I don’t usually combine my blogging with my photography but I thought a 12 day trip through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia seemed like a good time to put together a bit of a travel piece. So sit back and enjoy my #MerrytimeAdventure – part photography, part travel, part food blog.
Day #1: Moncton, New Brunswick.
We flew into Moncton on the red-eye from Vancouver. With approximately 2.5 hours of sleep combined between the two of us we still managed to explore almost everything Moncton had to offer in four’ish hours. We picked up our rental car and dropped off our bags at the Wild Rose Inn, a cute little B&B that states “it is not appropriate for children.” We were by far the youngest people staying at the Wild Rose but the rooms were cozy, the price was right, and hot breakfast was included.
First up, lunch. I had planned for us to go to the Moncton Market but when we arrived it was deserted. The website and the doors said the market would be open until 4pm but at 1pm it was a ghost town with only one vendor working. So we wandered the streets of downtown Moncton to find lunch. It was the most quiet Canadian downtown we had ever experienced! Where were all the people on a Monday afternoon? After we filled our bellies we drove over to Magnetic Hill. This was…an interesting experience.
Magnetic Hill is one of the main tourist draws in Moncton with Magic Mountain water park and the Magnetic Hill zoo located in the same area. You drive your car to this hill, put it in neutral, and watch it roll up hill. But first – you have to pay $6 per car in order to do this. The tourist website fails to mention this part. So we pay our $6 and pull our car around to a teenager who explains to us what we need to do. We drive up on the right side of the road, pull over to the left side of the road at the white post and put the car in neutral. Then the car started to roll. Slowly at first but then it gathered speed rather quickly. It was pretty freaky to experience but I think the trick to it is that the hill that you “roll up” is already set on a steeper hill so it’s more an illusion of up. The staffer had told us that we could also do it forwards as well, so we turned the car around and “rolled up” forwards as well. This took all of seven minutes. Then we left, six dollars poorer. Also, don’t expect to roll up an actual hill, it’s more like a saucer dip but you do roll, that’s no lie. I’m glad we did it but this experience was the first of many in New Brunswick that left us underwhelmed. I was forewarned by a friend and New Brunswick native that Magnetic Hill tended to draw many tourists despite it’s simplicity. I didn’t know what she meant at the time. I do now.
While in the area, we hit up the wharf village, which the website says boasts a restaurant, beavertails, ice cream shops etc. What we were met with was half a wharf that was closed off to the public (perhaps because it was too early in the season). Sadly, no beavertails were available. As we left we drove past the water park and there were maybe 20 people in the park.
We had a tourist map with us so we hit up Centennial Park which has a cool man-made swimming area for an entrance fee, we also saw a bit of the TreeGo attraction, stopped by the hunting store Cabelas (because it was on the map), and saw the Capitol theatre.
We saw signs advertising Skipper Jack’s as the best fish and chips in the Maritimes, so we decided to see for ourselves. It seemed a pretty bold statement to make but Skipper Jack’s did not disappoint. I didn’t end up eating much fish and chips on the trip but my friend, Katie, had plenty and after it was all said and done, Skipper Jacks did hold the title for the best fish and chips in the Maritimes (at least for NB and NS). I had the fish tacos and they were yum-my.
Day #2: Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick
The Bay of Fundy is one of Canada’s great natural draws so off to Hopewell Rocks we went! On Day 2 we learned that the highways of the Maritimes are unwelcoming to its many critters (#roadkill). We actually saw a dead beaver by the side of the road on the way to Hopewell. Little did we know that this was just a primer for the amount of animal death we would see on the roads of Nova Scotia. The road from Moncton to Hopewell Rocks is a one-lane “highway” the entire way. We drove for approximately an hour through small town after small town. One town in particular, Hillsboro, caught our attention. It seemed to be the cutest of all the towns we drove through that day and it had a bakery named Cinnamon Soul that we agreed, we had to stop at on the way back.
The tides at Hopewell Rocks change drastically throughout the day so you can walk the ocean floor and then come back six hours later and kayak in the same area. The rounded “underbelly” of the rocks (aka flowerpots) is where the high tide reaches slowly eroding away the natural monuments. We spent about an hour and a bit exploring the Hopewell area and then hopped back in the car headed for Cape Enrage.
Be forewarned, you have to pay $6 PER ADULT to “enter” Cape Enrage. After paying $6 to roll our car up and down Magnetic Hill the day before we were starting to see a pattern but $6 per person seemed a big ask, especially for what is there. There was almost no one at the Cape and it was so windy that I thought I was going to blow over a couple of times. There is a lighthouse, a small gift shop, some washrooms, as well as zip lines and rappelling if you want to do that. However, keep in mind that if you are bringing a group to come zip lining you need to add $6 a head on top of the $45 per person zip lining fee. The zip line is pretty short as far as zip lines go. We didn’t see anyone do it while we were there and there was no one rappelling either. When we were leaving there was a group headed for the zip line. If you don’t plan on zip lining or rappelling I would say feel free to leave Cape Enrage off of your list.
From the Cape we headed to the village of Alma for lunch. I had read about Fundy Take-Out as the place to have a lobster roll. It is just before you enter Fundy National Park, and I mean just. We actually overshot the restaurant and had to pull a U-Turn at the park entrance. This was the first lobster roll I had during our trip and it ended up being the best.
On our way back to Moncton we could not wait to get to Cinnamon Soul for some baked goods. We pull up to the bakery and it was closed! A sign on the door indicated that due to a power outage the bakery was closed early (#sadface). We wandered to some of the other little stores in Hillsboro and they were all closed from the power outage as well. Clearly, it was not meant to be.
Day #3: Moncton to New Glasgow & Antigonish, Nova Scotia
This was the day we scheduled as our beach day but the weather didn’t seem to want to cooperate. I figured we might as well go check out the beach anyways and we actually lucked out with really warm weather despite the clouds. We managed to squeeze in about an hour at Melmerby Beach, referred to by the locals as “The Merb.” We chose The Merb because it was touted as a “best kept secret” in Nova Scotia and is supposed to have some of the warmest beach waters in the province. Katie couldn’t wait to dip her feet in the water but warm the water was not. It was freezing actually. I assume when they say “known for its warm waters” they mean in late July and August…not late June.
After we left The Merb we stopped in New Glasgow for lunch at Baked Food Cafe. As Vancouverites we were surprised to find a hippie – gluten free – organic eatery (with free Wifi #score) in this small town. We each had a sandwich and a blueberry lemonade with basil (yum and yum) and then strolled the area until our parking expired. On our walk we found a listing for a four bedroom, recently restored Victorian home with a rec room in the attic for the low low price of $209,000! Coming from the West Coast we were ready to buy two of them since a one bedroom apartment in the suburbs of Vancouver starts at around $400,000. This house was also located on Pleasant Street. What more could one ask for?
Next, we were off to Antigonish to find our bed and breakfast, The Red Roof (aka Rouden Daach). I booked this place specifically because it doubles as an alpaca farm and it did NOT disappoint! It is about 30 minutes from Antigonish with no food options close by but it is well worth the extra jaunt. Josie and Jim greeted us in the driveway with healthy handshakes. We were then met by dog #1 of 3: Charlie. The eco-friendly European designed house is the home you wish you had. It is comfortable with lots of natural light. Josie told us over breakfast (homemade berry crepes – all berries from the garden) that they designed the house with double walls and triple-layered windows to keep the heat in during those harsh Atlantic winters. Alpacas, chickens, donkeys, and dogs all live on the premises so if you love animals this is the place for you. It had been raining all afternoon but we were gifted with a gorgeous sunset assuring us that we had chosen correctly.
Again, sticking with the theme of first food as best, the best seafood chowder I had during our trip was also the first chowder. In the pouring rain we drove to Little Christo’s Pizzeria and ordered a couple of small pizzas. Who would have known that the best chowder (of four) I would encounter would be from a pizza joint in Antigonish.
Day #4: Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
We said goodbye to all the doggies (Charlie, Momo, and Stanley), alpacas, and donkeys and left for Cape Breton. It was a cloud day, again. I had originally planned for us to hike the Skyline Trail that afternoon but because it was raining/cloudy we decided to make a detour to the village of Baddeck before heading up to Pleasant Bay, where we were staying for the next two nights.
Baddeck is called a village for a reason – it is tiny – but it has a certain charm to it. The village invited us to stay awhile and so we did. We had our lunch in Baddeck and a quick wander.
It would be almost another two hour drive from Baddeck to the Cabot Trail Hostel in Pleasant Bay but luckily the clouds started to part so we took our time driving the Cabot Trail.
The Cabot Trail is wonderful. The postcards don’t lie. There was some construction going on while we were there on certain sections but that didn’t spoil the view. We basically pulled off at every viewpoint to soak in Cape Breton in all its magnificence.
Day #5: Canada Day with the Whales and Moose!
We had a full Canada Day planned and given all the roadkill we had encountered the days previous (approximately 25 “items” of roadkill from Moncton to Antigonish) our motto for this day was: More Alive Than Dead! First on the docket was whale watching with Captain Mark’s Whale and Seal Cruise. We took the zodiac out into the open ocean (or soap and lotion for fans of Finding Dory) in search of minke whales. Man does that zodiac move fast! (#somuchfun). We were out on the water for about an hour before we spotted our first whale. During the tour we managed to spot four different minke whales. At one point, two whales surfaced about 20 feet to the left of me and scared the crap out of me.
After the excitement of spotting whales we stopped at one of the only places to eat in Pleasant Bay, the Rusty Anchor. Below is a picture of my 1/2 crab, 1/2 lobster roll lunch. Very simple and delicious. They let the seafood speak for itself in the Maritimes and it speaks eloquently. A perfect pre-hike meal.
After lunch we drove into Cape Breton Highlands National Park headed for the Skyline Trail. On the way to Skyline we drove by a moose hanging out by the side of the road so we were already doing pretty well for #MoreAliveThanDead. Oddly enough, we did the 9 kilometre loop and didn’t see any wildlife on the trail. There isn’t a lot of shade protection on the trail so bring lots of water and sunscreen. The Skyline trail is aptly named because it really does feel like you are walking the line between sky and ocean. It is a pretty busy trail but given that is was Canada Day there weren’t nearly as many people as I would have expected. We spent about an hour at the viewpoint below soaking in the beauty of Cape Breton.
On our way home we were INTENTLY looking for a moose along the Cabot Trail knowing that animals tend to be more active at dusk. Towards the end of the park we started to lose hope when I spotted a male moose trying to duck back into the woods. We pulled over. The moose was hiding about 10 feet back in the woods trying the “maybe if I don’t move they won’t see me” trick, but we were persistent and had no where else to be. We talked to the moose trying to coax it out of the woods to no avail. We sat there for about 10 minutes with no movement from the moose. Then we thought maybe the moose likes to listen to some Adele (mostly because that would work to lure us out of hiding) so we cranked up “Hello” and that moose was no fool. He turned his head towards the car and then this happened:
The moose hung out on the road with us just long enough for us to snap some pics and then vanished into the forest just before a couple of cars were coming in the opposite direction. Little did they know they were 15 seconds too late to see an Adele-loving moose. After we calmed ourselves down we continued back towards Pleasant Bay and a coyote ran in front of our car. We had definitely achieved our goal of #MoreAliveThanDead. It was the perfect way to end our Canada Day and our visit to Cape Breton.
Day #6: Cape Breton to Halifax
We decided to take the long way around Cape Breton to Halifax so that we could see the entire Cabot Trail. It added about an hour onto our overall trip. After going all the way around both of us agreed that the “left” side (Cheticamp side) of the Cabot Trail is a nicer drive. As we passed Ingonish, somehow we ended up in line to get on a ferry. We thought we were still on the Cabot Trail but in hindsight we missed a turn. That missed turn would cost us $7 to ferry like 50 feet across a gap in the road. I kid you not, the ferry ride lasted 30 seconds.
We decided to stop in Truro, self-described as the “hub” of Nova Scotia, to see what it had to offer. Don’t do it people. Just gas up and be on your way. They have some old buildings to look at but this quickly fell to the bottom of the list of the smaller towns that we visited.
We arrived in Halifax around 4:30pm with the rain pelting Mighty Mouse. It was the worst rain we encountered during our trip. We were staying with some of my relatives so my cousins took us to Darrell’s, a local burger joint that they were RAVING about. Their peanut butter burger is one of their marquee menu items but I opted for the mushroom burger and was not disappointed.
Day #7: Halifax, Lunenburg, + Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia
The next morning the rain had subsided and my cousins took us for a stroll through downtown Halifax and along the Harbour. Rib Fest happened to be going on at the same time so we had a quick lunch of ribs along the water. We had seen very few people and cars all week so being in Halifax suddenly seemed like New York City.
After lunch we hopped in the car and drove a little over an hour to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was here that we met Doris at the Lunenburg Information Centre. Who is Doris you ask? The most awesome information person we met on our trip! Most of the information centres were staffed with high school aged youth, who were all fine at their jobs, but Doris has clearly done her job for many many years and loves it. She marked down the hotspots on a map for us, told us the best spots to take pictures, and then told us to visit Blue Rocks and Mahone Bay, which weren’t even on our radar. The best part is when she “drew” the sail boats that we would see at Mahone Bay on our map. It was equally unnecessary and adorable. Doris made our day so if you are going through Lunenburg, I suggest stopping by and saying hello to Doris.
Lunenburg is a quintessential tourist/fishing town known for its beautifully coloured buildings. It is kind of set into a hill so keep that in mind depending on your walking abilities. We got lots of souvenir shopping done here and the prices were far more reasonable than in Cape Breton (Note: moving East of Moncton the prices for souvenirs were increasing). After shopping and consuming an ice cream we drove over to the golf course, which is where Doris told us is the best place to take a picture of the town. If you are looking for a difficult golf course, I think you should Google the Blue Nose golf course. It is HILLY and looks super tough. I just imaged all of my shots rolling 30 feet from where they landed.
Doris marked Blue Rocks so on our map so to Blue Rocks we went. We had no idea what we were looking for. Was it actual blue rocks? Was it a place? One quick lesson we learned throughout our time in the Maritimes is that they don’t believe in a lot of signage so don’t assume that you can follow signs to tourist locations. Signage is sporadic and often in poor locations (or just plain small). For example, one time we saw a small gas station and then a sign 100 meters later that read: “No gas for next 50km.” We would like to suggest that placing the sign BEFORE the last gas station would be more helpful for drivers. Due to the questionable signage, we ended up taking our fair share of wrong turns during our road trip and going out to Blue Rocks was no exception. After figuring out where we should have turned we arrived at a little dead end seaside area in the village (?) of Blue Rocks.
It’s a nice drive to Blue Rocks so if you have the time I would suggest the adventure. After we flipped around it was off to Mahone Bay which was really more of a drive by than a visit. We saw the three churches and the bay and continued onto the highway to get to Peggy’s Cove for dinner. We got lost on the way to Peggy’s Cove because again – signage. After driving 15 minutes down a road with no sign that we were going in the right direction we checked Google Maps. Definitely not the right road. We chastised ourselves for once again assuming that we could follow signs and not rely on technology. Anyways, the sunset at Peggy’s Cove made up for the extra wander.
We snapped a bunch of pictures around the lighthouse and then popped into the Sou’Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop for dinner. Fun fact that we learned from our placemat: the population of Peggy’s Cove is 35.
Day#8: Freeport, Nova Scotia for more Whale Watching
Early the next morning we headed for the Northwestern tip of Nova Scotia for some more whale watching. We desperately wanted to see humpback whales and apparently that is where you go to see them. We drove 3.5 hours from Halifax, through Digby, to the town of Freeport. You need to take a ferry from the mainland over to Tiverton and Freeport, and if you want to get to the very tip of Brier Island you will need an addition ferry. We parked in line for the ferry and the signage read “leaves on the half hour” so we went to get some food. I had the worst lobster roll of my entire trip waiting for the ferry to go over to Tiverton. It was not fresh, chewy, and very disappointing. Also, we saw the ferry dock while we were waiting for our food and cars started to board. We figured we had time because the sign said it would leave at 11:30am. We were wrong. The ferry left while Katie ate her pancakes and I ate that terrible lobster roll. So we figured that the ferry leaves whenever it is full but then coming back it seemed to stick to the schedule so we honestly don’t know what to tell you about taking the ferry in this area except, just like parking in the Maritimes, it seems there are no rules.
It was a ten minute drive after getting off the ferry to the Freeport Whale & Seabird Tours office. The office is located in Lavena’s Catch, recommended in “Where to Eat in Canada.” (there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else to eat around there). After paying for our tour I needed more food to wash down the horrid lobster roll and a chowder sampler seemed ideal for this.
After I finished my chowder sampler (scallop + haddock was my favourite) and Katie had a piece of the peanut butter pie we boarded the Georgie Porgie at 1pm with Amanda (“Mandy”) as our guide. Mandy and her husband are lobster fisher-people and run whale watching tours during the summer. It just so happened to be the first tour they were running this summer. Here is what we looked like when we thought we were going to see humpback whales:
And here is what we looked like after four hours cruising the Bay of Fundy seeing no humpback whales:
Tis the reality of wildlife viewing. We even tried playing Adele to call the whales but either it was not loud enough or only moose are hip to Adele. We did, however, learn a lot about lobsters during our tour:
- it costs half a million dollars for a lobster license in the area (you have 5 years to pay off this license if you were to get a loan from the bank)
- lobsters are mean SOBs who need to have their claws clamped otherwise they will eat each other
- the big lobsters that don’t fit in the trap can often be found clinging to the outside of the trap when they are being pulled up
We did see some puffins and some other people saw a porpoise or two (even though we never saw them). A minke whale make a brief appearance from a distance but we were never able to track it down. The boat took us to see some seals hanging around on the rocks on the way back in. Apparently the zodiac company (located in Tiverton right when you get off the ferry) found some whales about 25 miles further out but the Georgie Porgie would never be able to cover that distance in the time we had.
Digby seemed like an appropriate place to stop for dinner. When in Digby you have to try the scallops so that’s what I did, in burger form. One word: delicious. I definitely recommend stopping by the Shoreline restaurant in Digby. They were short staffed when we were there but the waitresses were working double-speed and were super friendly despite their workload.
Day #9: Halifax to Fredericton, New Brunswick
It was a rare sunny morning for our drive to Fredericton via Joggins Fossil Cliffs, the half-way break for our drive that day. We arrived at the fossil centre and were informed that because of high tide the beach was very narrow and they were not running any tours. This meant that our admission was half-price, $5 instead of the usual $10. We ventured down to the narrow beach and it was WINDY. Also, without a tour guide we didn’t exactly know what we were looking for so we didn’t spend much time on the beach. We looked through the museum for a bit and then hopped back in the car to find lunch and move on to Fredericton.
Day #10-11: Fredericton, New Brunswick
Our road trip was built around a conference that I was attending at the University of New Brunswick, The Hockey Conference. We wandered Fredericton during my downtime but didn’t do too much while we were there. Our accommodations were at the University of New Brunswick dorms. We had a sparse but clean and comfortable two-room suite. Be warned that there is no air conditioning so on the first night it was a bit of a struggle.
The conference organized a game of sledge hockey so here I am trying it out for the first time and having a BLAST!
Day #12: Fredericton to Moncton, New Brunswick
After conferencing for a couple of days it was back to Moncton to bring our trip full circle. The annual Shediac Lobster Festival was going on so naturally that’s where we went. We first arrived at the Lobster Festival around lunch time, it seemed like a good time to be at such an event. Not so. The volunteer informed us that the festival did not start until 2pm. So we drove aimlessly around the Shediac trying to find somewhere for lunch. We ended up at Pointe-du-Chene, a “wharf” area around the Shediac Bay. I put wharf in quotation marks because that’s what they put on our entry ticket, “Thank you for supporting ‘the wharf.'” We had to pay a $2 toll to help with the upkeep of the wharf. Captain Dan’s Seafood Patio Bar was our lunch stop and this is where we had our worst fish and chips encounter (sadly, also my only fish and chips of the trip). It was kind of balanced out by the second best seafood chowder I had eaten all trip but it was an unfortunate way to spend our last day.
After our disappointing lunch we headed back to the Lobster Festival. It cost $8 for adult admission but for some reason when I gave the lady two $5 bills she gave me $5 back. I certainly wasn’t going to question it. She also gave me a ticket, which was taken away by the girl two feet behind her who then stamped my hand. Why did I need a ticket you ask? I have no idea. We spent about 15-20 minutes walking around the Lobster Festival which was more a local carnival than it was a festival. The festival has a lobster eating contest and the world’s longest lobster roll, but if you aren’t there when there is something scheduled it is a carnival with games that cost $3 a try and rides that cost $4.50 a turn (unless you get the $30 unlimited option). It seemed that every teenager from the Shediac was at the festival/carnival.
The best part of the Shediac, for us, was taking photos around the ginormous lobster statue.
So to sum up:
- Cape Breton was the best part of our trip
- We drove approximately 3,500 km over the 12 days
- Don’t rely on signage when travelling through the Maritimes
- Look out for porcupines when driving on the highway
- Make an effort to stay at the Red Roof Bed and Breakfast
- Whales are awesome…when they can be found
- Moose like Adele
Thank you to the Maritimes for all the hospitality!
To see more pictures from our Merry-time Adventure check out my Maritimes Flickr album.