The license plates for Nova Scotia read “Canada’s Ocean Playground,” so we decided to test that out by doing some sports on the water. First, we headed north from the campground at the national park on the Chéticamp side of the Cabot Trail all the way around to the northeast “corner” of the trail to Eagle North Kayak near Dingwall. A good portion of the road on the north side of the Cabot Trail is under construction, so the road was down to its dirt foundations and was quite bumpy. We were relieved that we had given ourselves a lot of extra time to get to the venue because the road slowed us down quite a bit and we arrived with enough time to eat breakfast and change into kayaking clothes.
Ready to start paddling
We met our guide Michael and got fitted for our spray skirts and PFDs as the other two couples who had signed up for the half-day guided tour arrived. After we were all set, we put in at South Harbor right across the street from Michael’s family home and immediately were guided to the oyster beds in the cove around the bend. Michael told us that the oysters there are descendants of survivors of a cancer that decimated the oyster population in Canada, and the family who currently raises these cancer-defeating mollusks were responsible for finding these special creatures and ensuring their reproduction by raising them in aquariums with temperature controls to trick the creatures into thinking it is mating season.
Paddling through the marsh
From there, we paddled across the bay and saw some geese, a flock of mergansers, and a bunch of cormorants. The locals, we learned, are not fond of cormorants. More on that later. We continued on our journey toward the sea, battling the tide where it was leaving the salt marsh to get to the sand bar that separates the two bodies of water.
Once everyone disembarked from their kayaks on the bar and dragged them ashore to face the ocean, Michael set up a picnic blanket with homemade oat cakes and hot apple cinnamon tea and told us stories about the history of the area.
Michael told us his family has lived in the area for at least five generations, and he showed us where along the shores each branch of the family resided over the years. He also told us stories of shipwrecks and lost treasure, and some very determined people who had been stranded in a storm and saved themselves by walking all the way to Quebec City in the winter sometime in the nineteenth century. I began to think that it was a good thing the waves were minimal that day, because if they had been bigger, I might have been concerned about our chances to survive the next part of our trip, which was to head out into the ocean and paddle around out there for a while.
Bruce shows off his kayaking prowess
In reality, getting out through the baby waves was quite easy, and we all made it through them without any trouble and resumed kayaking along the shoreline.
Check out the size of that crevasse!
Photo courtesy M. Fitzgerald
The water was clear enough that we saw huge underwater boulders that had broken off of the cliffs above our heads in times gone past, with gardens of sea grass and other vegetable life clinging to them. We also saw dozens upon dozens of lobster traps busted up along the shore, which the tempest of the sea had claimed over the years. I reminded myself that lobster traps were made of thin wood and not hard plastic like my seafaring vessel, so I was perfectly safe. Yep. No problems here.... Just keep paddling....
Lobster trap graveyard
The trip was tons of fun, especially because I heeded the voice of my inner Jedi!
Our next stop was White Point, a place that a few of the people on the kayaking trip had mentioned as a great place to hike. We drove up there and walked along a rocky trail to admire the amazing views of the northeast corner of Cape Breton Island. It was just as beautiful as what we had seen at Skyline Trail, only with less jagged edges. It still had all the precipitous drops as Skyline, but not as high, and rounded edges covered with soft grasses and mosses. It made for a delightful end to an already exciting and wonderful day.
Colorful boats in White Point Harbor, and views from the trail
The next day (Saturday), we travelled back around the other side of the Cabot Trail again but this time taking the southerly route, from the national park near Chéticamp through Margaree and over to the eastern side near Baddeck. It was raining and we really needed to do some laundry, so we forewent any other activities and set up camp at a private campground in Englishtown, as it was close to where we would be kayaking on Monday.
On Sunday morning, we drove out to Uisge Bán (ish-ka-ban) Falls Park, a nearby provincial park in Baddeck Forks with a trail that goes through a variety of forests, past moss-covered boulders and around trees that expose their twisting and intertwined root systems which anchor them to the ground in a sinister display of arboreal fortitude. The peaceful trail provided something for almost all our senses: the strong scent of pine, the sounds of chirping birds and of gurgling water as it bubbled over rocks, the softness of the moss on tree stumps and rocks, and the interplay of light and shadow through the trees and along the trail.
Uisge Ban Falls Park was a treat for the senses
The falls themselves cascaded straight down the cliff face and then zigzagged their way through natural terracing created by years of rockfalls and erosion. It was a beautiful location and one well worth the drive on a bumpy dirt road to the park entrance.
Here's a video that captures the sound:
From the waterfalls, we drove down to the town of Baddeck where we parked near the harbor and had lunch and a nap before our next nautical journey, a tour of the Bras D’Or Lakes on a sailboat!
Another happy couple sat nearby while we snoozed in our van in Baddeck.
The idea for sailing intrigued us because it seemed like a fun way to see the area, and also because of the name of the vessel: The Amoeba. Even if the name didn’t give us a clue ahead of time as to the sense of humor we would encounter from the captains and mates on board, it quickly became apparent once we were on board, and the trip was quite entertaining, if not educational.
The sailboat and her captain
We learned some interesting factoids on the trip about Alexander Graham Bell, who had a home in Baddeck and performed many successful experiments of his hydrofoil boat on the same waters on which we sailed. He also is credited with starting the first Montessori school in North America.
Alexander Graham Bell's home and the first Montessori school
The crew, like our guide Michael from the previous kayaking trip, were not fans of the cormorants either, and showed us how the fecal acid from the resident population of cormorants had reduced a little island in the lake to half its original size. Interesting birds…but not great if you’re a rock.
Our last experience on Cape Breton waters occurred on Monday, when we participated in another half-day kayaking trip, this time on the North River which is farther south than the previous location on the east coast of the island, and near several bays. The cosmopolitan group on the tour hailed from Cape Breton, Halifax, Italy, England, and the USA (that was us). Additionally, almost everyone had lived in a country not of their origin, so they were an interesting group and we had lots of fun conversations.
Some members of our group with North River kayaking
The scenery in this part of Cape Breton was much more subdued than what we had seen on previous days on the island, with the one major exception of catching a glimpse of a juvenile bald eagle outside its nest high in a tree. There were no jutting rocks or sheer cliffs, or crashing waves against granite boulders on this trip. What this place offered was green hills with sloping sides that gradually entered the water and rocky beaches scattered along the shore. At the halfway point again, the guide had us take a break on one such beach to snack on homemade banana bread and rhubarb sauce, accompanied by chocolate chai. I can really get into the way the Canadians handle these half-time meal breaks with fresh baked goods and hot tea. In the US, we only ever got gorp and cold water on our kayaking tours. Time to take hint from our friends to the north!
The most exciting thing about this kayak adventure was battling the wind and waves on the way back to the dock where we started. To give an idea of what it was like, I thought I’d take a video of it an then realized that I still needed both of my hands to paddle in order to (a) not get blown backwards; (b) not get completely separated from the group; (c) not get blown sideways into some rocks; or (d) all of the above. So, I started the video and then put it in the pocket of my PFD! It’s actually not too bad, if you think of it like looking through a screen. Keep that in mind while you watch it and then hopefully you’ll be able to get an idea of what it was like to paddle against the wind and chop.
This trip marked our last adventure on Cape Breton Island, a beautiful and awe-inspiring place. From there, we drove the rest of the Cabot Trail south from North River to just northeast of Nyanza, at which point we rejoined the Trans-Canada Highway and turned west towards Halifax. We’ve heard it is a nice city with many similarities to Boston. It will be exciting to see if that comparison holds true!