So, we are travelling again! And what better place to start than Nova Scotia! In all honesty the choice of the departure point was a very practical one. When shipping a vehicle to the East Coast of North America there is a choice between Halifax in Nova Scotia Canada and a couple of harbors in the USA. We choose to ship to Canada, mainly for visa reasons. Shipping to US would put us under too much pressure to get to Mexico later this year (before our US visum runs out). So end of April we dropped off our van in the Antwerp harbor and mid may we flew after it to Halifax. And we soon realized that Nova Scotia would pleasantly surprise us.
First thing we noticed when we touched the ground in Halifax was that spring was still struggling to get started. All the trees were still bare and it was cold! After having left a bright green and quite warm Belgium, it felt like we were thrown back not just 5 hours but a whole month into time. And it would not get better by travelling further North.
Ironically for the first days, while waiting to get our van from the harbor, we based ourselves at a University residence that was empty as the University had already closed early May ‘for summer’.
In between the ‘van practicalities’ (customs clearing, organizing the collection in the harbor, shopping for supplies) we did a very quick tour of the town. We are not the biggest city trippers and our budget does not allow for much fine dining (of which Halifax seems to have a lot) so we focused on the historical fort and a short hike along the waterfront. We also passed by the cemetery where many of the victims of the Titanic disaster are buried (including the person on who Leonardo Di Caprio’s personage was based). In fact Halifax was the first port to receive the distress call from the Titanic and to send ships to the rescue on that unfortunate evening in April 1912.
The whole process of collecting the van went smooth and on our third day we picked it up in the harbor. After dropping off the rental car we could start organizing all the luggage that we took on the plane into the van. We tested the set up before we shipped a month ago but it seems there were quite some ‘last minute’ additions and presents so this became an interesting exercise. After that we just needed to get water and propane (for cooking, heating and fridge). The propane thing had cost us quite some hours of research earlier this year but we were happy that the adaptors, that we bought in Europe, worked and that the tanks fitted in the gas compartment of our van. Getting water was quite easy. On our way out of the city our ‘go to-app’: “I-overlander” pointed us to a gas station where we could fill up the fresh water tank. So now we could start looking for a first sleeping place.
For sleeping, our travel budget is based on a mix of both campsites and ‘wild camping’ Since we just fixed all the practicalities we would go for the second option for the first night. The I-overlander app suggested a very nice spot next to the Atlantic Ocean. As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped and so we quickly got out the sleeping bags for some extra warmth.
The next days we spent traveling north to the famous Cabot trail in the Cape Breton National Park. It was a good way to get used to the Canadian roads and the huge ‘logging’ trucks (that go fast!!). On the way we had some nice stops: at the Taylor Head provincial park (with a gorgeous white sand beach) for some hiking and at the Graham Bell museum.
The Cabot Trail is Nova Scotia’s main tourist attraction. It is a coastal road that goes up and down high cliffs with amazing views and has some excellent hiking and wildlife spotting opportunities. On our first hike in the park we immediately got lucky with the latter. Another hiker told us he spotted some whales from the cliffs and so we took a break at the point he indicated and tried to spot signs of whales. There was a stiff breeze so the sea was pretty choppy, which made it hard to spot the spout or see fins or tails popping out of the water. But soon enough we saw a couple of fins in the distance. Our whale spotting skills that we learned from the marine biologists on our Antarctica trip are a bit rusty but soon we started to see Minke whales pop up at regular times. Not bad for a first hike. Leon officially declared the day, “the best day of his life”… So now expectations are sky high for the other hikes.
That night we parked and slept in Pleasant Bay harbor and enjoyed another amazing sunset while the kids were building driftwood rafts on the beach. The next morning when we were about to leave, a car pulled up next to the van and someone came towards us. It was a local lady that Caro had been talking to the day before and she had a present for Leon and Lucie; a bag full of toys, candy, postcards of the region. But the item that was the biggest hit was a drawing of the Minke whale that we saw the previous day. So now they could see what the whale looked like under water. During our first week a couple of people had already come up to us at supermarket or park parking lots. They wanted to check out the van and chat about our plans or offer some small presents. They all were honored we started our trip in their ‘province’…We did not mention the ‘practical story’ behind our plan.
Another thing they all seemed to agree on was that Leon & Lucie were very lucky to get ‘home schooling’. We are not sure the kids agree on that yet. We have started the classes (Jan: language & Caro: math) and have been experimenting with different things & timings but we still need to find some kind of rhythm.
After that nice surprise we were off to hike the most popular trail of the park: the skyline trail with very high wildlife viewing expectations. We had mentioned that there was a chance to see moose at this park so after the previous day’s whale sighting, Leon was very eager to tick another animal of the list. The hike was very nice with spectacular views of the coast but the timing was not perfect for wildlife. The moose probably enjoyed an afternoon rest but Leon did spot a first bald eagle high up in the air. We read that this hike could get very busy but this really still is ‘off season’ so we had the place still very much for ourselves. We really try to cherish this peace and quiet as we know that things will be very different this summer when we get to the west of Canada.
Our last stop in Nova Scotia was near the Bay of Fundy. A bay with the highest tide differences in the world (up to 16m). We arrived in Truro just in time to witness a ‘Tidal Bore’: the high tide moving into a river and reversing the direction of the river. Even though the tide was definitely not the highest it was very interesting to see the river struggling and fighting against the tide causing rapids but inevitably having to give up and let the sea take over.
We will seeing more of the tidal action of the Bay of Fundy in the next province.