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sand dollars
The waters off Havre Maison's Dune-du-Sud are a terrific place to find sand dollars.
creperie at havre-maisons plaige du sud
The creperie at the public beach on Havre-Maisons serves up excellent food and drink at a very reasonable price.

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The majority of photos used in this website were taken in June and July of 2007. We endeavour to replace and update photos as formations change, but cannot always do so. Note that the formations may have changed since these images were taken.

Havre-aux-Maisons: Midpoint of the Archipeligo

Approaching from Cap-Aux-Meules, your first encounter with Havre-Maisons is at sea level, at Petite-Baie. This is a quaint commercial fishing center with a few restaurants. It also serves as a launch for some of the scenic boat ride services. Rt. 199 soon turns to the left and begins to rise noticeably toward the scenic Buttes that dominate the island.

These hills and the Ch. de Buttes drive are the "must do" on Havre-Maisons according to all the travel pundits. These are important sights, however, many people consider the public park beach at Dune-du-Sud (South Dune) to be the highlight of Havre-Maisons. Some even report that on an archipeligo with endless beaches, this one is their favorite:

Above, a view of the southern end of Dune-du-Sud, looking toward the key natural arches at the beach.

Access to the beach is just off Highway 199 via Ch. de Montants. The beach has a sizable parking area, modern restrooms, and even houses a small "creperie." A quaint artist/gift shop is located at the southern end of the parking lot. One can enter the beach easily at the north end of the parking area, or use the stairways and walkways that descend over the low sandstone cliffs. These are in various states of repair, so if you travel with small children it is wise to simply enter on the beach. The pounding sea claims more and more of these bluffs each year; like everywhere else in the Magdalens you need to be very careful and not get too close to the edges.

On the beach, there is a small jetty, beyond which the Dune-du-Sud beckons for miles and miles, nearly reaching Grande Entrée. Our interest lies in the opposite direction: the natural arches and formations found at the extreme southern end of this beach. It's an easy walk...

The primary sea arches, indicated in the photo above, are located about 1/3 of a mile from the beach entry point. Once you're on the beach, turn south, and the view should look something like this. Best time to do the walk is at a lower tide, as there are a couple of cliffs that jut right up to the edge of the sea, and passage can require some serious wading at high tide.

Before you reach the arch rocks, however, keep your eyes peeled on the cliffs that will be on your right hand side. There are quite a few interesting crevices, caves, and even a couple of small arches...

Above, the first arch you'll find. It seems small and barely worth investigating, but if you take the time you'll find it to be an interesting arch with a surprisingly large cave behind it. Below is a photo of what it looks like after you pass it and look back.

Below, one of the crevices. Some of these go surprisingly far, and at least one has some interesting side crevices. Most adults don't give these a second glance, but kids and amateur geology enthusiasts know better!

And a typical sea-cave found in these bluffs...

The Sea Arches

As you approach what appears to be an impassable headwall, the sea arches begin to reveal themselves. Is it one rock? Two?

Eventually you'll see the sea and sky between the rocks...

At first the second rock appears more impressive, because the arch reveals much more light. But it won't take much to realize that the first (northernmost of the two) is something like a quintuple-arch formation. I've personally studied hundreds of natural arches and bridges in the United States and Canada, and I can tell you there are many more stunning arches, and many much larger, but this particular rock on the Magdalen Islands has more sizable openings than any other in North America. The different views through each of these windows are simply beautiful. Be aware that this rock stands completely surrounded by the sea at high tide, and the constant pounding and freezing winters will ultimately spell its demise. If you wait to see this, it will probably be too late. (As stated elsewhere this is probably the reason that Madelinots don't become too attached to their natural arch formations).

Below are a series of photos of this incredible formation:

Above, approaching the rock from the north at high tide. From this angle, only one arch is apparent. The two dark alcoves in the rock are also arches.

Below, now on the south side of the rock looking north; the three main arches are revealed. The solo arch in the photo above is the opening on the right. From this angle it looks completely different -- be assured it is the same opening.

Seldom does an arch formation present so many different personalities. Above, an opening up close makes a perfect frame for the beach at Dune-du-Sud. Below, moving farther away enables the arch itself to be framed.

Above, you can see from this angle that one of the three main openings is actually a double opening. Look closely to the left of this opening and you can see a very small opening beginning along the same seam.

The Second Rock

This rock is right next to the main attraction. Its opening is rather impressive if you can walk out to it; it's an interesting vertical arch...

Continuing beyond these rocks is difficult; the headwalls go right out to sea and there is a rock flume or sluice that is hard to cross. Go as far as you can, because you can get quite close to a colony of guillemots on this rock:

Below is the view as you walk back toward the parking lot from the arch rocks. In case you missed the small arch in the cliff on the way out, you can spot it easily, look in this photo right next to the person wearing the yellow jacket...

The Buttes Pelees

South of our location above are the Buttes Pelees. This is a large cliff face that more or less extends from the arch location above down to Cap Allright. It is mostly comprised of the agrillaceous metamorphic rock, and if there are any arches along here, I've yet to find them. Proceeding south from the beach area you'll eventually arrive at a parking lot at a scenic overlook, with a stairway that leads down to this view...

And thanks to the ever pounding sea, the road ends! It once connected and allowed you to continue to Cap Allright, but alas the road and the earth beneath it have been claimed by the waters. So you'll need to backtrack a little bit; there's an unpaved road that connects to Ch. de Buttes. This drive is wild and quite scenic, and provides a glimpse of the agriculture on Les Iles.

Cap Allright

The scenery here is simply sensational, but you usually have to withstand some nasty wind to enjoy it. The lighthouse almost looks like a dollhouse version. It was built in 1928 and I suppose it was constructed to be mobile, as these cliffs are constantly eroding. On the north side of Cap Allright there is a very large and impressive sea arch, centered in the photo below. It is virtually impossible to access this arch from below except by water, and the currents here make that an extremely risky proposition. Best to just see this arch from above, and of course, stay back from the edge.

Some more comments on Havre Maisons

In case you are staying on Havre-aux-Maisons, or the northern islands of Pointe-aux-Loups, Grosse-Île, or Grande Entrée, there is a sizable supermarket about mid-island on Rt. 199. That's not to say that the small markets on the northern islands aren't sufficient for your needs, it's just that they aren't as large. This market is your best alternative to driving further to Cap-aux-Meules.

Havre-aux-Maisons also has some excellent values for private home rentals. The locations do not tend to be as quiet as the northern islands nor as convenient to activities as some of the rentals on Cap-aux-Meules, but it is a good central location. Some of the tourist cabins located near the beach at Dune-du-Sud are small, but offer spectacular views and very reasonable pricing. These generally sell out quickly for the months of July and August.

Havre-aux-Maisons is home to the airport, and also the site of the Madeleine Islands' garbage dump and transfer station. In a word, it smells. It is located well north of the public beach in a remote area along Rt. 199, so it only impacts you as you drive by. In all the time I've spent on Havre-aux-Maisons I can definitely say that the garbage facility has never even been slightly noticeable. North of it, Dune-du-Sud stretches on for miles and miles, and is simply beautiful to walk and explore. Plenty of free parking in a large public lot off of Rt. 199 near the disused wind power turbine.

Please be aware that the long open stretch of Rt. 199 over the hill on Havre-Maisons seems like a good place to speed up a bit -- it isn't. There is a school and numerous ball fields along this section. Although school probably won't be in session when you visit, the fields are used and young children often bicycle along this road to reach them. Please drive carefully.


Traveling around the Magdalene Islands I found myself continuously returning my CD changer to Gordon Lightfoot's Complete Greatest Hits CD. Now I realize the connection is a little thin; Gordon is Canadian but he doesn't sing in French and he doesn't sing much about the Maritime Provinces, but the introspective tone and the meaning of the songs just seems to fit the islands well. Anyway, my French is terrible. Tunes like "Rainy Day People" and "If You Could Read My Mind" are simply perfect for the eye-opening and mind-opening experience that awaits you on Îles de la Madeleine.

-- Rick