We’ve been to Kouchibouguac National Park many times to hike the trails, bike the trails and swim at the beach but we finally had a chance to go for some back-country canoe camping this year! We were so excited to pack up the gear and get ready for our canoe camping trip into one of the most amazing parks in New Brunswick.
“Blessing in Disguise” is the word of the day. The weather wasn’t too promising and predictions kept changing. As long as they weren’t calling for violent thunderstorms, there was no way we were cancelling our first time ever canoe camping expedition!
We leave early on Saturday morning after making sure we have everything. Samantha (our Garmin GPS robot voice) leads us to the park she calls “Kow-chee-bow-gwak” (supposed to be pronounced Koo_chee-boo-gwak). She always knows how to cheer us up on a cloudy day!
When we get to the park, we buy our yearly Parks Canada pass and pay our camping fees when suddenly we’re told that the canoe rental center at Ryans is closed because they are repairing the dock that was damaged by frost last winter: We know someone who can get them de-icers at a good price (wink). How are we supposed to get to our campsite at Pointe-a-Maxime, available only by water?
They get in touch with Émery, the owner of the rental center. By chance he lives nearby and has a canoe on hand he can rent us and drop it off at the Saint-Louis Cape dock: That is even better than leaving from Ryans which is supposedly a good 3 hour paddle! We meet him there, get our stuff in the canoe and off we go. It is grey with no rain yet but the temperature is supposed to go down to 8 degrees Celsius by the afternoon and stay that way until the next morning.
As we paddle our way East against the wind, the voices of the fishermen on the wharf disappear slowly. It is so peaceful on the river and we are surrounded by Common terns. Their cry sounds like laughter and reminds me a bit of chimney swifts the way they sound so cheerful. After 45 minutes of paddling we see the outhouse, then the picnic tables: we’re there! When I searched on Google for images of Pointe-a- Maxime I couldn’t find anything and I was anxious to see what it looked like.
The camping facilities consist of 4 sites, all partially wooded with a view of the river and lagoon. There is a covered shelter for fire wood and an outhouse with toilet paper. Each site has a fire pit and a picnic table. The sites are small and are for 2-4 person tents.
The first thing we do after unloading our canoe is start a fire and I am so happy to see that the fire pit has a lid / shelf for pots. It is like a raised box and the space underneath is perfect to dry socks or gloves. The wood is nice and dry but we give it a little boost with my favorite back country fire starter, a cotton ball with petroleum jelly.
Once we’re settled and had our lunch we hop back on the canoe and head for the sand dune. We paddle east against the wind once more and as we get closer to the center of the lagoon the waves start to get bigger and they rock our canoe. We paddle hard and Dami makes sure we’re going in a straight line across the waves. We get to the dune after at least an hour and it seems like it’s taking us forever to get there but as we do finally get there, the sun peeks through the clouds and we have a nice walk on the other side of the dune, along the ocean and the waves are higher than we’ve ever seen them. We see fox prints and lots of junk washed ashore. We decide to go back to camp and forget about the seals, we’re too exhausted.
Our paddle back is so much easier with the wind in our back and we make it back to the campsite in 20 minutes. By now, the temperature is down to 8 degrees and it is pretty cold with the wind and the fire feels nice. We are so thankful it is not raining. We only get a few drops. We dry our gloves as we heat up our supper. Dami has some hotdogs with potato salad and DD has a tuna casserole macaroni prepared at home and brought in a Ziploc bag. After supper we head to the tent and play some Crazy 8 and are in our sleeping bags before sunset. Luckily, it’s peaceful and quiet, and it’s too cold for mosquitoes. The only sounds we hear at night are the waves and the far away distant occasional noise from a speeding truck.
In the morning, after breakfast, we pack our gear and make it back to the Saint-Louis Cape wharf where we meet with Émery who takes the canoe back. We get a chance to chat with the head researcher of the Biobus and get a glimpse of their work (http://biobus.ca/pitchin-new-sites-at-kouchibouguac/) that consists of gathering insects to get their DNA.
Before going for a bike ride in the park to stretch our legs, we stop by the Coop to buy some milk (Dami forgot to bring the milk for our coffee and snack doh!), chips to accompany our ham and cheese sandwiches and some Dad’s oatmeal cookies.
Canoe camping allows you to bring a little more than you would when hiking to the campsite. Our extras were the beach chairs the air mattress, a soft cooler and a thermos full of hot water. We used a 2 liter pop bottle filled with fresh water that we froze overnight not filling the whole way leaving a gap for the ice to expand. It kept our food cool and there was still ice after more than 24 hours. We were able to bring a frozen juice box, 4 hard-boiled eggs, potato salad, fruit salad, 2 bananas, 4 sandwiches, celery and carrot sticks, one portion of tuna casserole in a bag and 2 wieners. The milk was supposed to be in this list but was unfortunately left in the fridge at home… Having to bring our own water to the campsite, the melted ice in the bottle refilled our respective water bottles. We also had a hard plastic container (not in the cooler) with bread for toasts, flat hotdog buns and 3 peanut butter cups.
As far as waterproof containers go, I tested our locking food containers in the kitchen sink and was surprised to see that they did the trick and there was no need to buy any. I brought one for my wallet and cellphone: they are 100% waterproof and they float. We only had regular backpacks for our stuff so we were lucky we didn’t capsize or got rained on… although our precious clothes and items we wanted keep dry were in 2 waterproof bags.
We dirtied our pans but didn’t use our gas stove and cooked everything on the fire. We had to pack our garbage and I was able to fit everything in a sandwich zipper lock bag! I was stunned at how some people were stupid enough not knowing better and putting their garbage in the hole of the outhouse toilet unless it was meant to go there because someone had to go real bad in the tent and used a bag… I don’t really want to know!
When we got back home, we slept so well that night in the comfort of our house that has everything we need and even more. And the kittens were so happy to have us back! We definitely would like to return and hopefully have the whole place to ourselves although it must be so lovely in the summer with the roses in bloom: there are rose bushes all along the path that goes to the non-drinkable water fountain.