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Immediately offshore from Havre-Saint-Pierre, the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve ($5.80; w pc.gc.ca/mingan) offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in Québec. Standing on the islands’ white-sand shorelines are innumerable 8m-high rocks that have the appearance of ancient totem poles, with bright orange lichen colouring their mottled surfaces and bonsai-sized trees clinging to their crevices. These formations originated as underwater sediment near the equator. The sediment was thrust above sea level more than 250 million years ago and then covered in an ice cap several kilometres thick. As the drifting ice melted, the islands emerged again, seven thousand years ago, at their present location. The sea and wind gave the final touch by chipping away at the soft limestone to create the majestic monoliths of today.

Bizarre geology isn’t the archipelago’s only remarkable feature. The flora constitutes a unique insular garden of 452 arctic and rare alpine species, which survive here at their southerly limit due to the limestone soil, long harsh winters and cold Gulf of Labrador current. Other than the Gulf’s whale populations, the permanent wildlife inhabitants of the park include puffins, who build nests in the scant soil of three of the islands from early May to late August, and 199 other species of bird.

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