A Trip to Dalvay-by-the-Sea, PEI

I’m not one to really celebrate dates.  My husband and I never celebrated the anniversary of our first date, we don’t really do anything for Valentine’s Day.  We’re low maintenance kind of people.

Our wedding anniversary seems different, though.  I think it’s important to celebrate this commitment and reaffirm it each year.  We normally do this by taking a trip together. Since getting married three years ago, we’ve been to Iceland and the Magdalen Islands for our first and second anniversaries. This year, we decided to stay closer to home but still wanted to commemorate the event. So, we ventured over the Confederation Bridge for a weekend of sun and surf at Dalvay-by-the-Sea in beautiful Prince Edward Island.

Dalvay-by-the-Sea is a National Historic Site situated within one of PEI’s National Parks, with 25 guest rooms at the Inn and eight, three bedroom cottages on the grounds.  The house was built in 1895 as a summer home for Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy businessman with the Standard Oil Company.  It was built in the Queen Anne Revival style, known for it’s whimsical and exuberant features, asymmetrical lines, many gables, bright colours and wraparound verandas.  Local materials were used extensively: Island sandstone boulders cover the entire lower part of the exterior and three massive indoor fireplaces are made from quarried blocks of the same stone.

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Dalvay-by-the-Sea

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Loved curling up by that fireplace!
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Grand staircase
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Library/sitting room

The effect is a truly stunning structure.  Many of the rooms are very small, and there are no televisions, but that just encourages you to spend more time in the common spaces, which are the true charm of the Inn.  Curling up with a drink by one of the three roaring fires quickly became my favourite activity.  Also, don’t miss out on trying a delicious meal in MacMillan Dining Room, courtesy of Chef Chris Colburn.

If you think the Inn looks familiar and you’re an Anne of Green Gables fan, you might remember it as the White Sands Hotel from the Road to Avonlea series and the Anne of Green Gables movies produced in the 1990’s.

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One of the many carriages used by the MacDonald family

Staying at an Inn inside a National Park has some great advantages.  You’re super close to hiking trails, walking distances from beaches and there are even bicycle rentals right on site.  The Inn is also situated on a lake, and canoe and kayaks are available to take out for a spin.

As we were driving into Dalvay Friday night, the sun was setting just behind the sand dunes in the most gorgeous shades of pinks and oranges I’ve ever seen.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of it, we were tired and just wanted to get out of the car.  You will have to take my word for it, it was stunning!  We checked in just in time to get settled and have a couple night caps by the fire in the main lobby.

Saturday morning we got up early, had a delicious breakfast at the Inn and headed out to hike Robinson’s Island, in the park.  The trail is an easy 5 km loop taking you through forest and along the shoreline, with a few beach access points along the way.  As we walked through the sun-filtered woods and explored the deserted beaches, I understood how these landscapes could inspire Lucy Maud Montgomery to pen her famous series.

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Pretty light
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Washed ashore
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Footsteps in the sand

The woods call to us with a hundred voices, but the sea has one only — a mighty voice that drowns our souls in its majestic music. The woods are human, but the sea is of the company of the archangels” – L M Montgomery, from Anne’s House of Dreams.

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A camper by the dunes
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Hanging with my homies

After our hike we made our way over to the PEI Preserve Company to buy some of the best preserves you can get anywhere.  Seriously, check out the Peach Salsa and Strawberry & Grand Marnier jam.  So good.

We had a lovely dinner at The Dunes Studio Gallery and Cafe, which is a really unique spot close to Brackley Beach. Not only do they serve great food, but you get to eat it surrounded by an incredibly eclectic collection of locally made arts and crafts.  There are so many interesting things to look at, you might find yourself spending hours strolling through the seemingly never-ending compound and gardens.

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Very unique fish bowls
Wood carvings on the grounds
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The Iron Throne, but with monkeys?

Back to the Inn for one more drink by the fire and a moonlight stroll along the beach pretty much brought us to the end of our Dalvay stay.  It’s a charming place and feels a little like going back in time.  The season is coming to a close for them very soon but if you can, you should definitely check this place out next season when they reopen!

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Goodnight, Dalvay!
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Tourist At Home: Nova Scotia Road Trip ’16

The Smith’s are back from a whirlwind 6-day road trip of the western half of Nova Scotia!

What I love about vacationing at home is that it usually costs significantly less due to the decreased travel costs and you get to discover some really cool places in your own backyard that you might not have known were even there.  In my case, I wanted to hit all the spots I’ve heard about and wanted to visit for years, but had just not gotten around to.

The first leg of our journey took us across the Bay of Fundy from Saint John, NB to Digby, NS.  It was fun as neither me or my husband had ever traveled to or from Saint John by boat, and this offered a cool perspective of the city and the harbour.

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Later, Saint John!
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Views of Partridge Island on the sail out of the harbour
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Leaving New Brunswick behind

The Fundy Rose is very well appointed and fast!  We arrived in Digby is just under 2 hours.

Observation deck
Nice lounge and cafe on the Fundy Rose
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Checking out the views on the approach to Digby
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We’re in Nova Scotia!

Our first adventure in Nova Scotia was an overnight backpacking trip to Cape Split, a provincial park reserve that juts into the Bay of Fundy and features dramatic cliffs and incredible scenery.  The drive was to the park was lovely and we stopped to take some photos at a lookout along the way.

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The Annapolis Valley

When we arrived at the parking lot of Cape Split, our spirits fell a little to see it packed with cars – there were so many people!  Undeterred, we set off with our backpacks, sure that many hikers would not be staying overnight and that we would soon have the place to ourselves. The hike is about 6km long and is easy to moderate with gentle uphill slopes.  The trail is well marked; it would be very difficult to get lost along the way.   It was extremely windy at the cliff edge when we arrived!  I was afraid to get too close in case I lost my balance.  It’s a long way down!

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Checking out the views
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The famous Cape Split rocks
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The gulls love this place!

After setting up camp, we hiked down to a rocky beach where we sat on the rocks and took in the beauty of the Bay of Fundy.  And our camping buddies got engaged!  Congrats, Mahshid and Jason!

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The happy couple
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A rock that rivals Cape Split itself!

After spending a lovely evening on the cape, we parted ways with our friends who were heading back to Saint John and set out for Yarmouth.  We were pretty tired after the backpacking trip and it was raining (a theme we would encounter for the rest of our trip) so we didn’t make many stops along the way.  Once reaching Yarmouth, we had much-needed showers, strolled through the lovely Frost Park, had dinner and went back to the hotel to crash early.

Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth
Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth

The next morning after a quick breakfast in Yarmouth, we headed out to discover the South Shore.  It’s a long but beautiful drive along this rugged coastline.  We made a stop in Cape Sable Island to see The Hawk Beach, the most southerly point of Nova Scotia.  The beach here is a stunning grey/white sand and is home to the tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia, at 101 feet.  The lighthouse is some distance from the beach so we couldn’t get up close but the stop was well worth it with the beautiful views it offers of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Cape Sable Island
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The tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia in the distance

By early afternoon we arrived at our next destination, Lunenburg, a picturesque port town and home to the Bluenose II.  We quickly discovered that Lunenburg is a major tourist destination; the place was swarming with visitors, just like us, gawking at the brilliantly coloured buildings and snapping photos along the way.  We were lucky that the sun decided to make a rare appearance, just as we were exploring the downtown area.

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Colourful shops in downtown Lunenburg
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Bluenose II
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Pretty waterfront
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More colourful buildings

We quickly discovered Ironworks Distillery, a local company that makes spirits inside an former blacksmith’s shop.  We sampled many of their delicious products and learned a little about the process, leaving with several bottles to take home.  I would definitely recommend a stop here if you are in town.

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The old blacksmith’s shop, now Ironworks Distillery
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Beautiful wood fired still

We stayed the night at the Rum Runner Inn, a lovely spot right in downtown Lunenburg, which serves a gluten free fish and chips, so I was in heaven!

The next morning was gloomy and after a quick and delicious breakfast at The Savvy Sailor, we headed out for the small community of Blue Rocks, just a few moments from Lunenburg.

This might be my favourite place we saw along the way.  It had true Maritime charm, even with the light drizzle and moody skies.  This community is famous for the slate rocks that give it its ‘blue’ name.

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The gloomy morning didn’t diminish the beauty of Blue Rocks, NS
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Fishing huts at The Point
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The famous blue rocks

After Blue Rocks, we headed for Halifax, where we visited with friends and did some shopping.  We had a fantastic meal at The Bicycle Thief and did as much sight seeing on the waterfront as the rain would allow (not much, as it turned out).

Red bicycles at The Bicycle Thief
Love this art installation on the Halifax wayerfront
Georges Island views


The next morning we set out for my home county of Cumberland, stopping in Truro to check out Victoria Park.  I had wanted to visit this park for some time, after seeing photos of the waterfalls and the daunting Jacob’s Ladder and it did not disappoint.  I wish we’d had more time to explore more trails but we had to get on the road and the weather was pretty chilly (we’ll have to come back!).

That’s a lot of steps!
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Joe Howe Falls
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Witches Cauldron
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Cool tree roots

The discoveries continued with my parents when we took a drive to the historic mining town of Londonderry.  Once a bustling community of almost 5000 people, it’s now a collection of just a few homes.  The town square is still well maintained though, where a few artifacts of the mine are preserved for visitors to see.  It’s a reminder of what once was, and what is not likely to be again.

Londonderry Memorial Square
Fly Wheel used from 1903-1910
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Boiler used from 1849-1908, and an abandoned bike
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Country bridge

And that pretty much wrapped up our tour of the western half of Nova Scotia.  We look forward to exploring the eastern half and Cape Breton later this year.

I would encourage everyone to be tourists at home, and to explore spaces in your own backyards.  You never know what you might find.

Surprising Finds in the Maritimes: Black Beach, NB

Have you ever stumbled upon something in or around your community that you never knew was there and didn’t expect to find?

I never expected to find a black sand beach in the Maritimes.  I’ve never seen a black sand beach, except in photos.  So, a short time ago when I saw a picture posted on Instagram of Black Beach in Lorneville, just a few kilometers from my home, I knew I had to check it out for myself.

Black sand beaches are rare in this part of the world.  They are most commonly found in areas of volcanic activity, such as Iceland, Hawaii and the South Pacific.

Black Beach is located in the community of Lorneville, NB, about 19 km from Saint John. The colour of the sand is derived from graphite deposits.  The beach is located along the Musquash Estuary, one of the most biologically productive areas in Atlantic Canada. Over 4,000 acres of the estuary is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

Known for its biodiversity, the Musquash Estuary is home to numerous species of birds, fish and terrestrial wildlife.  It is the last fully functioning estuary in the Bay of Fundy.

Two hiking trails are located in the area, maintained by the NCC: Black Beach trail and Five Fathom Hole trail.  Joel and I hiked the 4.2 km loop of Black Beach trail a couple Saturday’s ago.  It’s a lovely hike through the forest with great views of the estuary.  We didn’t get to see a lot of wildlife, but it was quite windy when we were there, so we’d like to come back in the summer when the weather improves and we have more time to spend nature-watching.  I love the thick moss carpet that lines much of the trail. It provides a splash of colour, even in this brown period between winter and spring.

It was cold on the beach so we weren’t able to stay long but this area is so unique and special, for its black sand as well as its ecological importance.  I encourage you to explore the area and discover the beauty you might not have even known was there. Just make sure to leave the area just as you left it.

Here are some photos of our hike:

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Black Beach in Lorneville, NB.
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Looking across Musquash Harbour on a grey day.
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Checking out Black Beach from the top of the hill.
Much of the bottom side of the trail loop has views of the Musquash Estuary, protected by the National Conservancy of Canada.


Tree trunks and moss for miles.  This is my kind of place.


At the end of the trail loop is a great lookout over the estuary.

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Getting a closer look at that surprising black sand.
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Mine are the first footprints of the day at Black Beach.

If you’d like more information about Black Beach and/or the Musquash Estuary, please visit www.natureconversancy.ca.

Do you know of a surprising find in the Maritimes?  I’d love to hear about it?

 

The Magdalen Islands: Charm and Awe, Part 2

Our second day on the Magdalen Islands was all about working off that incredibly decadent seafood risotto and maple syrup souffle we had at La Table des Roy the night before.  And work it off we did.

Our first stop of the day was to explore the beautiful red cliff views at Le Gros Cap (you can never have too many cliff views).

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After that we drove down to the other end of highway 199.  We strolled around the marina among the quaint shops and cafes at the historical site of La Grave.


We then hiked to the top of the hill at Butte Les Desmoiselles for a panaromic view of the area.  It was starting to cloud over at that point.  Then back down the hill for lunch at the quirky and charming Cafe de la Grave.


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We needed a little rest after all this exploring so we made our way back to our room at the Auberge Madeli.  The Auberge Madeli is a very comfortable and modern hotel with a great location, almost a stone’s throw from the CTMA ferry terminal.  It’s located on Cap aux Meules, the most populated island in the archipelago and was a great home base for us on our travels around the islands.

After a little rest, we checked out Parc des Buck but as these are mostly forest trails and didn’t really have the sea views we were craving we quickly jumped in the car and ended south again, this time in search of the very southern tip of the island, Sandy Hook. We parked the car, climbed over the sand dunes and stood in awe of the miles of white sand beach that lay in front of us.  We started out, determined to make it to the end of Sandy Hook, where the islands meet the sea.  We walked for what seemed like forever.  I hate to say that there is such a thing as too much of a beach walk but I think we found it. After walking 6km we finally made it to the end of the sand dunes.  There is a nice view of Entry Island from here, as this is the closest point to it from the archipelago.
  
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After hiking the 6km back to the car, we were hungry and tired and really quite sandy so we booted back to Cap aux Meules and settled on Les Pas Perdus for dinner, which seems like a hot spot for locals and tourists alike.  I was really happy because I got to have a gluten free burger, hard to come by on the islands.  And after almost 20km(!) of walking that day, a burger and fries was well deserved.

That pretty much wrapped up our trip to the Magdalen Islands.  After dinner, it was time to return to the hotel and pack up for an early call at the ferry terminal the next morning.  If we had had more time on the islands, I would have made the short ferry trip over to Entry Island.  I would have loved to hike Big Hill and see Sandy Hook from that perspective.  There are some other things we would have liked to do as well, like the stairs at the Cap aux Meules port.  I don’t mind leaving a few things undone however, I feel it encourages a return trip.  And the Maggies are definitely worth a return trip.

A few parting thoughts on our trip:

  • We didn’t have to pay an entrance fee to any of the parks, beaches or attractions that we visited.  I absolutely love that and think other provinces should take note.  It encourages visitors to explore the islands freely and at their own pace.
  • Speaking a least some french is helpful but not required.  Most Madelinots speak at least a little english and are very friendly and welcoming.  Thankfully my husband’s french is very good, so we got along just fine.
  • The Maggies are the kind of place that encourages you to go further – we were determined to venture to the furthest edges of the archipelago that we could reach.  It’s a wonderful place for those with an adventurous spirit.
  • If you haven’t made a trip to the Magdalen Islands yet, what are you waiting for?  I would encourage anyone from the Maritimes and beyond to visit this paradise-like gem a least once.  You won’t believe the surreal landscape you find yourself in, and you won’t ever want to leave.  Thank you to everyone who made our trip such an memorable experience.
A keepsake of our trip by artist Marie Marto

The Magdalen Islands: Charm and Awe, Part 1

Yes, I’m aware that the Magdalen Islands (also known by its proper french name: Iles de la Madeleine) is not part of the Maritime provinces.  Geographically located in the Maritimes but technically part of Quebec, this little hidden gem of an archipelago is close enough for me.  The powers that be in Quebec seem to think so too, because the islands are classified as part of their Quebec Maritime region.

The Maggies charm and awe from the very first moment you glimpse Entry Island from the CTMA ferry: with those treeless, grassy hills, those towering red cliffs and those tiny, colourful houses dotting the countryside.  It sets the tone for the rest of the islands.

First glimpse of Entry Island. The only island in the archipelago not connected.
Those cliffs and grassy knolls…
Coming into the Cap aux Meules harbour
Our arrival is so well timed at sunset.

With our home base on Cap Aux Meules, we decided to take our first day to drive east on highway 199, which stretches from tip to tip of the archipelago.  It was an incredible drive. Between each towering, green island lay kilometres of sandy dunes, with white sand beaches and crashing waves just beyond.  I wanted to stop the car every other minute to get out and take pictures.  It was a wonder we made it to the end at all.

Lots of long, flat stretches between islands.
Colourful houses.

We drove all the way to the east end of the 199, finding most restaurants closed for the season. However, local artisan Marie Marto was still open and we bought a couple of her pieces to take home.

We also hiked across the (very windy) beach to Boudreau Island (actually more of a peninsula) where we trekked through wildflower meadows and stood cliff side, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in all its ferocity.  The views were certainly worth the struggle crossing the beach against the wind.  A benefit of coming in September is that we had the whole island to ourselves.  I didn’t want to leave that place.

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Entering Boudreau Island.
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Hiking across wildflower meadows.
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Lots of cliffs.
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A WOW moment.
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A place to take a break…and never leave.
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Lots of great views on this hike.
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The wind fought us all the way across this beach but it was worth it.

A great first day was capped off with drinks at local microbrewery A l’abri de la Tempete and a delicious meal at La Table des Roy.  We can’t wait to see what the Maggies have in store for us today.

Tourist At Home: Hopewell Rocks Edition

Sometimes you live in a place your whole life, with natural wonders right under your nose and yet you never visit them.  I lived in Nova Scotia for 26 years and have never been to the Cabot Trail (it’s on my list!).  My husband has lived in New Brunswick his whole life and has never been to Hopewell Rocks.  I hadn’t seen it either.  We decided to go this weekend.

For those who might not know, Hopewell Rocks is an attraction along the Bay of Fundy that perhaps best showcases the magnitude and effects of the world’s highest tides. When the tide is out, visitors are able to walk on the ocean floor among sandstone rock formations, molded by many centuries of the tide’s forces.  When the tide comes in, visitors (watching safely from an observation deck), can watch the waters rise 14 metres, erasing their earlier footsteps.  The entrance fee for the park actually allows visitors to come back the next day to see both low and high tides.

I was a little worried when we arrived at Hopewell Cape and saw how full the parking lot was.  Uh oh, I thought, have we willingly entered a tourist trap?  There certainly were droves of tourists.  Inspection of some of the license plates in the parking lot showed visitors from all over Canada and the U.S.  I needn’t have worried, however, because once you make it down the metal stairwell to the beach (don’t stop to take pictures on the stairs, people!), the space really opens up with over 2km of beach.  I couldn’t believe how far it went.  Every time you rounded the corner into a cove, you found there was another just behind it.  There are plenty of nooks in the rocks to explore and Joel had a fun time playing in the mud barefoot (free mud bath!).

After fully exploring the beach and all the cool rock formations along the way, I have to say that Hopewell Rocks is pretty impressive and definitely worth the trip if you have not been.  It gives you a deeper appreciation for the Bay of Fundy and just how powerful those tides really are.  It was also great to see that the place is so busy and popular with visitors!  I’d love to come back sometime to do the kayaking.

Here are some pictures from our at-home tourist excursion to Hopewell Rocks:

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Pit stop in Alma. Tide’s out! Perfect timing.
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Flowerpot Rocks
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Checking out some of the nooks and crannies carved out by the Bay
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Flowerpot Rocks, the Stairs of Tedium and lots of tourists
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Me under a Flowerpot. The water line is much higher than my head.
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Joel playing in the mud
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Muddy feet!
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A keyhole to the sea
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That is clearly a face
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More rock formations…
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…and another…
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One last look from the observation deck

If you would like more information on Hopewell Rocks, please visit thehopewellrocks.ca.

New Brunswick Is Not A Drive-Through Province

Happy New Brunswick Day!  I love seeing so many photos of people enjoying this beautiful long weekend outdoors.  It gives me a feeling of nostalgia for my childhood, when summers meant nothing but running free, fresh air and the smell of sunscreen.

I’ve heard it said that New Brunswick is primarily used by tourists as a highway to Nova Scotia or PEI but I say that NB is NOT a drive-through province but a destination in its own right.  Here’s some reasons why:

Culturally Unique – We are the only province in Canada with 2 official languages.  And while this sometimes creates friction in our province, it also makes us culturally unique and attractive to visitors.  I think we need to embrace and celebrate our unique culture; it’s one of the things that makes us stand out among Canadian provinces.

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Hiking – NB has some terrific hiking.  From the challenging and breathtaking Fundy Foot Path to Seek the Highest Peak at Mount Carleton and everything in between, we’ve got those nature lovers covered.  For more info on hiking in NB, visit nbhiking.ca.

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Beach Love – From our beaches along the Bay of Fundy to the Mac Daddy of them all, Parlee Beach on the Northumberland Strait, there are plenty of places to get your summer beach day on.

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‘Dem Bay of Fundy Views – From the uber-charming St. Andrews by-the-Sea to Hopewell Rocks, no visit to NB is complete without exploring this stunning shoreline and everything this natural wonder has to offer.

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City Buzz and Country Charm – We’ve got the best of both worlds.  Whether you are looking for a night on the town or a quiet cottage in the woods, we’ve got them both. You can even sleep in a treehouse in Miramichi, which I think looks really fun.

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East Coast Hospitality – Just like Nova Scotia and PEI, we’ve got that east coast hospitality thing down.  We love sharing our beautiful province with visitors and we’re more than willing to help you make the most of it.

I swear, I’m not getting paid to say this stuff.  I’m just passionate about this province and I think it deserves to take its place as a premier tourist destination on the east coast, alongside NS and PEI.  If you would like more information on tourism in New Brunswick, please visit tourismnewbrunswick.ca.

I’ll leave you with a video that was released by the government of NB for New Brunswick Day, entitled, Why Do You Love New Brunswick?

These have been some of the reasons I love NB, what are yours?