain of the impressive Chic Choc Mountains highlighted the scenery. The roar of breaking waves along the rocky shore added background music to this incredible scene.

   If the French language is unfamiliar don't worry, when English isn't available, a smile and impromptu sign language goes a long way. Making guests feel welcome is a way of life in Quebec. Gaspé is the heart and administrative centre of the Peninsula, and residents of the entire region is referred to as Gaspésie (pronounced Ga SPAY Zee).

   As we descended our final incline into Percé at the eastern end of the peninsula, the inspirational view of an enormous rock jutting towards the gulf was unbelievable.

An impressive view from the road. Click to enlarge

  

 

    Adding to the beauty was a huge 60-foot by 80-foot hole carved by nature in the 288-foot (88 metres) perpendicular limestone cliffs. At low tide it's possible to walk on this rock formed over 375 million years ago, but at high tide large boats are able to sail through the opening. Investigating this strange phenomenon and observing traces of millions of fossils was a fun experience. Originally another colossal arch stood between the present rock and the sea, however, in 1845 it crumbled with a noisy crash during a storm leaving an obvious split in the landscape.

   One highlight of our visit to Percé was experiencing our first whale-watching excursion. We sped out to sea in an encapsulated (protected from the elements) 48 passenger Zodiac called the Le Duval III-Explorathor powered by two 600 Cat engines. This powerful boat reached impressive speeds in seconds. Our first stop was to watch a school of dolphins play in the waves about five miles from shore. Following a photo-op, the engines roared to life in search for whales. Distant waterspouts of these submerged creatures signified several enormous mammals would surface in 5-20 minutes. At our first standstill, massive Blue Whale mothers and babies frolicked on both sides of the boat. As they plunged deep in the ocean to continue their journey, the engines quickly sprung to life en route to the next possible sighting.

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As each gathering of gigantic whales surfaced, another dimension was added to this thrilling picture- perfect August day. Watching these gentle giants playing in the water is etched in our mind, even now their vision is unsurpassed. Each massive creature surfaced about three times offering broadside views, which helps us appreciate their immense size. First their head and upper body rose above the water, next the back and almost full length arched from the sea and finally the tail signaled a final "so long". The powerful spray of these mammals surfacing for oxygen provided another magnificent vista. 

 

 

The whale chart shows a comparison of size to other known animals and objects.

 

 The Blue Whale is the largest of these water mammals and some are as long as two semi trailers. About 15-20 mammals surfaced that trip including Fin Whales as well as a couple of Humpbacks. During downtimes Captain Armel Methol explained that whales can blow spouts up to 15 times before submerging and their normal swim speed is 10-14 knots, but they can reach 18-20 knots when necessary. Winter is mating season and babies are born every two to three years. The gestation period for whales lasts 10-12 months, a 7-8 month lactation time follows. Peak whale watching is from May to October.

   To add to the excitement, grey and harbour seals basking in the sun plus porpoises and dolphins playing in the fertile feeding grounds enhanced the scenery en route to deep water. Time always flies when we're having fun and after many more chases this unbelievable experience ended and we headed back to land.

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   Each community offers a wide selection of eateries and there's always gourmet French cuisine nearby. In Percé, fresh seafood is a specialty. Our first night we chose the Resto-Bar le Matelot because of John's navy background and it set the mood for our entertaining stay. Le Matelot not only features mouth-watering cuisine, but free singing entertainment and bilingual skits about the legends of local ghost ships added to the evening. Our waiter Denis strongly suggested we tour I'lle Bonaventure with Captain JP Flynn on his converted long liner, the Neptune.

  JP's bilingual animated informative manner complete with sea captain's dress enhanced this excursion. Captain Flynn explained the history of the rock and drew attention to the puffins, seals and other animals bordering the shore. He also explained the Gannet Colony where each May an incredible migration of over 30,000 'pairs' of gannets gravitate to the island en masse to nest from spring to fall along with, cormorants, gulls, ducks, geese and other seabirds.

 

  Gannets are social birds and their hypnotic huge numbers are only visible by boat from the gulf side of L'Île Bonaventure. As we rounded the island, the sky came alive with thousands of birds noisily protecting their rocky nests. Captain Flynn relayed the spring migration is a one of a kind experience but this spectacle is equally moving each fall when the birds depart for warming climates.


   The island was one of the first settled colonies in Canada and has been a protected bird sanctuary since 1916. People lived here until 1971 when it became a Provincial Park promoting a hiking bird-watching paradise. The Neptune docks so visitors can spend a few hours exploring the unoccupied village and island by foot. Our boat tour provided a slow relaxed picturesque panorama of the entire 1,545 feet (438 metres) of the rock, another bird sanctuary. However it's not nearly as impressive or awesome as seeing the gannets nesting on L'Île Bonaventure by boat. The majestic presence of both the rock and the island are simply awesome.

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    Diving, windsurfing, kayaking, hiking, biking, bird watching, agate hunting and photography are only a few of the outdoor activities which keep locals and visitors occupied in the quaint natural Gaspé Peninsula. Fishing opportunities range from deep-sea or salmon/trout fishing excursions to bringing home supper from the wharf or from one of the many rivers overflowing with salmon.


   Percé has managed to maintain its artistic character plus attractions such as the Centre d'interpretation explains its natural heritage and history (admission is free). Nearby Forillon National Park, features unusual northern flora and fauna plus a wide selection of wildlife. The park is also a mecca for outdoor sport enthusiasts. Most campgrounds we toured in Gaspésie were exceptional but at Carlton we found a unique municipal park built on a sandbar surrounded on three sides by water. A superior view of the sea and mountains was evident from anywhere in the park. Unless your travels include a long weekend or a special attraction, reservations at most private parks on the Peninsula didn't seem to be necessary.


   Our visit to the Gaspé Peninsula is one we won't soon forget. The spectacular vistas and interesting stops are one of a kind but as we headed inland we never expected to encounter the steep hills following tight turns. With no chance to increase speeds for the 9 to15 percent climbs it was rough on our large motorhome. We finally disconnected our car, a first in 12 years. Be certain your unit is in prime working order and not overloaded before planning to enjoy this incredible journey. Let the sound of thousands of birds, the smell of salt air and the waves gently rock you to sleep in Percé campground real soon.

 

   

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