Nova Scotia road trip, engage! Ok, welcome to Nova Scotia two years ago. We’re a little bit behind on the blog posts but motivation is high over here and we’re gettin’ er done.  Here’s a (somewhat) lengthy recap of our tour around Nova Scotia.

Our first stop in Nova Scotia was the small town of Pictou.  We wanted to visit The Hector and learn more about the ship that was part of the first significant migration from Scotland to Nova Scotia (that’s Latin for New Scotland).

The Hector’s 1773 voyage took 189 Scottish highlanders who were offered free passage, a farm, and one year of free provisions.  She was already in poor condition at the time of departure and the 11 week journey claimed the lives of 18 passengers.  Smallpox, malnutrition, and dysentery were the causes of death.  It’s inconceivable to think of spending 11 weeks in the hull of the ship under such arduous conditions.  The bunks were cramped and the air thick in the recently reconditioned Hector, so I can’t imagine what it was like on the rolling sea with rotting food, no water, and vomit sloshing around.

When they finally did make it to Canada, the “farms” were just undeveloped land covered in trees, and the one year’s provisions didn’t materialize.  The hardcore people of the Hector pushed on to clear land, plant crops, and build shelters before their first Canadian winter set in.  We left feeling very fortunate about our lives and were reminded yet again about how good we have it.

Day two in Nova Scotia meant that it was time to finally earn our Canadian stripes after being gone for so long. We visited a maple farm, learned about the wood-fired syrup evaporator, and tasted what fresh pure local maple syrup tastes like on wild blueberry pancakes.  Here’s a hint, it’ll blow your mind (or at least your taste buds.)

Sugar Moon Farm runs their 2500 tap maple farm and restaurant about 1km down a dirt road from Earltown, NS and use only the best quality local ingredients. This includes their syrup that is manufactured about 50 meters away from your table. The classic wild blueberry (harvested from the same property) pancakes with a cup of hot coffee were to die for.

After eating delicious pancakes and buying as much maple syrup as we had room for we continued exploring the same country roads and came upon a lavender farm. We stopped at the Seafoam Lavender farm where Ash chose the u-pick option to make herself a little bundle to take with us. Our truck smelled much better afterwards!

Favourite beer in the Maritimes to date: Tatamagouche Brewing Co. Dreadnot.  Since returning to North America we (let’s be serious, Richard) have become somewhat obsessed with delicious craft beer.

If you’re not into camping, you can stay at the Train Station Inn, also located in Tatamagouche.  The train station was restored in 1987, with three bedrooms occupying the old stationmasters residence.  We were just in town for the day, so we decided to enjoy our lunch served in the dining car and get a taste of the experience before meandering down the road.

Jost Vineyards had two things going for it.  One:  Properly sized wine glasses (see the below photo) and a catchy name for their four grape blend, 4 Skins.  We pretended we knew what we were talking about during the wine tasting (oh, those tannins!) and bought a couple of bottles for future private tailgate tastings.

Five Islands Provincial Park was the perfect spot to lay our heads for the night.

One of our goals for the trip across Canada was to spend more time exploring out on the water. I expect that canoes will be our vessels of choice farther inland, but on the Bay of Fundy and Atlantic Ocean it looks like sea kayaks are the preferred tool for the job.

NovaShores Adventures in showed us their favourite spots around Advocate Harbour.

CliffsNotes: Cape d’Or (Cape of Gold) was named by French explorers who saw the shimmering cliffs and believed that the earth was rich in gold. What they actually saw was copper that ended up turning out disappointing yields when they did eventually start mining.

At least the sun is still shimmering off the windy Bay of Fundy!

When Ash wanted to look for a specific wildflower we simply turned off the highway onto a dirt road and cruised over the graded rolling hills with our eyes peeled. The purple fireweed loves growing in areas that need rehabilitation to reestablish vegetation. The area we found it had very obviously been burned recently so it looks like it was doing its job just fine!

Getting lit up in Ovens Natural Park!  The campsite views are hard to beat, but the live music was the most memorable part of our time there.  Don’t miss their music fest, Knotty By Nature.

The Lunenburg waterfront. Give me brightly painted buildings and I’ll take photos of them all day long.  Old Town Lunenburg is an UNESCO world heritage site and is considered to be the best surviving planned British colonial town in North America.

Four years ago we flew to Nova Scotia to photograph a wedding. While in the province we spent two days driving a rental car from Halifax to Digby (where the wedding was) around to Lunenburg and finally back to Halifax. I couldn’t help but notice while editing images that I had taken this exact same shot on the waterfront of Lunenburg four years ago… right after eating at the same restaurant we had also gone to on that earlier trip.  It’s nice that we can revisit a destination and enjoy it just as much as the first time.

This is exactly what was in my mind’s eye when I imagined the east coast of Canada. Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia… with Little Red in the foreground.

The iconic lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, NS. Get there early to avoid the crowds.  Or… get there late and just crop the other tourists out of the frame like we did.

Halifax, NS.  This would have been a perfectly fine visit in itself, but was was fantastic since we had a couple of amazing tour guides.  Ash went to school with Rebecca in Vancouver and we we didn’t hesitate to accept her generous offer for a soft bed, shower, and a tour around town with her husband Connor.

Even the street art in Halifax is coastal themed.

My favourite meal of the day is brunch (but breakfast can be a perfectly good substitute). Sweet and savoury is perfectly blended together in these ricotta pancakes stuffed with bacon/sausages and topped with a fried egg and pure Nova Scotia maple syrup. EDNA Restuarant in Halifax sure knows how to do it right!

After wandering the waterfront for a few hours we caught “Power Hour” at The Split Crow Pub.  That means $2.50 glasses of Canadian and live music featuring plenty of Great Big Sea and Tragically Hip covers. We followed this up with a (slightly intoxicated?) roll down Citadel Hill and pizza dipped in donair sauce to get the full Halifax experience.

Thanks so much Beckie and Connor for having us!  We couldn’t have asked for a better time in Halifax!

But wait, there’s more!  Ashley’s brother Morgan flew in from the west coast with her mom and dad soon to follow.

First stop on this National Lampoon’s Oliver/Giordano Nova Scotia family adventure was the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site.  The Citadel has grown over the years since it was built in the 1700s.  The current version was constructed in 1856 and remains in place as a reminder of Halifax’s past.

We took a self-guided tour of the grounds including a walk through a representation of WWI trenches.

Ashley shows what is most like an incorrect way to put on a gas mask.

Who brought these goofballs?

We had a date with the Cabot Trail so it was time to hit the road.  A quick stop at the rainy Lawerencetown Beach shows that there were at least a few people willing to get out for a surf.

We made an impromptu stop at Hope for Wildlife to meet some of the animals they are currently rehabilitating and learn about how they have rescued and released over 40,000 animals since 1997.

Canoe life off the shores of Guysborough, NS.  The Skipping Stone Cafe rents bikes, kayaks, and canoes so you can choose your own adventure exploring this little town.

Since there were five of us now and couldn’t all fit in the rooftop tent (let’s be serious, nobody really wanted to camp with us), we stepped up our accommodation game on Cape Breton by renting a yurt in Whycocomagh Provincial Park. Room for six people, giant deck with a view, and a BBQ ready for grilling.  Hard to ask for much more than that!  Plus, the canvas sides made it tougher for the mosquitoes to get to Morgan.  I think he appreciated that since he was still covered in bug bites from the first and only night he camped.  Whoops!

A little hike up to Salt Mountain was the perfect introduction to Cape Breton. The Cabot Trail is a rewarding drive, but you really have to get off the beaten path to get a good feel for the area.

We stopped for a quick lunch at the Chowder House in Neil’s Harbour and ended up splitting this giant seafood platter between four of us. Lobster, mussels, crab, scallops… and yes, I have an awesome lobster bib on.

We had heard a lot about Meat Cove.  It’s a little off the Cabot Trail, but would make for a great spot to camp with an epic view of the sunset.  We stopped, scoped out a goat on a cliff, and continued driving.

Classic views of the west coast of Nova Scotia.

Next up was some time for a little bit of whale watching with Captain Mark’s out of Pleasant Bay, NS.  Cape Breton is great from the road, but epic from the water. The towering cliffs, waterfalls, moose, and bears are all much easier to see from this perspective. Oh yeah, also the tuna, seals, porpoises, and whales.

Check out the silhouette of the moose below.  What a beast!

This minke whale stuck close to our zodiac for a few dives before taking a deep breath and heading out to sea. It’s always a thrill to see these huge creatures up close.

Nice moves, Nova Scotia. The Skyline Trail offers another fantastic view of the Cabot Trail (highway on the left) and the wide expanse of ocean on the right.

Continuing our theme of non-camping and non-hotel accommodations we stayed at an oTENTik in Cheticamp.  Not quite camping, and not quite a cabin, it was the perfect compromise between the two.

Our new friends Angelo and Justin at North River Kayak Tours took us out for our favourite kayak experience to date. A warm coffee was placed into my hands upon arrival, when we did hit the water (well caffeinated now) a curious seal soon dropped by to say hello, and before long we spotted a baby bald eagle in a nest about to test out its wings.

Angelo started this business two decades ago, is an award winning musician, and has just finished building a badass treehouse that overlooks the North River. The giant smile that never left his face makes me think that life on Cape Breton is pretty darn good.

For our final evening in Nova Scotia we took a little sunset walk up the Franey Trail in Ingonish.

What’s next? A six hour ferry to Newfoundland and then Gros Morne National Park.  See you on the other side!