Travel Destinations - Eastern Canada, has a spectacular array of wildlife
PUBLISHED: 17:10 02 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:35 20 February 2013
The wildlife and wildlife destinations of Western Canada are well known, from the grizzly bears and orcas of British Columbia to the moose and elk of the Rockies, but head east and you'll find a spectacular array of wildlife encounters
The wildlife and wildlife destinations of Western Canada are well known, from the grizzly bears and orcas of British Columbia to the moose and elk of the Rockies, but head east and youll find a spectacular array of wildlife encounters closer to home, writes William Gray
Cast your eye over a map of Eastern Canada and the Gulf of St Lawrence seems to lunge at the North Atlantic, 1,200km-long gullet framed in the wolf-head profile of Qubec and Labrador. The worlds largest estuary (almost big enough to swallow the UK), the gulf is not only one of Canadas most striking geographical features, but it is also a magnet for wildlife.
At Bonaventure Island on the eastern tip of the Gasp Peninsula (which droops like a tongue over the dimpled chin of New Brunswick) you can walk to within a few feet of a quarter of a million nesting gannets.
Just to the north, the Mingan Archipelago is a breeding sanctuary for seabirds and seals, while several islands in the gulf are important stopovers for migratory birds. There are rich pickings to be had in these waters: the gannets and puffins know it; the grey, harbour and harp seals know it and so do some 13 species of cetacean.
When the spring thaw brings the St Lawrence river to life, stirring nutrients to the surface and triggering a bloom of phytoplankton, the gulfs food chain goes into overdrive, and it doesnt stop until you get beluga, minke, humpback, fin and blue whales bingeing on krill and fish. June to November is the best time to go whale watching and boat trips depart from several ports, including Tadoussac, Gasp and Sept-les.
Alternatively, the 1,250km Whale Route, stretching along the Cte-Nord of the St Lawrence river from Tadoussac to Blanc-Sablon, promises some of the best land-based whale watching in the world.
In fact, the more you explore the potential of Eastern Canada as a wildlife destination, the more you find whales and dolphins popping up on your itinerary.
Travel to Blanc-Sablon, for example, and its just a short ferry ride across the Strait of Belle Isle to Newfoundland, where boat trips from St Anthony frequently encounter humpback whales, orcas and Atlantic white-beaked dolphins. Theres one place in Canadas eastern provinces that is a mecca to whale watchers; a deep-water inlet between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Bay of Fundy which experiences the worlds highest tides: up to 16m between high and low water.
Just as in the Gulf of St Lawrence, summer and autumn are prime times for whale spotting in the Bay of Fundy. Fin and minke whales arrive first, during late spring, followed by humpbacks and white-sided dolphins in June, and the rest of the cast by mid-July. Boat trips operate from Digby in Nova Scotia or the St Andrews area in New Brunswick.
Away from the coast, you may still find yourself drawn to water in Eastern Canadas backcountry. Paddling a Canadian canoe is the best way to explore Algonquin Provincial Park, a patchwork of lakes and forests about 300km north of Toronto. Local outfitters can kit you out for canoe trails lasting anything from a few hours to a week or more.
Sliding silently through this watery wilderness you ha ve a good chance of spotting beaver, otter, white-tailed deer and moose. Black bears are also frequently glimpsed, while elusive wolves are more often heard than seen. Rangers lead wolf howling expeditions during August in Algonquin, imitating their call-of-the-wild and tempting them to answer.
Newfoundlands Gros Morne National Park is another suitably wild-and-woody refuge in Eastern Canada for bears. You can also find woodland caribou here, occasionally in large numbers on the coastal lowlands during winter.
Venture to Labradors Torngat Mountains National Park in June and youll be able to stake out the crossroads of two caribou migration routes possibly with eager-eyed wolves for company.
Few places in Eastern Canada are more rugged and remote than this 10,000-sq-km chunk of arctic peaks, iceberg-scattered fjords and windswept tundra. As well as caribou and wolves, determined wildlife travellers may even spot polar bears here.
In Churchill in northern Manitoba, each October and November, polar bears congregate on the shores of Hudson Bay. With luck, you might also spot arctic fox, caribou and several species of birds, including gyrfalcons and snowy owls. Dont rule out a summer visit to Churchill, either, when the tundra is in flower and hosts snow geese, grebes, loons and terns, or you can snorkel with 3,000 beluga whales in the Churchill River estuary.
Eastern Canada self-drive routes
Enjoy life at your own pace on the Cabot Trail British Columbia in the west might seem the default choice for self-drive holidays in Canada, but the eastern provinces also have an excellent choice of routes for free-spirited wildlife travellers. The 300km Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, for example, casts a scenic loop around the northern tip of Cape Breton Island.
Along the way, you can dawdle in cutesy fishing villages and peruse museums and galleries, while natural diversions include whale watching trips and hiking through the forests of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Other options include New Brunswicks Fundy Coastal Drive and a tour along the northern shore of Lake Superior in Ontario.
Canadas natural highs are closer to the UK than you may first think Nearer to London than to Vancouver, Newfoundland offers UK travellers a fast track to Canadas wildlife, with flights to St Johns typically taking just five+ hours.
Several top wildlife spots are within easy reach of the city, including the huge colonies of puffins and guillemots at Witless Bay, the gannetry at Cape St Marys, humpback whale watching from St Vincents Beach and nature walks through the boreal forest of Terra Nova National Park. Wildlands (www.wildlands.com) organises nature-themed itineraries.
A short flight across the island to Deer Lake gets you close to Gros Morne National Park (below), which has forests, wetlands, fjords, and the lunar-like Tablelands a rugged wilderness forged from the crust of an ancient ocean floor.
From there, its a wonderful drive along the Great Northern Peninsula and a short boat trip to Quirpon Island (www.linkumtours.com) where a restored 1922 lighthouse keepers cottage offers a spectacular lookout for passing icebergs and humpbacks.
This edited article was taken from the latest issue of Wild Travel, the UKs only magazine dedicated to wildlife watching holidays around the world.
To buy the latest issue, go to www.buyamag.co.uk/Lifestyle-Magazines/Wild-Travel.
To subscribe, go to www.subscriptionsave.co.uk/Lifestyle-Magazines/Wild-Travel