Exploring Nova Scotia and Onwards to The Rock


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North America » Canada » Nova Scotia
August 19th 2016
Published: December 30th 2016
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Having recently completed a 1300 + kilometer bicycle voyage from Montreal, Quebec to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, I was feeling satisfied but pretty tired and sore. Bev had made her way from Montreal in her black Chevy Sonic hatchback to meet up with me at the end-point of my cycling trip. Together, we had an ambitious plan to explore more of the Maritime Canadian provinces. It’s been quite the privilege to have had the opportunity to explore a good part of the world, but lately I had been having this nagging feeling in the back of my mind about discovering more of my own country. It seems that lots of people want to head off into parts unknown, far away from wherever they call home, and sometimes don't give their own countries enough credit. In my case, Canada, is absolutely massive and could take several lifetimes to properly explore. Small chunks at a time would be the best way to do so and the eastern provinces beckoned.

We had spent the night camping at Ovens Natural Park, just south of Lunenburg. The wooden campsite was calm and serene. Close by lay the Atlantic Ocean, with the constant soothing crash of waves. That morning after packing up we went for a short hike to see some of the unique geological features and the numerous sea caves. Then we drove up the coast and went back into Lunenburg to see more of the old town. We visited some very old cemeteries and used a swing set nearby. We continued along the beautiful coast and stopped at a memorial for the Swissair Flight 111 crash that happened a few kilometers off this coast. From here I could see Peggy’s Cove, which was our next stop. Although quite the tourist trap, I enjoyed walking along the rocks and eating lunch before joining the masses near the lighthouse. As I was becoming accustomed to, the weather was incredible. We reached Halifax by the late afternoon and stayed at a dorm in St. Mary’s University, very close to the downtown. That night we walked along the wharf and took in some sights and smells of this coastal city. Plenty of people were playing Pokemon Go on their mobiles. We found a dive bar not far away and got tipsy on some pitchers of Keith’s draft while eating chicken wings.

The buffet breakfast provided by the university was awesome and I ate copiously. We checked out and drove to the nearby museum of Pier 21 which was the Halifax equivalent of what Ellis Island was to New York City. Between 1928 and 1971, about a million immigrants reached Canadian soil via this entry point. I had discovered that my Mom came over with her parents at a young age to this very point which made it that much more fascinating. We checked out an incredibly done short film and then went on a tour of one of the main exhibits that shed light on a plethora of information. Following this, we went back to the car and visited a supermarket to stock up on food. Once the car was gassed up, we were on our way towards Cape Breton Island. We listened to some classic rock over the next few hours of driving. I’ve heard many people claim that the Cabot Trail and Cape Breton National Park were some of the most incredible places to see in Canada, and I was beginning to understand why these statements were being made. The road weaved along mountain sides and steep cliffs overlooking the ocean. The Cabot Trail, in fact, is considered one of the greatest drives and yes it was exhilarating so long as you don’t rev your engine too high trying to get up some insanely steep hills. We even saw our first moose in the wild, a lone female who was grazing in a clearing just off of the road. We arrived near Ingonish, and set up camp in a Federal park for the night. We made some pasta and had a camp fire.

The next morning we packed up and got our passes for the park. These would allow us to explore the trails. The weather was perfect and we headed up a trail called Frany. The hike took a few hours but once we arrived at the top we had some awesome views. After eating lunch at the top, we descended and reached Middle Head, a short trail that brought us out on a tiny peninsula with more views. By this time it was already mid afternoon, so we headed out and continued counter clockwise on the Cabot Trail towards Cheticamp on the west side of Cape Breton National Park. The theme of the day was beautiful views and there were plenty more along the drive. We reached another federal park near Cheticamp and set up our camp, and then went into town. We had wanted to stock up on supplies, but the grocery store was closed so we settled on getting some Pizza instead. Since Cheticamp was an Acadian town, we overheard many people, even young ones, speaking uniquely accented French. We saw a beautiful sunset as we waited for our pie.

We were up really early and headed off to check out another trail, called Skyline. Bev was hell bent on seeing another moose in the wild and we heard that on this trail it was often possible to see one. Just a few kilometers into our hike, Bev tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to see a massive male moose about thirty feet away. The moose glanced at us and then went back to eating. His antlers were probably the widest and most impressive I had ever seen. We observed him for a good ten minutes before others arrived. Not wanting to agitate him, we moved on. As we walked we met a couple from Calgary, Brian and Laura, and chatted with them for the rest of the way. We made it back to our campsite for lunch. The sky was gray and we knew rain was coming. After we ate, we packed up and departed towards the town of Sydney. We finished our loop of the Cabot Trail and then carried on. In Sydney we ran errands and restocked on a plethora of things. We ate at Pita Pit for dinner and then drove to the port. We were on our way to Newfoundland and had a reservation on the overnight ferry!

We managed to sleep for a few hours on the floor of one of the passenger decks, being woken up and moving away from a guy with bad sleep apnea, and again in the morning from a misbehaving kid. Looking outside, I could see that we were pulling into the town of Port-aux-Basques! We had reached The Rock. The sky was gray and overcast. Clapboard architecture made up much of the town, strewn along the shoreline. Interestingly, this was exactly how I first pictured Newfoundland. Everyone made their way to the vehicles and we were off. We drove around Port-aux-Basques and then stopped at a Timmies for breakfast. Our journey into the rest of this province would take us along a continuation of the Trans-Canada Highway, which seemed to be single lane in either direction, with lots of potholes. We headed to a peninsula to the west, the tip of which was called Cape St. George. We didn’t really know what we’d find there, but that’s the beauty of the road trip; freedom to go wherever, as long as you have enough funds for gas of course. Once there, we found a small guest center where two volunteers were giving away free homemade bread and biscuits. I was already noticing the variations of accents. In some ways Newfoundland is closer in this regard with Ireland than it is with the rest of Canada. Then we walked along a giant cliff side that kind of reminded me a little of the cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I took a moment to lie down on some comfy Juniper. On our way out, Bev drove into a small divot with the front wheels. The car became stuck and Bev became frustrated. After I pushed the car as she reversed out, we were free and back on the road. We continued for a few hours and reached Blow Me Down Provincial Park. We set up camp and then found a trail to hike. At the top, there were incredible views to be had. Then we went to a cove to view an awesome sunset! That night we got a nice camp fire going and cooked salmon and potatoes. It was one of our best meals yet.

We drove along before reaching Corner Brook the next day. Then we got back onto the Trans-Canada and were northwest bound. Our plan was to head all the way to the east and get to St. John’s before working our way back. We spent most of the day driving along and observing some Newfoundland scenery. We passed Gander, once the home to arguably the busiest airport in the world (refuelling planes crossing the Atlantic), and then began heading southeast to Terra Nova. Terra Nova is the National Park we would be spending the night camping at. I went hunting for firewood in the nearby villages and then we made another awesome dinner over the fire.

We reached the Avalon Peninsula on this day, but instead of heading straight to the capital, we took a detour and went north along one of the teeth making up the landmass. Newfoundland probably has the funniest names for…well anything really, but in particular the town and village names are hilarious. Some noticeable places; Come by Chance, Heart’s Content, Heart’s Desire, Dildo, and Goobies. There would many more we’d notice before leaving the province. We reached St. John’s by the late afternoon and headed to Peter’s house. He lived right smack downtown and was renting out rooms in his place for Air BnB. We settled in, and it was considerably faster then putting up a tent for the night. Then we walked out into the cool night and explored a little bit of St. John’s. We walked along the famous George Street, littered with bars, and chose one. We ate some pub food and watched a live folk band called the Irish Descendants. And we got pretty drunk.

We spent the next day exploring more of St. John’s walking the town and hiking up the iconic Signal Hill. The weather kept on being awesome. We ventured out to see Cape Spear, the most easterly point in all of North America. It also had some of the most violent waves I’ve seen in a while; they came crashing into the shoreline repeatedly. Bev was having some bladder issues at this point and squatted in a covered area to relieve herself, until she saw a drone hovering above her. She made sure to give it the finger. We returned to Pete’s place and cooked up a tasty pasta dish while conversing with him and some of the other guests. The place kind of seemed like a hostel.

The day was cloudy and I felt like maybe our string of good weather was coming to an end. We departed St. John’s and headed south to Witless Bay. There we joined an excursion on the Molly Bawn vessel. We went out to the Island Parks Reserve and witnessed thousands and thousands of birds that were nesting among the rocky cliffs. Among them were countless puffins! The rain held off and once back on land we got in the car and headed towards the Burin Peninsula. This boot shaped piece of land seems to be often overlooked by travelers. The drive down took several hours. We got to Frenchman’s Cove Provincial Park and got a campsite there. The site was one of the best yet, surrounded by woods and along the watery cove. The weather seemed to clear as well. We met a little kid called Robert, who seemed more than keen to help me set up the tent. We were back in camping and fire mode.

We woke up super early in an attempt to catch a ferry to the island of St Pierre. A lot of people don’t realize that there is a piece of France just off the southern part of Newfoundland. Although we agreed that the ferry cost was quite ridiculous, we figured that seeing as we were so close anyway, we’d go and check out for the day. This was one of the few days that they had a ferry there and back on the same day. Upon arriving at the terminal we had to wait for all those who already had confirmations and then try to book our passage. Sadly it did not work out. There was plenty of room to go to St Pierre but no room to return. We would have had to wait two more days for the return journey and we weren’t keen on that plan. Instead we decided we’d drive around the southern part of the Burin Peninsula and explore. Driving counter clockwise we first stopped by some villages. While walking along, we noticed some fishermen who had just returned to port, and had a huge cache of fish. One of the guys invited us to take a closer look and we watched them gut and prepare the fish right on the spot. They had caught mostly cod, which is a big part of the fishing economy. Unfortunately, due to over fishing in the last few decades, cod is now closely controlled to insure that population numbers can be replenished. We bought some cod directly from them for our dinner that night. We continued on and did some photography. At one point, we could see St Pierre in the distance and it looked to be only a few kilometers away. We got back to our campsite by the early afternoon and took a nap in the tent. That night we had the best dinner yet with the freshest and most delicious cod.

I woke up and listened to the rain hitting the tent. For the first time since leaving Montreal, some three weeks ago, I was experiencing showers while camping. I consider this an incredible streak! The bad news was that I noticed the seams at the corners were all leaking. During the initial cycling part of my trip, I was using a one man tent that was quite sturdy against the elements. Once Bev met up with me, we began to use her three person Coleman tent that was about ten years old. After packing up our camp we began the drive out of the Burin peninsula and stopped at a Wal-Mart to pick up a new cheap tent. We spent the rest of the day driving amidst the rain and heavy clouds. We arrived at Dildo Run Provincial park, which lay near the northern town of Twilingate, some 420 kilometers away. The rain stopped enough for us to cook dinner and have a fire.

It rained again during the night, and although we were using a new (but cheap tent), by the morning the seams were leaking through again. This was to be expected of course, since neither this tent nor the previous one had a full rain fly. We found a shelter near our site that had tables beneath it, and prepared breakfast there. We headed to the town of Twilingate next and checked out the Crow Head Lighthouse. The weather continued to be miserable. We were now on our way back to western Newfoundland, backtracking along the Trans-Canada highway. We found another Wal-Mart on the way and exchanged our leaky tent, and got a slightly more expensive one. It still didn’t have a full rain fly, but I decided we could just throw on a tarp to make it a bit more waterproof. The clouds and rain persisted up until we reached the majestic Gros Morne National Park, back on the western coast. This world heritage site was carved by glaciers and comprised mountains and picturesque lakes and fjords. Small little villages could be found along the main roads of this vast park. We stayed in one of the Federal campsites, and it was awesome. The weather seemed to be clearing up for the weekend too.


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