your paddlesports destination

Paddle Tales: Sea Kayaking les Îles de la Madeleine, Québec


My name's Ken Whiting. I'm a world champion white water paddler, and I've led trips and taught kayaking around the world. As an athlete and explorer, my lifelong passion has been to challenge myself, meet interesting new people, discover beautiful places, and share these experiences with others. This is the story of these adventures. This is Paddle Tales.

Hello again everyone, this is the fifth episode of Paddle Tales. It's a series that goes to some of the most amazing places in the world, and goes on cool paddling adventures along the way. Now, in this episode we're gonna go to a chain of islands that I've wanted to go to forever. But first, please hit the subscribe button if you haven't already, and you'll get notified when the next Paddle Tales episode goes live.

Now, when planning things out for the Paddle Tales series, there were lots of places that I was excited to visit. But, there wasn't anywhere I wanted to check out more than a small group of islands that sit like lone ducks in the middle of the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence. It's a place with endless sand beaches, spectacular sea caves, and a charming small town vibe. And so, in this episode of Paddle Tales, we're exploring Les Iles de la Madeleine.

Quebec's Iles de la Madeleine, also known as the Magdalen Islands, are a chain of seven islands found almost smack dab in the middle of the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence. Sculpted by the wind and sea, the islands really are spectacular. With 200 miles of pristine beaches, green rolling hills, and dramatic cliffs along a lot of the coastline. It's a kind of place where there's an obvious balance between nature and the population, which is only 15,000 for the whole region. To get my first real taste of the area, I'm heading to Aerosport Carrefour, a really cool outdoor shop and outfitter that offers kite boarding, stand up paddling, and sea kayaking trips. Here I'm meeting up with Elie-Anne Arseneau, who works in the shop and leads paddling trips.

[Elie-Anne] Aerosport has been here for 20 years. Our main activity is kite surfing, it's really a great spot to learn here. We have a private spot to learn so nobody to disturb us. It's really a amazing place to learn. And, we also do kayak tours. And, we also have a shop where we can sell kayaks, gear, wetsuit.

[Ken] To get things started, we're hitting the water only a few minutes from the shop, in one of the sheltered bays that can accommodate paddlers of any level. And so, I quickly unpack and assemble my Trak kayak, which I flew here with. Cool, Iles de la Madeleine. Ready to go. I'll be honest, I get the distinct impression that we're heading into the bay so that Elie can feel my skills out before heading into more exposed water. Now, don't get me wrong, I get it. I would probably do the same thing if some middle aged dude, complaining about a sore back, arrived and asked me to take him paddling. That being said, I quickly realized that the bay is a beautiful first taste of the Magdalen coast. So, Elie, you, you're from this area?

[Elie] Yeah, from here.

[Ken] This is your backyard.

[Elie] Yes.

[Ken] It's a cool backyard.
[Elie] It is.

[Ken] How long have you been sea kayaking here?

[Elie] It's my first summer guiding in sea kayaking.

[Ken] Yup.

[Elie] But, since I'm young, I've been doing it.

[Ken] You've been on the water.

[Elie] Yeah.

[Ken] So, when you're paddling around Les Iles, what do you expect to see, or hope to see?

[Elie] Sometimes we can see seals, and if we, we can go also, follow the cliffs and go in some caves and tunnels, that's really nice to explore.

[Ken] A lot of people come to see the beautiful, red rock walls here. Tell me a bit about, you know, about these walls.

[Elie] So, the red walls, the cliffs, what makes them red is the 1% of iron oxide that are in them. And, then the 99% is some sand.

[Ken] 90% sand.

[Elie] Yeah, exactly. And, we have a big problem here on the island is the erosion.

[Ken] Yeah.

[Elie] So, when we get big storm there's just pieces of the cliff dropping in the water.

[Ken] Yup.
[Elie] And, the iron oxide become black sand, and you can catch it with a magnet.

[Ken] Oh really?

[Elie] Yeah, it's really nice.

[Ken] That's cool. Got some seals up here. Are they gonna let us get close, or are they kinda skittish?

[Elie] Preferably we're gonna go away. They feel more comfortable in the water.

[Ken] Yeah.

[Elie] That's why.

[Ken] Oh yeah, there they go. Look at 'em go. Not the most graceful creature.

[Elie] Not on land.

On land.
[Elie] Yeah, but in the water, different.

[Ken] Like me.

[Elie] Yeah.

[Ken] Having earned Elie's confidence in my paddling skills, we make the move to the outer exposed coast of the island. To a place called La Belle-Anse, which is know for having the region's most dramatic coastline, including some incredible sea caves to explore. So, what side of the island are we on right now?
[Elie] North.
[Ken] We're on the north side of the island.

[Elie] Yup, north side.

[Ken] So, does this typically get less waves and wind, or more?

[Elie] More.

[Ken] It gets more.

[Elie] Yeah.

[Ken] Okay.

[Elie] So, we're lucky to be here today on calm waters. Today we did explore the caves in the cliffs. The caves are changing every year, so it's really fun to go and explore new places, new caves, new tunnels. Pretty impressive, huh?

[Ken] Man, you could have a concert in here.

[Elie] Yeah.

[Ken] Oh, what a great echo. Is this whole shore coastline dotted with these caves, covered with these caves?

[Elie] Yeah, there's a lot along the way. But, the cathedral is the only one.
[Ken] The cathedral is one of the most impressive?

[Elie] Yeah, yeah.

[Ken] Yeah, it is impressive, that's for sure. Of course, I'd looked at photos and videos of the area before coming here. But, as always seems to be the case, it can't prepare you for what it's like in person. Now, I've had the great fortune to paddle in stunning places around the world. But, this coastline is unlike anything I've ever experienced. And, hands down, one of the coolest places ever that I've explored. Listen to that. That is such a cool sound. Tell you what Elie, this has been incredible, thank you for the tour.

[Elie] You're very welcome. It's a pleasure.

[Ken] I'm kind of hoping we can continue the tour but maybe touring a microbrewery or something in town.

[Elie] That's a really good idea.

[Ken] One of the greatest parts of my whole Paddle Tales tour around Quebec this year is how many microbreweries there are in this Provence. And, they're all good. And so, before doing some off water exploring around the Magdalen Islands, it only seemed right to make a quick beer stop at L'Abri de la Tempete. Which translates to, shelter from the storm. Although I could've easily spent a lot more time here, doing valuable research about Magdalen Island beer, there's a lot more to check out in the area. Like the bakeries. Quebec has awesome bakeries everywhere. And, this place is no different. Personally, I consider a key scoring metric for a destination to be the quality of the bakeries. And, more specifically, the quality of the cinnamon buns. What makes a good cinnamon bun? To put it simply, it should feel like you need a shower after eating one. Merci. Look at that. You can not travel in Quebec without hitting the bakeries. The other thing Quebec people are really proud of is their cheese, and for good reason. For example, here at the Au Pied-De-Vent Dairy, the supply chain is really as simple and natural as it gets. Those cows look like they need some serious milking relief. As I understand it, the cows are around us, this is the farm, right behind here.

[Worker] Yup.
[Ken] They're milked there. The milk comes down that pipe, right into this building. And, you guys make cheese. This is what we got.

[Worker] Exactly. We've got it day after day, we produce cheese all year long. And so, we produce the milk, and we also produce the cheese.

[Ken] As fresh as fresh gets.

[Worker] Almost like a spreadable cheese. Really keeps it's milk taste.

[Ken] Sorry. Good. So, we've had beer, cinnamon buns, and cheese. Why not? Let's put the guts to the ultimate test with some fresh smoked fish.

[Worker] So, those are some of the products we have back here at the smokehouse. The main products we taste during the tour is the marinated herring and the dry herring. So, those are the same herring that was smoked for three months. But, we have one that's just crumbled in some pieces, and the other one put in a marinade, so.

[Ken] Can I try one of these?

[Worker] You can, go. That's the reason I put them there.

[Ken] Okay. I was just gonna use my fingers, but.

[Worker] Yeah. We got toothpicks so.

[Ken] A little more civilized?

[Worker] Yeah, just a bit. Off camera we do that by hand and with just face on, but when we're filmed we use toothpicks.

[Ken] That's awesome.

[Worker] Yeah.

[Ken] Two to three months of smoking.

[Worker] Two to three months, yeah.

[Ken] Well, it's been an amazing tour around the island, and I absolutely love the small town feel, and the island way of life. People work hard here, and they're doing really cool things. But, at the same time, there's a relaxed vibe and an obvious separation from the rat race of city life. With the new day I make the trip to the far end of the Magdalen Islands to an inn called La Salicorne.

This part of the Archipelago gets much less traffic than the main island, and definitely has a more remote feel to it. First on my hit list, is to check out Old-Harry Beach. Although the Magdalen Islands has around 200 miles of gorgeous beach, Old-Harry is considered one of the best surf beaches in the region. There I'm meeting up with Annabelle and Michael, two guides from La Salicorne who might actually love playing in the water more than I do.

[Ken] This morning we went at Old-Harry Beach, and it's the most wonderful beach on these islands. We went to seek some waves, to surf in the kayak. But, it wasn't really the best conditions we've ever had. We managed to do some anyways. It was really, really kind of fun with Ken and Annabelle. Old-Harry Beach is one of my favorite spots in the world. And, definitely my best surfing spot here on the islands. It's facing the southeast, so the swell is coming from, the waves, the wind, and everything, everything is coming from Nova Scotia. When it's southwest you get those choppy waves, but then at Old-Harry Beach you always have those big, big, big, clean waves. And, so easy to surf.

[Ken] Since the surf isn't really happening today, Michael and Annabelle decide they need to show me something different. And so, they give me the thickest wetsuit I've ever put on, and tell me we're going for a swim. I'm surprised to find out that swimming along the coast here is one of the most popular adventure tourism activities to do. Now, I'll be honest, the whole idea of leaving my kayak behind in order to go swimming isn't something I would normally do. But, that's exactly what makes it so fun. These guys, they're like a couple of seals on the rocks. I feel like a manatee, a big sea cow.

[Michael] What I like the most about my job is to get the people to maybe come face to face with their fears.

[Annabelle] Yeah, challenge their self.

[Michael] Yeah, challenges themselves.

[Ken] I don't think I'm gonna be trying that. It looks like the rocks birthed them.

- Pretty proud of all the groups we have, and we have a really nice moment each time we go out in the caves.

- That's right.

[Ken] Making our way through the rough water is slow work, but surprisingly easy to do with all the flotation that the wetsuit and life jacket provides. As we come around the next cliff, some deeper and darker caves appear before us. And, once again, I'm following despite my better judgment. Man, I am not usually one for swimming. I like being in my kayak and not out of my kayak. But, this is one of the coolest experiences I've had in a long time. What an unbelievable place. Okay, so we're here. Where are we?

- We're at the Grande Entree, and we're here today to dig and find soft shell.

- Clams.

- Yeah.

[Ken] Okay. Sweet. So, how does this work?

- Well, first of all, you have to spot little holes on the sand.

[Ken] Okay.

- This is their, the breathing spot for the clam. And, maybe just use two fingers to dig around.
[Ken] Okay.

- And, then you slowly can pull it out.

- Okay. I think this is gonna be a sleeve roller upper.

- This one is too small. 'Cause it needs to be as large as three finger. So, we put it back. And, we find another one.

[Ken] Oh, three fingers, okay.

[Annabelle] It's a junior.

[Ken] So, is this like a popular thing to do here?

[Annabelle] Yeah, it's kind of popular and you know, you can do it with your children.

[Ken] Yeah.

[Annabelle] They're pretty happy to play in the sand. So, I'll show you how to eat them. 'Cause we don't eat the whole clam.

[Ken] Okay.

- So, you open it, and gently you remove the brown sheath. You don't eat this part. And, you can rinse it, and you're ready to go.

- Nice, down the hatch. All right, so remove that brown sheath.

- And rinse it.

- Give it a good rinse. I heard yours crunch.

[Annabelle] Um hm. - Mm. That's good. Really good. Yes, not much sand.

[Annabelle] No.

[Ken] Not at all. Part of the experience.

[Michael] Yeah, that's right.

[Ken] Well, that was a great day, thank you very much. That was a great way to almost end, but you know what goes really well with clams? Beer.

- All right.

- I think we should probably.

- Yeah.

- That's a good idea.

- Hit the microbrew on our way outta here.

- Yeah, that's a good idea. A good way to end the trip.

[Ken] Les Isles de la Madeleine is a place that I've wanted to visit for a long time. And so, my expectations were very high. To say that my expectations were simply met would be a huge understatement. Everything about this experience has been incredible. And, I can't wait to come back and share the experience with my family. Well, that does it for this episode of Paddle Tales. I hope you enjoyed it. And, if you did, please give this video a big thumbs up. Subscribe to PaddleTV if you haven't already. Leave a comment down below. And, stick around for a sneak peek at next week's Paddle Tales adventure.

Related Articles & Resources

Paddling the North Channel

10 incoming Calvin College students had no idea what to expect when they signed up for an 8-day sea kayaki…

Kayaking One of the Most Remote Canyons in the World

Waterslide or rapids? Watch these professionals paddle in one of the most amazing canyons in the world.…

5 Blind Veterans Kayak The Grand Canyon

Inspirational is an understatement. In honor of Veterans Day and those who have given so much, Google partnere…