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.

IMG_0783
Later, Saint John!
IMG_0790
Views of Partridge Island on the sail out of the harbour
IMG_0791
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
IMG_0794
Checking out the views on the approach to Digby
IMG_0797
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.

IMG_0798
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!

IMG_0818
Checking out the views
IMG_0811
The famous Cape Split rocks
IMG_0848
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!

IMG_0822
The happy couple
IMG_0823
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.

IMG_0856
Cape Sable Island
IMG_0858
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.

IMG_0864
Colourful shops in downtown Lunenburg
IMG_0865
Bluenose II
IMG_0871
Pretty waterfront
IMG_0872
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.

IMG_0874
The old blacksmith’s shop, now Ironworks Distillery
IMG_0879
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.

IMG_0907
The gloomy morning didn’t diminish the beauty of Blue Rocks, NS
IMG_0913
Fishing huts at The Point
IMG_0918
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!
IMG_0928
Joe Howe Falls
IMG_0926
Witches Cauldron
IMG_0933
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
img_2586
Boiler used from 1849-1908, and an abandoned bike
IMG_0946
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.

Advertisements

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:

img_1864
Black Beach in Lorneville, NB.
img_1867
Looking across Musquash Harbour on a grey day.
img_1883
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.

img_1901
Getting a closer look at that surprising black sand.
img_1884
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?

 

A Winter’s Trip to Ministers Island, NB

I don’t know of many islands in the world that you get to by driving over the ocean floor at low tide, but Ministers Island is one of them.  Located in the Bay of Fundy, just off the coast of uber-charming St. Andrews by-the-Sea, a trip to Ministers Island is like stepping back in time.  The island is home to the property of Sir William Van Horne, famous for his role in building the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Van Horne bought part of the island (named Ministers Island because one of the first settlers was Reverand Samuel Andrews) in 1890.  On the property he built a magnificent 50-room summer home named Covenhoven and several other outbuildings, including a windmill, ice house and creamery and a stunning bathhouse built against the cliff-side that offers panoramic views of the Bay of Fundy.

I was really enchanted by our short visit a few weeks ago.  Even though the buildings are closed up for the winter months, you still get a real sense of history as you stroll through the grounds and their beautifully built structures.  You could spend hours here exploring the island and it’s many trails.  Just make sure you make it back over the bar before the tide comes up!

The barn recently sustained significant damage to its silos and requires extensive repairs. For information about how you can help with the restoration efforts, follow their Facebook page Ministers Island or visit their website here.

Here are some pictures I took from our trip to the island.  I would highly recommend planning a trip of your own.  It would be really lovely in the summer!

img_1661-2
Waiting for the tide to reveal our road to Ministers Island.  You can see the barn poking through the trees on the far right.
img_1663-2
Heading across the bar to the island
img_1668-1
The first structure you come to on the island is the house of Reverend Samuel Andrews, built in 1790 and the reason for the island’s name.
img_1669-1
The barn and creamery.  The damage to the silos is clearly visible.
img_1666-2
One of the trails on the island, that leads through a hedge of eastern white cedar and feels like walking through a Robert Frost poem.
img_1673
The windmill and back of the main house, Covenhoven.
img_1677-1
The pretty front door of Covenhoven.  The house was intended to serve as a summer cottage when construction began in 1891 but underwent many renovations and now stands at 50 rooms.
img_1679
Front view of Covenhoven.
img_1678-1
Beauty view from the front porch of the main house.
img_1680-1
Stunning bathhouse, completed in 1912, that inspired many of Van Horne’s paintings.
img_1684-1
Garage built in 1917 for Van Horne’s Model T Ford and other vehicles.  Upstairs is the chauffeur’s apartment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Adventures: Bald Mountain Adventure Trail

The morning broke clear and cool, with rain on the way this afternoon.  So up and out the door we hurried to find some adventure and do some leaf chasing.  Our plan was to drive out to Clarendon and hike the Bald Mountain Adventure Trail.

IMG_1166

It was a beautiful drive, as the fall colours were reaching their peak this weekend.

The hike itself is a short 2.2km loop that ranges from easy to difficult.  The lead-in trail from the parking area and the upper part of the loop is easy to moderate.  The lower trail is difficult, with quite a few steep areas and boulders to climb over.  It’s well worth the effort however, as you come to a huge rock face that is apparantly very popular with local rock climbers.  No one there today though, just us.

Abandoned bird’s nest along the trail
IMG_1168
That’s a big rock

IMG_1178

A little farther up the loop you come to another rock face, this one with a large chunk of rock cut out of it and a nice little seat to have a break and check out the view.  This one is aptly called Nature’s Boardroom.

Joel checking out the view from Nature’s Boardroom

SAMSUNG CSC

From there it’s just a short hike to the summit where you are rewarded with a wonderful view of the surrounding area, made especially beautiful with the colourful fall foliage.  The summit is covered with snowy lichen mixed with raspberry-coloured blueberry plants.

IMG_1184
View from the summit

IMG_1185

IMG_1188
Lichen and blueberry plants

The hike back down and drive home was equally pretty, with several photo op stops along the way.

IMG_1200
A golden wonderland

IMG_1201

SAMSUNG CSC

Just as we were getting back in the city, the rain was starting to fall.  I’m so glad we got up early and took advantage of the nice weather while we had it.  As I’m writing this, we’re getting a thunderstorm and there are hail stones covering my back deck.  That’s the thing about weather in the Maritimes, you never know what you’re going to get, from minute-to-minute.  Happy Saturday!

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).

IMG_0997

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.


IMG_1008

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.
  
IMG_1011

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.

IMG_0965-0
Entering Boudreau Island.
IMG_0966-0
Hiking across wildflower meadows.
IMG_0967-0
Lots of cliffs.
IMG_0979-0
A WOW moment.
IMG_0983
A place to take a break…and never leave.
IMG_0986
Lots of great views on this hike.
IMG_0987-0
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.

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.

L'Acadie

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.

IMG_0528

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.

IMG_0320

‘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.

IMG_0534

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.

IMG_0702
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?