Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia Trip
- Submitted by: Fred & Suzi Dow
- Submission Date: 11th Feb 2005
From the beginning, it was our intent to concentrate on touring the countryside and seacoasts. From a touring viewpoint, we avoided large cities. The predominate lodging mode was camping. We stayed in motels only if an overnight stay was required in moving from one preselected destination to another. Our primary destinations were: Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Cape Bretton Island and Digby, Nova Scotia (NS).
Prince Edward Island, PEI June 18
We departed Burke, Virginia about 8:00 A.M., arriving Westborough, Mass. at 3:30 P.M. Here we stayed at the Ramada Inn (508-366-0202) and visited my mother for the evening. Toting along a dog when traveling requires preplanning for most 'innkeepers' do not allow animals. This is where the Mobil Travel Guide came in handy. The Ramada was okay - unremarkable.
Bound for St. John, New Brunswick (NB), we left Westborough at 7:00 A.M. The drive north along the New Hampshire and Main Turnpikes (I95) is pretty and relaxing. Freeport, Maine is an important stop for those who would enjoy shopping at L.L. Bean and the many factory outlet shops. For the latter, there are really some good clothing deals. If any time is going to be spent in Freeport, suggest getting off the Turnpike just before there and driving north on Rt. 1. The number of outlet shops will boggle the mind.
If hunger is beginning to take over driving concentration, look for a restaurant on the right side, sitting on a hill that is painted in blue and white. It will appear about the time the Freeport exit signs are displayed. If you see it too late, no problem. Get off at the next exit and go south on Rt. 1. Yeah, that's right, I forget the restaurant name (though I've eaten there twice). There is good American food and a wonderful view from the porch at this establishment.
Lest I forget, for those interested in expanding their home bar, shopping at the New Hampshire Liquor Store (state run) is also an essential stop. The selections and prices are excellent even for the most demanding connoisseur. The largest stores are accessible right on I95. We never seem to escape from New Hampshire without dropping a buck or two at one of these stores.
The drive from Westborough to St. John is about eight hours (lost an hour here). We stayed at the Courtenay Bay Inn (506-657- 3610). Don't eat at the Inn's restaurant. Like the Ramada Inn in Westborough, the accommodations were just okay.
Once in Nova Scotia, we started exchanging American for Canadian dollars. At the time we were there, the exchange rate was 37 percent (137%) on the American dollar. Go to credit unions and banks for the best rates. But, banks will charge a fee (about $2.00) to cash travelers checks. Be careful in restaurants or other places as the exchange there can be as low as 20 percent. I have to say I was not pleased with making money off the Canadians. On the other hand, taxes there on just about everything were 17 percent. There is a national tax (GST) and a provincial tax (PST). We understood much of the tax was to pay for their national health care system. Is this what we're headed for in the States?
Our goal on this day was to drive from St. John to the Prince Edward Island National Park on PEI. Here we would stay until June 23.
The drive to the Park is a leisurely five hours. To get to PEI (across the Northumberland Strait), we took a car ferry from Cape Tormentine, NB to Borden, PEI. The ferry ride took forty-five minutes. It is free and runs every hour on the half hour. Although we took several ferries on the trip, waiting time for all of them was no more then fifteen to twenty minutes. Waiting time can be considerable during high-season. The trip was timed to take advantage of kids still being in school, both in the US and Nova Scotia. We also hoped to be ahead of the insects.
PEI is where we began to camp out. Based on prior research, we stayed at the Cavendish Campground in the Park. It was right on the ocean and simply beautiful. The Park's facilities were great. Restrooms and hot showers were plentiful and clean. If camping is the lodging mode, we recommend doing it in the National Parks. From our own experiences and discussions with other tourists, these sites in the Maritimes are excellent and consistent throughout PEI and NS. The downside is that reservations are not taken and there can be a wait to get in. That is, get there early in the A.M. and wait at the Park kiosk to register. In our case, there was no waiting at any of the campsites. The cost per night at the Park campsites was about $8 or $9.
After we got to the Park, we spent most of the remaining time of the day setting up the campsite, picking up literature and walking on the beach. Beaches (and soil) are a reddish-brown color. The Island has no rock bed, so all the 'rock' formations are sandstone, some of them spectacular. Because of the lack of a rock bed, some roads can be rough.
In two days, there is no way to do the entire Island. So, we decided to tour the southwestern and western coastal area of the Island on June 21 and the central southern coastal parts on the 22nd.
On June 21, we drove from Cavendish on Rt. 6 and Rt. 2 to Rt. 11. The latter took us along part of the southern coast through the Bedeque and Egmont Bay areas. As throughout our trip, we saw many, many fishing villages. Another common and delightful sight, was viewing the Lupin flower blooming in abundance along the roadsides. These plants are found in northern Maine, NB, PEI and NS. We were there just in time to see them in all their glory.
In a tiny town called Cap-Egmont on Rt. 11, we went to see the Bottle Houses (Les Maisons de Bouteilles). In the 1970s, a retired fisherman cemented over 25,000 bottles of all shapes, sizes and colors into a chapel with altar, a tavern and a sixgabled house. This was a sight to behold, especially from the inside in full sunlight. From Cap-Egmont, we continued north on Rts. 11 and 2 toward an inland town called O'Leary.
Why O'Leary? Well, one major agricultural industry on the Island is potatoes. In O'Leary there is a potato museum. We found this intriguing, so we visited the museum. The presentation is excellent and educational. If learning about potatoes is a turnon, then visit the museum. On the grounds are three additional buildings - an old school house, church and a community center. Inside the community center was a collection of old farming equipment. All of this was interesting and a good diversion from the coast. By the way, before I forget, there are some observations I'd like to pass along about the Island and our trip.
First, all of the PEI is like a golf course. The grass is unbelievably green and immaculately groomed. Lush grass grows right up to the pavement or dirt roadways. One criticism we received about the Island via the Internet before our trip, was that it is over groomed. Still, we looked upon this characteristic as one of the Island's unique features. Another special characteristic of PEI was this guy on the radio who announced the obituaries at least twice a day. His voice was somber and especially suited to this task.
Throughout our trip, it seemed no matter how small the town or village, there was a cemetery, a church and a community center. There may have been no stores in a given village, but these sights were common. Lastly, the mosquitos were everywhere. Whether camping or not, bring along ample insect repellent (industrial strength - smile). We were nursing some pretty good sized welts several days after our return home.
From O'Leary, we drove down Rt. 142 to Rt. 14, which is one of two coastal routes on this part of the Island. (This section, extending along the western coast and about fifty or so miles inland, is known as 'Lady Slipper.' Look at the map and you'll see what I mean.) The drive from West Point at the southern tip up to North Cape was beautiful. Of particular note was a place called 'Elephant Rock.'
Elephant Rock is just north of Norway on Rt. 14 and is accessed by a dirt road. There will be a sign that says 'No Exit.' No matter, drive out on to the cliff or bluff and view wonderful sandstone cliffs, one of which looks like an elephant. Get out of the car, walk around, take pictures and enjoy. Expect high winds and a bit of a chill.
At North Cape, we observed an experimental windmill project and lots of water. We returned to Cavendish via Rts. 12, 2 and 6. One exciting thing to us on the entire trip was getting off on to dirt roads that seemed to lead nowhere. Sometimes we ended up on private property (damned tourists), but more times then not, there was a small fishing village or some other interesting site, e.g., Elephant Rock. I'll talk about other discoveries later.
During the day, the clouds were beginning to gather and as we got closer to our campsite, they got downright threatening. That night it poured and the winds howled. Our tent got buffeted around and bent so it seemed parallel and about three feet off the ground. While inside, we felt as though someone was hitting it with a baseball bat. But, it held and we stayed dry. (Our tent is one of those igloo types, six feet high and sleeps three.) Others though, did some bailing during the night. The next morning we were told gusts hit 60km. We didn't get much sleep that night. Do I love camping? Yeah, sure. (Note from Suzi: this trip was my graduation gift from Fred. I love camping; he is not that enthusiastic. I thought this second night camping would be the last. What a trouper! :-)
The next day we toured the south-central coastline. We went first to Ft. Amherst, just southeast of Charlottetown. This site marks the first French settlement on the Island and the British fort that ousted the French. All that remains of the 200 yearold fort are earthworks. The location overlooks the Hillsborough Bay and is very scenic. This is an ideal place to bring a picnic lunch, absorb the views and let the kids romp. Off to the right of the Fort are woods. Find a trail and stroll through them and back to the parking lot. It's a nice, relaxing walk. Kite flying would be fun here too. Don't forget the insect repellent.
Next, we headed south and west down Rt. 19 to Rice Point and then to DeSable. As expected, the views along the Northumberland Strait were terrific. No disappointments here. Both my wife and I are sociable hikers and we wanted to get at least one hike in during the trip. We read about a circuit hike near our campsite at Cavendish, so around 1:00 PM we headed back.
The trail, named Homestead, is in the Park. It is 5.5 miles long, meanders through woods, along a bay, farmland and the Black River. It is flat and suitable for both walking and biking. We enjoyed the hike and recommend it.
Nova Scotia, NS
Our next stop was Cape Breton Island, NS where we'd spend four days. We packed up the tent and drove to Wood Islands, PEI and caught the car ferry to Caribou, NS. In the morning, the ferry leaves at 9:15 and 10:44. The cost was $27.25 for the car and about $4.00 per person. The distance traveled on the ferry is fourteen miles and takes a little more then an hour.
We had made reservations at a private campground in a town called Cheticamp on Cape Breton Island, at the southwest corner of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The drive north from Caribou to Cheticamp took about four hours. At the campground, we took a drive inside and promptly departed. It had the appearance of a permanent trailer park and did not suit our tastes. We drove into the Park and located a campground called Cheticamp. Again, the Canadian government outdid itself with a splendid campground. We found a site nestled in some trees and close to the facilities. Had it been later in the season, we might not have gotten in so late in the afternoon. This campground, by the way, is not shown on the map provided by the NS tourist bureau. It is at the entrance to the Park.
The next morning, we drove part of the famous Cabot Trail. This drive took us from the campground on Cape Breton Island to Neils Harbor on the northeast side of the Island. One way to describe the Cabot Trail is to compare it with the Big Sur in California. The west side is much like the northern portion of the Big Sur while the east side is similar to the southern end. Whatever, it is a continuous spectacle of natural beauty. Unlike PEI with its sandstone base, Cape Breton sits on bedrock and the mountains, although small, are volcanic rock. The Trail winds up and down and around the mountains in a zigzag, curvy fashion usually overlooking the ocean and tiny fishing villages. Many, many views are breathtaking - mesmerizing. One can easily go crazy with the camera. As we did on PEI, we often wandered off the main road. I'll describe two such memorable jaunts.
The first was to a place called 'Meat Cove.' It is at the very northern tip of Cape Breton Island. The drive on a dirt road for about five miles was harrowing with steep, hairpin curves and no guard rails. And, of course, the drops off the side were breathtaking. Here, I'm not talking about the view. But, having said all that, driving to Meat Cove can be done by car or motor home. Just use common sense and go slow.
Toward the end of the road, a few homes could be seen in a valley and off to the right was the Atlantic. We suddenly came to the end of the road, which really sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean. We parked our 'truck' on a grassy knoll, which we learned later was part of a private campground. After a few minutes of looking in awe at the view and the shear drop to the ocean, a man walked up and asked if he could be of assistance.
This man and his several relatives are Meat Cove. His name is Kenneth McLellan and is of Scottish-Irish descent. His family has owned Meat Cove for seven generations with their primary occupation being, of course, fishing. Because of the recent moratorium on Cod fishing by the Canadian government, Kenneth has had to supplement his other 'fishing', e.g., lobstering, with additional means of income. Of the many acres owned by the family, Kenneth has eight of them. He is developing a part of those acres into a campground. Although primitive, people now go there to camp - tenting and 'trailoring.' He expects to have hot showers installed in about a year.
Kenneth also charters out his fishing boat for deep sea fishing and whale-watching. During hunting season, he guides hunters into the back country to do their thing. He loves the outdoors and looks the part. One way to describe Kenneth is the Marlboro Man without the horse and cigarette.
Kenneth told us that the government has been trying to evict his entire family so that Meat Cove can be incorporated into the Cape Breton Island National Park. Several years ago, he and his relatives beat such an attempt by the government. But, ever since then, the government has been less then cooperative in providing services to them. For example, this week (July 4, 1994), private telephone service will be installed to the community for the first time. And, according to Kenneth, getting maintenance accomplished on the road I described above, is like pulling teeth.
(Note from Suzi: I understand people using Kenneth's campground can arrange for dinner with a family in the Cove.)
We wish we could have spent more time with Kenneth, but we had to move on. When we go back to Nova Scotia, it is a good bet that we'll return to Meat Cove and listen to Kenneth around the 'campfire.' One thing I have left out is Kenneth's description of how Meat Cove got its name. Go there and find out. Kenneth can be contacted as follows:
Meat Cove Camping
Meat Cove, Inverness County
Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia
The second memorable jaunt was to a little fishing village called White Point. It is easily accessible and located on the northeast corner of the Island. This paved side road off Cabot Trail dead ends in the village. As we descended a steep hill into the village, we saw the classic view of a fishing village nestled into an inlet of Aspy Bay. Great for pictures. But, once into the village, a dirt road off to the side that disappeared over the top of a hill, caught Suzi's eye.
We looked at each other and without a word, I drove up this dirt road. At the top, we found the real White Point before us. It stretched out for about three quarters of a mile to a point into Aspy Bay. This jut of land was covered with high, fluffy like green grass with gray rocks protruding up throughout the area. There were no buildings, trees or shrubs. We could have walked, but decided instead to drive. I put the Blaser into four-wheel drive and cautiously crept around this piece of land, got out of the truck, walked around, let the dog run and took pictures. It was not our intent to drive to the point, because, well, I had some doubt about getting back. And, where in the world would we find a tow truck to pull us wayward tourists out?
Anyway, I thought I had seen what looked like a white cross all the way out on the point. I got the binoculars out; it was a cross. In front of it were white stakes making up a rectangle about fifty feet long and thirty feet wide. In front of this marked plot of land was what looked like a placard. Again, we could have walked. But, being a guy, I said what the hell, let's drive it. So, we did, very carefully. When we finally reached the cross, the placard, on a board about a foot off the ground, read: 'The Unknown Sailor.' There was no grave site within the marked off area - just grass and rocks.
To some, this mini-adventure would be nothing. But to us, it was a discovery with some mystery in a place where the wind blew hard across a very lonely, desolate and eerie piece of land. We debated whether we should ask the fisherman what was behind the white cross. But, we were pressed for time, and, besides we said to each other, maybe someone else will pick up the ball where we left off. Oh, a four-wheel drive is mandatory. In a couple of places, the wheels sank down into wet ground three or four inches. And, we had to pass over rocks that a car would have hung up on.
After leaving White Point, we drove down a short way to Neil's Harbor, took in the sights and returned to the Cheticamp Campground. Somewhere along the way, we decided to leave Cheticamp the next day and spend the next two days on the east side of the Island, but still in the Park.
The next morning we broke camp and retraced our route of the previous day over the Cabot Trail, passed Neil's Harbor to Ingonish. Here, there are two Park campgrounds. One is called Ingonish and the other Broadcove. Broadcove is the larger of the two and that's where we pitched camp. Again, a terrific site and highly recommended. We didn't do much this day except hang out and relax. It's good to do nothing occasionally.
The next morning we drove to Louisburg, southeast of Sydney. Here, we visited the Louisburg National Historic Site. Based on over 700 pages of plans and architectural drawings found in France, the Canadian government restored (from the ground up) the 18th-century Fortress of Louisburg. It is a replica of this colonial seaport, but only one-quarter of it has been restored. The theme of the Fortress is to represent a day in the summer of 1744. Townspeople, soldiers and workers (dressed in the appropriate clothes) are bustling about like it really is that day in 1744. The realism is incredible and with little effort, easy for one to become a part of that time in history. As the tour books recommend, plan on spending the day there or at least four hours. Don't worry about getting hungry, because there are period Inns and taverns in which hearty meals are served. One should not leave Nova Scotia without visiting this replica of a historic harbor town.
(Note from Suzi: Be sure to purchase a loaf of Soldiers Bread; it is delicious.)
About replicating the times of 1774, we heard something on the radio about hiring actors who play soldiers at the Fortress. It seems that the 'National Park Czar' for Nova Scotia recently ruled that women could apply for jobs as soldiers. According to the radio, women did not serve in the French army during that time. Needless to say, there is considerable debate going on right now about this policy. I have to wonder how well the movie about General Patton would have been received if Meryl Street had played the General.
We broke camp early in the morning and drove south to Digby, NS, which took about six hours. We had made reservations at a private campground, Fundy Spray Trailer Park (902-245-4884). Although it is private and had lots of 'permanent' trailers, it was clean and friendly. Our objectives for the Digby area were fourfold - drive down Digby Neck; view the Tidal Bore; visit Kejimkujik National Park and do a circuit drive to the east coast, down to the southern tip of NS and north up the west coast back to Digby. We planned on doing this in four days and start the return home on July 1.
Driving down Digby Neck to Brier Island requires taking two car ferries. The ferries are small and although we experienced no appreciable waiting periods, high-season may require some waiting. The cost is $1.00 round trip on each ferry. Similar to Meat Cove, Brier Island is a good place to view the whales from land. Unfortunately, we saw no whales at either location. The drive down Digby Neck was fun and picturesque.
(Note from Suzi: The locals throughout our trip were friendly and more then happy to share their time, knowledge and experience. Before leaving Brier Island, be sure to visit Mrs. Garrow's home. She had the best quilting we had seen on the entire trip for reasonable prices. She is ninety-one - an amazing woman.)
The next day we visited Kejimkujik National Park and drove the circuit mentioned above. It is a beautiful wilderness area in which one can participate in interpretive programs, canoe, hike and camp in remote sections. Unfortunately, the weather was starting to turn bad on us - rain, fog, drizzle - the works. So, we left the Park to drive the 'circuit' in the hopes that the inclement weather was locally limited. Wrong!
Although we hoped with every mile that the skies would clear, the Gods were not smiling on us that day. For a good deal of the drive, we were shrouded in light to heavy fog. So, I cannot say that it was picturesque. I am convinced, though, that it was a good choice - some other time, maybe.
While on the drive, the weather forecast on the radio was calling for rain, showers and fog for the next two days. We decided to pack it in and head home a day early. True, with some research we probably could have done some inside stuff. But, I think we were probably burned out at that point of the trip.
To return to the U.S., we had to start out by taking a car ferry from Digby to St. John, NB. We had made reservations (highly recommended) for July 1 and successfully changed them to June 30. The ferry cost for us was $86.00. The trip takes two and a half to three hours; the ship was very comfortable. I believe there are state rooms, but we found the extra cost for one unnecessary.
If there was a downside to this trip, it was having to take the ferry at 5:00 A.M. There were other times, but not until much later. Since we wanted to make Portsmouth, NH on our first leg home, leaving any later was not practical. We had to be at the ferry by 4:00 A.M. That meant getting up at 2:30 A.M. to break camp. (The drive from the campsite to the ferry took about twenty minutes.) The weatherman was right. It was pouring out. I mean pouring. Taking a campsite down in the rain is one of those events everyone should experience once. Right? God, we were soaked. Sitting in the Blaser for an hour waiting for the ferry in thoroughly soaked blue jeans was not exhilarating.
As I said above, our first stop on the return to Virginia was Portsmouth, NH. Since this trip report is not about Portsmouth, I'll say only that it's a neat town and definitely a place to tour. I will say that the motel we stayed in was excellent and convenient to downtown. The name is Port Motor Inn (800-282- 7678).
Except for the 4th of July holiday traffic, our trip home from Portsmouth was uneventful.
IF WE HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN . . .
Notwithstanding the inclement weather in Digby, it was anticlimactic. To us, Cape Breton was the highlight of the trip. We would do Digby first, PEI and then Cape Breton. On the way back, we'd consider camping at the Fundy National Park, NB. Did we take on too much? Yeah, probably. We missed out on a lot and didn't get to do as much hiking as planned. To do this trip, three weeks is better.
With only two weeks, take the ferry from Portland or Bar Harbor, Maine to Yarmouth, NS. But, leave the dog at home. This is too long a ferry ride for an animal. Take three or four days driving north up the east coast of NS to Cape Breton. Camp in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park on the east side and stay there. Drive the Cabot Trail and tour down to Sydney and Louisburg from there. If touring is not in the cards, but just relaxing and hiking are preferences, then stay on the west side at Cheticamp. Return to the U.S. via New Brunswick.
A WORD ABOUT RESTAURANTS
Breakfasts and lunches were fine, but based on our route and when we were ready to eat, dinners were average or below. Actually, there just weren't that many restaurants. Don't expect much. But, I have to be honest. I do not like seafood. So, perhaps the problem was me and my 'meat and potato' expectations. One restaurant was the exception. It is called Coastal Waters Restaurant and is located just south of Ingonish on the Cabot Trail.
One last thing about restaurants. Two expressions used by the waiters and waitresses in Nova Scotia were really neat - 'Is your tea good yet?' and 'More hot?' The latter, of course, meant freshening our tea or coffee. One name of a restaurant got my attention - 'Lick-A-Chick.'
TOURING INFORMATION AND MISCELLANEOUS
PEI PARKS INFORMATION:
Canadian Parks Service
2 Palmer's Lane
PEI TOURIST INFORMATION:
Nova Scotia INFORMATION:
Department of Tourism and Culture
NS - NB CAR FERRY:
North Sydney, NS
CAR INSURANCE CERTIFICATE:
Have insurance company provide a certificate of insurance. Customs probably will not ask for it, but if there is an accident, the certificate is essential.
ANIMAL HEALTH CERTIFICATE:
Get a certificate from vet. Again, Customs probably will not ask for it. But, if there is a problem with the animal and no certificate, the animal will be placed in quarantine.