Every now and again an opportunity comes along that you just can’t pass up. I was offered the sweet gig of hosting three travel writers on a five-day adventure along Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy. The itinerary involved Mi’kmaq legends, dinosaurs and fossils, sea kayaking, a coalmine tour, a visit to a maple sugar camp, tidal bore river rafting, great food and accommodations and even rug hooking!
With an extremely busy household (and two kids who are involved in seemingly every extracurricular activity going) the thought of me being away from home for this five-day trip was a bit daunting for both my wife Sara and I. The logistics were going to be challenging but with the help of my co-worker Jessica I was able to help guide the group and duck out for the occasional evening soccer coaching commitment as needed.
The weather could not have been better as our group loaded into our 4x4 rental vehicles. Although we had planned to stick primarily to the main routes, we were well poised to tackle some back-country terrain if needed. I can’t speak for the others, but I know I felt pretty “hard core” as we pulled out of the Westin Hotel parking lot in Halifax.
Our first stop was the Glooscap Heritage Centre and Mi’kmaw Museum in Truro. Upon arrival we were able to join a tour in progress for an introduction to the Centre. This included a beautiful hand-drum performance by heritage interpreters Garret Gloade and Heather Stevens. We watched an innovative theatre presentation, perused the exhibits and extensive gift store and enjoyed a photo opportunity in the courtyard with the 40ft statue of the giant “Glooscap” himself. Glooscap legends are associated with a variety of sites and landforms around the Bay of Fundy that we encountered throughout our trip.
It was nearing lunch time as we approached the Masstown Market. We climbed to the top of the onsite lighthouse for some impressive views before ordering up a fantastic feed of gluten free fish and chips. We couldn’t help but laugh as we were all stuffed before finishing even half of the generous servings. We waddled back to our vehicles to continue our journey to Parrsboro where we were scheduled to discover dinosaurs at the Fundy Geological Museum and overnight at the Gillespie House Inn. En route one of our writers was intrigued to stop at the beautiful Veteran Memorial Park in Bass River to take some pictures while the rest of us explored the quirky Bass River General Store. I love the random variety of gifts and furnishings found on the second and third floors of this community landmark!
We had a couple of foodies in the group, so a stop at That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm was a must. Oddly enough it was the farm’s nature park and unique array of farm animals that first grabbed our attention. We barely got halfway up the driveway before we were piling out of our vehicles to take pictures of the idyllic country setting of cows in the pasture with the Bay of Fundy backdrop. We met goats, pigs, peacocks, turkeys and a variety of other exotic birds before finally entering the farm’s gift store. We enjoyed some cheese sampling, including the best cheese in Canada at this year’s national competition, before picking up a souvenir wedge for the road.
We didn’t really have time for another stop but I insisted that the group see the Five Islands Lighthouse Park, which (in my opinion) has one of the most gorgeous views in Nova Scotia. I decided to show off some of my local knowledge by naming each of the islands and sharing the legend of how Glooscap created the islands by throwing clods of earth at a pesky giant beaver. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to linger. I had to scoot back to Truro to coach my daughter’s soccer game while Jessica led the group on to Parrsboro to catch a tour of the geological museum before closing. Later that night I checked in with her by text to see what I had missed. Her response: “A visit to the Parrsboro harbor front, Partridge Island beach at low tide, and a fantastic meal at the Black Rock Bistro.”
I caught up with the group the next morning as they were packing up and getting ready to leave Gillespie House Inn. From there we headed to Advocate Harbour to go sea kayaking around the Cape Chignecto Provincial Park with guides Anne and Anthony of NovaShores Adventures. I have had the privilege of kayaking with NovaShores before and was thrilled to return again. The coastline around Cape Chignecto is absolutely extraordinary! In addition to kayaking, we explored the phenomenal beach and rock formations at historic Eatonville harbor while Anne and Anthony prepared an amazing picnic lunch for us.
We took our time soaking up the grandness of our surroundings as we paddled our way back. Because the tide had been continually going out from the time we departed, the beach was about twenty times bigger when we returned back to where we started. This meant a much longer walk pushing the kayaks (on wheels) back to the trailer. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but I must say I was a little out of breath when we returned to our vehicles. I had to race off once more for another soccer commitment in Truro. Sadly I missed a stay at the seaside Driftwood Park Retreat, a lobster-boil catered by the Wild Caraway and a visit to the Cape D’Or Lighthouse. I was excited to rejoin the group the next day in Joggins for a fossil finding adventure!
I arrived at UNESCO World Heritage site Joggins Fossil Cliffs the next morning just in time to join in our group’s tour of the Centre. The cliffs at Joggins are over 300 million years old and are where fossilized remains of the earliest known reptiles on Earth were discovered. The Centre itself was fantastic but we were eager to hit the beach to start our own search for the next great fossil discovery. Following a tasty lunch at the Centre’s café our guide Sarah Hillier escorted us to the beach to point out some of the highlights relating to this gorgeous coastline. It was amazing to see fossilized trees still visible in the cliffs and once left on our own to explore I was thrilled to find a few random fossils myself to show the group.
After basking in the sun for a bit we decided to move on to the Springhill Miners’ Museum – a very fitting destination, as we later learned that it was Miners’ Memorial Day! I can honestly say that this experience far exceeded my expectations. I had no idea that the Springhill mine was one of the deepest coal mines in the world at over a kilometer deep! The underground maze of mine shafts (shown on a map of the site) was absolutely mind-boggling. Upon learning of the many devastating mining disasters experienced there, I was a little reluctant to join our guides as we went underground to experience the mine. The tour was mixed with a fine blend of humor and tragedy. I was grateful for the hard-hat supplied for the tour as I must have bumped my head at least 4 times as we descended into the mine. The description of the working conditions were hard to imagine and made us all appreciate our cushy “above ground” jobs a lot more.
With the afternoon wearing on, we headed to Amherst to check into our accommodations.The ladies in our group occupied the historic Regent B&B downtown while I enjoyed the newly- renovated Comfort Inn just a few minutes away. I stuck around the Regent for a nice glass of Jost wine and a chat with B&B owner Jim Kerr and proceeded to get his recommendations on where to eat in Town. We decided to make a reservation at Duncan’s Pub which happened to be within walking distance. We ended up eating a little later than planned but enjoyed a great meal and had a fun time playing “name that tune” to the Pub’s ambient music.
The next morning was another sunny one! I had a little time before our next planned activity so I decided to visit the Amherst Point Migratory Bird Sanctuary on my own for a quiet morning walk. I couldn’t resist stopping for a photo op of the impressive field of windmills along my way. It was truly spectacular. Mine was the only car in the parking lot as I approached the trailhead at the Bird Sanctuary. I could tell by the assortment of chirping in the air that my walk would not disappoint. In the brief time that I had to stroll along the well groomed trails I saw plenty of birds as one might expect at a bird sanctuary. Though do you think that I could get a decent photo of one? Every time I’d attempt to zoom in for the perfect shot they would fly off. I did however get a picture or two of a garter snake (as harmless as they are, those things still give me the creeps). I would have loved to have stayed and explored longer but I had somewhere else to be. I had an appointment with the greatest hooker in the Maritimes and could not be late.
Yes, it’s hard to resist a good hooker joke, and I am sure Deanne Fitzpatrick has heard a few in her day! Deanne is an incredibly talented rug-hooker and fibre artist. She took time out of her day to give us a tour of her brightly colored studio and to teach us a few tricks of the trade. We each received our own rug-hooking project to work on over a nice cup of tea. I am not typically the most crafty person, but I was surprised at how quickly I caught on. The surroundings were colorful and cheery and Deanne and her staff were so welcoming. I can see why folks would want to spend hours there. It quickly became evident that although I was becoming a wonderful hooker myself, I was not going to finish my project any time soon. So we decided to pack up our kits to finish later on our own and moved on to explore some other shops downtown before continuing to our next destination.
I checked my map carefully as we passed through the scenic Wentworth Valley en route to Sugar Moon Farm Pancake House and Maple Sugar Camp in Earltown. Although Jessica and I were the “guides”, admittedly neither of us were a hundred percent sure of the back-road approach to getting there. With all of the fields and forests along the way I decided to scan for wildlife in hopes that I might find something special to share with our guests. Sure enough, I spotted a dark figure moving along the edge the trees in the distance - a bear! The rest of our crew didn’t know what the heck I was doing pulling off to the side of the road so abruptly. I jumped out of my vehicle and ran back to alert everyone as to why I had stopped. We all grabbed our cameras and enjoyed watching the majestic looking creature from our safe distance.
I was pretty proud of myself as we piled back into our vehicles to continue our journey. Jessica and I even managed to get us all to Sugar Moon Farm on time for our scheduled feast. And what a feast it was! Buttermilk pancakes, biscuits with maple butter, locally produced sausages, fresh fair trade coffee and cider too. As if that wasn’t enough, our tour of the sugar camp included a maple syrup tasting to learn the difference between the four stages of syrup from light to dark. Mmmmm syrup, I loved them all!
By the time we left we were all stuffed. We headed off to Victoria Park in Truro to hike the trails and work off a bit of our lunch. To our surprise, almost immediately out of our vehicles we had our next wildlife sighting. Two deer were standing just ten yards away from us drinking from the park’s meandering brook. I couldn’t get over how close they allowed us to get. After a few photos we proceeded to the two sets of waterfalls within the park. I could tell that our travel writer friends were impressed by the natural beauty. We concluded our walk by spotting a cute little muskrat swimming in the brook. The day had become a regular episode of Wild Kingdom!
Our writers were off to check into the nearby Irwin Lake Chalets to relax a bit before returning to meet Jessica back in town for supper at Bistro 22. I had another evening commitment but rejoined the group the next morning for the trip’s grand finale – tidal bore river rafting on the Shubenacadie River! As it turned out one of our writers was unable to participate due to medical reasons, so I offered to show her the tidal bore phenomenon by land with a visit to the Fundy Tidal Interpretive Centre in South Maitland. The viewing platform overlooking the river was awesome and provided an amazing view of what turned out to be a great tidal bore. The bore is a wave of water that moves upriver twice a day, temporarily reversing the flow as a result of the immense incoming Fundy tide. The bore was particularly impressive that day due to the lunar cycle, which meant that our friends who went rafting had one heck of a time!
After watching the river fill up and transform before our eyes we drove further on to Maitland where I introduced my guest to a couple of artisan studios including Studio Glass (fused glass) and Inklings in Wood (wood turnings). Maitland has a variety of culture and heritage to explore, though it soon became time to head back to see if the rest of our group had survived their wet and wild tidal ride. They were waiting for us as we pulled into the parking lot. Judging by their jostled wet hair and clothing and the huge smiles on their faces I think it’s safe to say that they had a good time. It was a perfect end to the perfect Bay of Fundy adventure…the total tidal package!