Beautiful and Bountiful Prince Edward Island

August 10, 2017

 

After our expeditions to the Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, we camped out at a private campground nearby called Ponderosa Pines. Although not as crowded as the last campground in Coles Island, we still were stacked pretty close together. We again lucked out to have great neighbors who were excited about our journey in the Maritime provinces and offered lots of suggestions for our next stops. Many thanks to John and Nicole! Nicole even texted her father for his suggestions about places not to miss on Nova Scotia, our stop after Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) We added the couple's ideas about the top destinations on the island to our itinerary for the next couple of days. 

 

North Rustico Harbour, Prince Edward Island

Following their advice, early the next morning, we left New Brunswick and crossed the relatively new (1997), eight-mile long Confederation Bridge into the province where Canadian Confederation had its birth. As this is the year that Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday, Prince Edward Island is awash in Confederation memorabilia and provincial pride. We had heard from our friends in Maine that the scenery would be pretty spectacular, with fields of green potato plants alternated with those of bright yellow canola flowers and amber grains, and we were not disappointed. There is an inherent beauty in seeing the land cultivated in a lively patchwork of colors that sway and fold in the breeze and we instantly fell in love with the place. The island’s beauty, in fact, is derived from its bounty. Everywhere we looked, we saw beautifully cultivated fields, harbors and bays dotted with mussel and oyster beds as well as colorful fishing vessels.

 

The beauty and bounty of Prince Edward Island

We lunched at the Brickhouse Kitchen in Charlottetown, where we tasted some local brews and meals made with local ingredients, then headed up to the northern coast to see about getting a campsite in the PEI National Park. We were pretty pessimistic about our chances for getting a good site, given the holiday and crowds we’d already seen, but we took the risk anyway, since that was the coast that Nicole and John had recommended as a place to see. Indeed, the national park had no campsites, but the helpful ranger at the gate suggested a private campground close by that he thought would fit our needs. He was 100% correct! The site was wooded and quiet, and was in a great location for accessing the paved bike trail that runs along the coast. 

 

Gulf Shore Way West Bike Trail, PEI National Park

The next day, the weather was amazing, so we loaded up our bikes and headed to North Rustico to access one of the two coastal trails that bookend Rustico Bay. We decided to go west first, to see the famed dunes of Cavendish, made famous by local author Lucy Maud Montgomery, who penned Anne of Green Gables. The tourist information for the area in fact refers to this part of the coast as the “Green Gables Shore”, and the fame of the book and its author are quite a draw for the region. The trail was well-marked, had ample signage and parking, and was in excellent condition. It wandered past the alternating red-cliff and white-sand beaches, and the views were fantastic!

 

Red cliffs and white sands of PEI's northern coast

We decided that we’d had enough of wind-breaking on wheels for one day, so instead of crossing the bay to complete the other section of the trail, we decided to walk down to the North Rustico Harbour and get some lunch.

The fish shop we found first only sold raw or smoked fish, so we got some smoked mackerel for later and sauntered down to the other end of the harbor for lunch at the highly recommended Blue Mussel Cafe. We could tell it was highly recommended because the waiting line was out the door! Instead of waiting outside, we went to the little bar in the back where we met a very nice couple who were in PEI for several days before their wedding next week. Our conversation was lively and fun, so when they discovered that the table they had been waiting for had room for two more people, the groom came back and asked us to join them. We happily accepted and shared a lovely lunch with Mike and Sherry, and felt honored to have been invited to share in a bit of their pre-nuptial celebrations.

 

The colors of North Rustico Harbour, PEI

We heard that rain was predicted for the next day (Tuesday), so we decided to head over to the Greenwich Dunes before nightfall. The trip out there from Rustico takes a lot longer than a quick glance at a map would suggest. The roads have to bypass several inlets and other bodies of water, so there are very few straight stretches anywhere along the route. Fortunately, we passed through all the beautiful and bountiful farms on the north coast of PEI, and even stopped at a roadside stand to pick up some Irish cobbler potatoes and fresh beans for our supper later. We had missed being able to do that in New Brunswick because our Canadian money had run out, so we made a point to get more cash for these occasions when crossed onto the island the previous day.

 

The dunes are vast and well-protected within the confines of the national park and are accessed via a long trail that includes a floating bridge.

 

Greenwich Dunes and cattails seen from the floating bridge, PEI Natl Park

The site reminded me of the Provincelands Park on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, especially with regard to the desolate trail that leads to them. I had gone ahead of Bruce on the trail and made a wrong turn onto a neighboring trail that looped back around to the dune trail, so I ended up completing two trails that evening. Needless to say, we were pretty tired when we got back to the campsite.  And hungry! So we decided to have a “total PEI” feast of fresh potatoes, beans, local goat cheese and provincial beer. Whether we were exhausted or just hungry, or both, I can say unequivocally that the food was delicious! (No photos here because we were too tired to take anymore.)

Tuesday was our last day on Prince Edward Island. We left our campground late in the morning and headed down to the southeastern tip of the island where we would camp for the night and catch the ferry over to Nova Scotia in the morning. The weather was as bad as predicted, so we took our time and only stopped at one lighthouse on Cape Bear, close to the campground. You can see the dark clouds and evidence of the strong winds in the photo below.

 

Cape Bear Lighthouse, southeastern PEI

Throughout our trip, we marveled at the beauty of this amazing island that surely produces more food than it needs. Bruce and I both struggled to identify just what in particular makes this island so special. Was it just the pastoral views? The use of the land? The way that the island cultivates such an enormous bounty of grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat products, and the world-renowned PEI mussels and oysters? We haven’t been able to put our finger on it, but we are really happy we heeded the advice of our fellow campers, and visited most of Prince Edward Island!

 

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