North America’s big Animals peek into your car
The word safari is a Swahili word meaning ‘journey’, derived from its etymological Arab parent ‘safar’, also meaning journey.
The word safari, usually associated with expeditions to observe animals in their natural habitat, conjures up images of lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes and thundering wildebeest, among others, on the plains of East Africa.
Can you imagine our (my wife’s and mine) joy and disbelief in discovering something akin to a safari in the cold environs of Canada?
Showcasing animals from the northern hemisphere in a setting where, ensconced in the safety of your car, you are face-to-face and within petting proximity of bison, elk, moose, red deer, white tailed deer, alpine ibex, wild turkey and boar, to name just a few.
Besides being able to see predatory animals like black bear, coyote, red fox, grey wolf, arctic fox and arctic wolf, up close but in open secure settings. Where you can even see the musk ox, a survivor of the ice age.
A Private Wildlife Park
We came upon Parc Omega, a large privately-owned drive-through wildlife park in Montebello, in Western Quebec, as we researched potential recreational activities for my wife and I to pursue the weekend before I participated in a work-related seminar in Ottawa.
Parc Omega is a quick hour’s drive away from Ottawa, Canada’s capital city (heading North East), from Montreal and, also from Mont Tremblant, the popular ski resort also located in Quebec.
Getting to Parc Omega involves a 5-minute ferry ride at Masson-Angers in Gatineau, Quebec, seated in your car, across a small patch of water. The ferry service is frequent, inexpensive (10 Canadian dollars) and open year-round.
The park, even if little-known, is a popular family vacation destination, open all-year-round. The entrance fee is approximately 25 Canadian dollars per person and a typical drive through the park takes about two hours unless your path is blocked by the animals especially the large ones like red deer or bison.
One can drive around the park as many times as one wishes to and use the picnic spots and hiking trails.
Animal Talk on the Radio
The park has a dedicated FM channel (90.1) broadcasting running commentary about the animals as one drives through. We snapped countless pictures and they vividly convey the sheer sense of joy and amazement that we experienced. Making the visit to Parc Omega truly memorable. Little wonder, it has received rave reviews on TripAdvisor being rated a top attraction.
Parc Omega was open between 10 am and 4 pm when we visited in October 2016. This memorable, one-of-a-kind, experience involves driving at a cautious crawling pace through 15 kilometres of sign-posted trails, where you encounter a wide variety of animals roaming freely, often poking their heads into half-open car windows to snap up the carrots that drivers and passengers treat the animals to.
Do not forget to bring along at least a few bags of carrots (we wisely brought along six and this ensured that the animals were incessantly drawn to us), which you can purchase either outside or inside the park. The carrots are the meal magnets that will draw the animals to your car window, allowing you close encounters with some majestic animals.
You can literally peer into the eyes and nostrils of the animals. You are not allowed to feed the bison and you are also strictly advised not to step out of your car except in the park store, designated trails and picnic areas. Because wild animals are after all wild animals, no matter how docile, friendly or harmless they may appear. We saw many young children feeding and petting deer. One needs to be mindful of ticks.
Not All Roam Freely
It should be noted that not all the animals roam freely and poke their heads, often drooling, into the car windows of the park visitors. You can find large numbers of red deer, elk and bison in the open and on and around the car trail. You can also see white tailed deer, fallow deer and boar roaming freely. Not to mention wild turkey, flocks of Canadian geese and duck in the water.
There were also a few alpine ibex in the open and one of them managed to leave a light scratch mark on our rented car, as he tried to get close to the passenger side window, hoisting himself up on this front hooves resting on the car.
Being aware of the potential for damage to our car, we had made it point to rent a car at Ottawa international airport, making sure to also purchase comprehensive insurance with a zero deductible. Just to be safe.
A wide variety of predators including coyote, red fox, grey wolf, black bear, arctic wolf and arctic fox were in the open but separated by a wide and secure moat, sometimes reinforced by a wire fence too. Curiously some animals like reindeer and musk ox that we would not consider dangerous were also separated from park visitors by a wire fence, obviously for safety reasons.
Despite which, we were able to see these animals especially the black bear (there were half-a-dozen or more) up close and appreciate their sheer majesty. In the past, we have been frustrated with false bear sightings on our visits to places like Yellowstone National Park.
It was mating season for deer when we visited and the deep, resonating calls of the bucks (adult male deer) and their fierce fights over potential mates made for some captivating and, at times, scary experiences. Upon entrance, we were advised not to feed the male deer because they were likely to be in heat.
The importance of safety and staying within the confines of your car cannot be over-emphasized. The open, spacious and inviting layout of the park can offer a deceptive sense of security.
It would be a seriously painful experience, possibly fatal, to be gored by an elk, a massive buck or worse, a bison.
Their antlers and horns can be lethal. The park was overflowing with elk, red deer and large number of bison, as our photographs will readily attest to.
On several occasions, the cars were surrounded by these animals. A couple of times, we had to reverse our car and wait several minutes for the animals to move off the car track. Even then, we had to slowly squeeze past these animals.
Red deer are one of the largest deer species with adults weighing up to 240 kilos. Many of the red deer we encountered showed signs of additional fur and manes that they typically grow with the onset of winter. They looked formidable with their powerful necks and multi-pronged antlers.
Lodging at the Parc
Parc Omega offers several types of accommodation. A variety of affordable lodging is available in Montebello, too, and while there, do not forget to visit the iconic cheese outlet, Fromagerie Montebello.
We were lucky to meet with the store’s reticent owner, Alain Boyer, and its charismatic manager, Deborah Roch, whose combination of passion and expertise in cheese-making, has won their cheese several awards over the years.
Samples that we brought for colleagues and friends in Toronto received rave reviews. Do not forget to bring a pair of binoculars and a camera!
Parc Omega is not to be missed if you ever happen to be in Ottawa, Canada’s charming capital city with more than its share of touristic delights.
We spent a couple of nights in Ottawa and our stay at The Business Inn at 180 MacLaren Street (Telephone 1 800-363-1777) was a highlight by itself.
Bright, clean and airy rooms, impressively appointed, almost like executive suites, a sumptuous complimentary hot buffet breakfast, a city center location and excellent customer service, you couldn’t ask for more.
N.R Venkatesh was a top film journalist in Bollywood, India and has been an extensively published travel and creative writer in the Middle East. He is a Certified Public Accountant from the US and presently lives in Toronto with his wife Nirmala
NR Venkatesh was a top film journalist in Bollywood, India and a travel and creative writer in the Middle East, his wife Nirmala has worked with leading English dailies in the Middle East. And son Arjun, who both writes and takes pictures, is also the spark behind the family’s collective efforts at sharing their travel experiences with the world. Incidentally, Venkatesh is a Certified Public Accountant from the US, Nirmala an international banking professional and Arjun, a software engineer based in San Francisco.