Nova Scotia

Leaving New York always brings with it a restored sense of space, one that is hard to imagine when you’re in the thick of the concrete jungle. Leaving New York for Nova Scotia punches you in the gut with that sense of space, almost choking you with the immensity of your newfound breathing room. Miraculously, Nova Scotia has escaped the fate of so many beautiful places that get overrun with tourists. It remains pristinely intact and scarcely occupied, its natural beauty echoing loudly in the dearth of human visitors. Or so it seemed to Alex – my lovely boyfriend – and I when we spent a week there at the end of July.


Even in the height of Nova Scotia’s tourist season, Alex and I encountered only a handful of people on our various excursions around the south part of the peninsula. Struck by this apparent isolation, we had to wonder: was it us, or was Nova Scotia really this unpopulated? Had we become true New Yorkers, wary of anywhere remotely dissimilar to our burgeoning sidewalks and subway cars? Were we overreacting to what was nothing more than rural normality?

With a little investigating, it seems that Nova Scotia’s relative quiet is, indeed, real, and we weren’t the paranoid New Yorkers I thought we were. While much of Nova Scotia’s economy relies on tourism, only two million tourists visit the providence each year. New York, to put it in perspective, received 48.8 million tourists in 2010 (not that any of us missed that). With a little more time spent in Nova Scotia, this lack of visitors and residents became one of its most alluring qualities. In the week of backpacking, camping, kayaking, canoeing, and cooking over the open flame that was to follow our arrival in Nova Scotia, the remote, sparsely populated and under-traveled peninsula didn’t feel like it was missing a thing, or anybody at all. It was perfect the way it was.

Alex and I started our trip with the long drive from Brooklyn, New York to St. John, New Brunswick, from where we took a ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia on Saturday night. Having driven eleven hours to the sea, to then board a ferry at sunset that would carry us three hours into the night, it seemed like we were embarking into oblivion. Oblivion turned out to be a quaint fishing down called Digby, where we sleepily stumbled into a cheap bunk beds and breakfast and awoke in the morning to find ourselves very far from home. After breakfast and a stroll around town, we stopped at a farmer’s market to pick up a Nova Scotian delicacy: dulse, or a native kind of red seaweed. Dried and salted, dulse is a common Nova Scotian snack.Unfortunately, our dulse collected moisture sitting in our hot car for two days, and by the time we tried it, this Nova Scotian snack was nothing short of inedible. Luckily, later on in our trip we had the good fortune to sample properly preserved dulse, and it tasted a little better, in that dried seaweed sort of way.

 

We drove from Digby – dulse in car – to Kejimkujik National Park, one of two national parks in Nova Scotia, and the only one in the southern part of the peninsula, where Alex and I had decided to travel.Kejimkujik, commonly known as Keji, contains great trails for day-hikes and a few longer loops for overnight camping. Perhaps most famous for its ample canoe routes, Keji holds a large lake and many smaller waterways for canoe trips of every duration. Alex and I made a morning of it and canoed to one of the tiny islands in the middle of Kejimkujik Lake, which was pristinely blue and beautiful. Canoeing against the wind on our way back to shore required some major heaving and hoeing, but we eventually paddled our way to safety and relief. Now, it was time to hike.

 

 

Coated in Deet, we set off for the first backpacking loop of our trip. We completed a little less than half of the loop’s total fifteen miles to arrive at what would be our favorite campsite of the whole trip. Located on the banks of remote lake, Campsite #5 was a welcome end to a hot day of canoeing and hiking. We jumped in the lake, set up our tent – home for the next five of six nights – and settled in. Alex built a fire and I prepared a rather gourmet camping meal – if I may say so myself – of orzo with corn, zucchini, pecorino and thyme, which we topped off by hot chocolate and star gazing over the quiet lake. We slept very well. So well that we got a late start to the next day and hiked the remaining leg of the loop at a speedy, New Yorker’s pace.

 

 

That afternoon we drove an hour to the opposite coast of the peninsula, known as the South Shore, and set up camp at Thomas Radall Park, a park situated right on the beach. We explored white sand and rock beaches, where coves of icy, sapphire-blue water cast a majestic spell over me. Again, the feeling of isolation, the sensation of feeling very far away and utterly alone, was both engulfing and liberating. The battle of cooking quesadillas over an open fire brought me back down to earth, and the s’mores to follow put me in a serious food coma. Again, we slept soundly in our tent.

Although it rained lightly the following morning, we hiked along the shore in Seaside Kejimkujik, a satellite of the inland park, well worth the journey for more majestic seascapes and seal sightings.
The afternoon took us to La Have islands, a tiny archipelago of fishing cottages inhabited by, our guidebook explained, “those who have escaped the rat race.” As if they hadn’t already escaped it by living in Nova Scotia.
 

We spent the night at Rissers Beach Provincial Park, another campground where we could drive right up to our site- an amenity for which we were grateful, as the rain had continued throughout the day. Our Volvo station wagon and one, measly tarp looked pitiable next to the RVs and extensive tarp contraptions fully-covering most other campsites, but we cooked a mean vegetarian chili that any campsite would have envied. And it stopped raining just in time for an after-dinner stroll to the beach, where we stuck our toes in the ice-cold water and stargazed for another peaceful, Nova Scotia night.

The next morning we drove to Lunenburg, a fishing village an hour south of Halifax whose Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Colorful homes and storefronts lie stacked on a hilly downtown, leading to a picturesque waterfront, replete with board-walked piers, fishing boats and seafood restaurants. The harbor, speckled with sailboats and lobster traps, is timeless, showing not a wrinkle of age.

After a trip back in time along the waterfront and a stroll around the town, we were back in the car again and off to Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital. A bit like a Canadian (read: grungier, not- quite American but not-yet European) Boston, Halifax is an old, harbor city of brick buildings, and is home to four universities. Alex and I had our first meal in a restaurant all week – a relative feat for us New Yorkers – at the Henry House, a three-story pub built in 1834, offering regional cuisine and a host of English-style ales brewed in Halifax’s own Granite Brewery. A lobster roll, grilled salmon, and couple beers later, we lazily wandered around the city, and were back in the car in time to make it to our next destination before nightfall.

We headed to our inn for the night: the Lighthouse on Cape d’Or. Once parked in the inn’s lot, we loaded our packs and hiked down a steep, dirt road to the edge of the cliff, the only way to
get to the lighthouse inn, which consists of an operating lighthouse and two, matching white houses – one a four-bedroom guesthouse, the other a charming restaurant and the inn-keeper’s quarters. Sitting on the point of Cape d’Or, the Inn’s views were spectacular. Taking a hot shower and sleeping in a bed felt very luxurious, but nothing could compete with the stunning, dramatic scenery right off the cliff we were perched on. Listening to Frank Sinatra and taking-in the views over a breakfast of French Toast at the inn’s restaurant the following morning was the perfect way to begin the final leg of our journey: a morning of sea-kayaking followed by a three- day, two-night backpacking loop in nearby Cape Chignecto Park.

The Bay of Fundy is home to the largest tidal range on the planet, the water rising and falling
twice a day anywhere from 40-50 feet. Alex and I kayaked with a tour group around the bay, witnessing the extraordinary difference in sea level as we paddled out alongside red, rock cliffs and returned to find beaches where coves where there had only been water.

At about 3 p.m. we embarked on a thirty-one mile loop that would snake us along the coastline
of Cape Chignecto Park. With three days worth of food, cooking supplies, clothes and our tent on our back, as we set off along a black sand beach, I felt like we were forging into the unknown, leaving behind a post-apocalypse society and looking for hopes of survival. Survive we did, enduring taxing up-hill and far distances. The striking views of crystal, blue water meeting rocky, red coastline coated with emerald evergreens eased our burning leg muscles as we pushed our bodies to the limit each day. By night, dinner was the best thing we had ever eaten and our sleeping bags felt like clouds. Difficult as it was, testing our mental and physical strength and endurance over those three days in Cape Chignacto was exhilarating and rewarding.

By the time we left Nova Scotia, we were stronger, happier and ready to do it all over again. We couldn’t wait to tell everyone about our epic adventure, and then plead them to keep it to themselves, in hopes of protecting the best-kept secret that is Nova Scotia.

 

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