Of all the places that I visited in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, the Madgalen Islands stand out as some of the most beautiful. The “cruise” to get there however, not so much…
We caught a ferry over to the islands from Chandler in Gaspesie, and were looking forward to a nice cruise – private cabin, actual beds (a novelty when you’re camping for months on end) and a decent chance to check out the scenery. The photos on the website had led us to believe it would be thus; alas it was not.
If you want to pretend to be George Smiley, shadowing a Soviet informant on a cruise in the 1960s, this is your ship. I didn’t do that.
The ship was a refitted Greek cruise ship, built at some point in the mid 20th century. Being refitted it seems referred to they way that it had old grot painted over in some places, sort of. The evening embarkation added to the sense that we were less on a pleasure cruiser than in a cold war-era film. I don’t want to dwell on this bit, so I’ll move on; in any case the ship acted as something of a palate cleanser for the beauty of the islands themselves, check it out.
Mind Your Step
A sign warning of coastal erosion.
The foundations of islands were created by the release of pressure in the Earth’s mantle, leaving protruding pillars of salt rising up from the seabed. Beause of this they are fragile and returning to the sea around the coastline. There are plenty of these signs, often mounted to safety fences tens of metres back from the edge of the cliff – that alone gives you an indication of the rate of erosion.
Sunsets are spectacular on the iles, and their low-profile means you can see the sun dunking into the sea from almost anywhere.
Two Wheels are Better Than Four
The islands are small and spread out; you can get to the end of the road at Grand-Entrée from Cap-aux-Meules in 40 minutes by car. The best way to see the central island of Cap-aux-Meules (the millstone cape) is by bicycle. There are places to hire bikes on Chemin Principal, the main shopping street on the islands. From there you can get all the way around the island via l’Étang-du-Nord, the Cap-aux-Meules lighthouse, La Belle Anse, up the steep hill at the east end of Chemin Léonard Aucoin, then the steeper one at Cheman des Caps, which takes you back to the top of Chemin Principal and back down hill with a view of the main port of arrival.
I’m going to wind-in the commentary here and just spam a load of photos – the pictures say it better than I ever could.
Eat Your Way Around
The islands used to be a powerhouse of fishing, but with the European trawlers tidily destroying that market with their industrial-sized ships vacuuming the surrounding waters, the Economusée scene is where it’s culinarily at.
Anywhere that you go in the Maritimes, you can see commercial fishing, usually on a large scale. Here you can get up close to a slightly smaller scale, more sustainable version. You can get fresh fish EVERYWHERE.
At the Fromagerie Du Pied-De-Vent, you can buy yummy cheese made from the milk of cows that you can see from the window of the factory – you can’t get more local than that!
Catch your own dinner
You can catch your own dinner from various beaches around the islands – ask the locals. As usual, you need a fishing licence for a lot of it, and there’s a minimum size limit of those that you catch.
Keep it Canadian by cooking up on a wood fire outdoors! Gas is for Grockles.
Roadside siege-busting weaponry, because Canada!
Canada aren’t as big as Britain on their health and safety, and I can’t think of a more awesome example than this fully-functional Trebuchet by the roadside. The owner fires off practice rounds a few times a week and on request. The target is a boat out in the bay – that sits rather close to the fishing harbour in my opinion, but nobody seems bothered, nobody wears a hard had or hi-viz and still nobody dies: British Health & Safety commissioner please take note.
Part of the Duke of Connaught dry-dock, which broke free and grounded itself here in 1988. Originally built back in 1912, it’s lasted surprisingly well. It makes for a dramatic sunset scene on the West side of Cap-aux-Meules.
The multi-coloured houses and rolling green hills for a backdrop makes the centre parts of the islands surreally pretty.
The low-rolling islands’ nature means that you can catch an incredible sunset from almost anywhere.
There are thousands of nesting sea birds on islands around the coast. Even a half-arsed, opportunist “wildlife photographer”, ahem, can get a decent photo.
At certain times of the day (ask the locals), you can get within a few hundred metres of seals sunbathing on the sandbars. Though if you get too close, they all sod off pretty sharpish.