Cape Breton Island, on the eastern end of Nova Scotia in Canada, is as far removed from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan — where we were living at the time of our east coast adventure — as any place in North America. Connected by a coastline and linked together by our travels, the urban chaos of Manhattan met the rustic charm of Cape Breton Island. Our journey from New York to Nova Scotia (and back) was punctuated with rustic fishing towns in New England and the Maritime provinces serving a unique taste of the ocean in each hamlet where we stopped.
Our journey began with the weaving of our blue-striped Mini Cooper through Boston’s notorious traffic — trying to escape for an extended long-weekend getaway — and reached a halfway point at Cape Breton Island, after a few days of nearly all-day driving as we snaked the Mini along rugged seaside highways. On our drive, we witnessed first hand the power of the Atlantic Ocean which reached an apex when we toured the world-famous Cabot Trail. Throughout the journey we discovered little charms, such antique stores and lobster pounds in Maine, the “flowerpots” in the tides of the Bay of Fundy, lighthouses on the shores of Nova Scotia, Celtic and Gaelic hamlets in Cape Breton Island, traditional salmon smokers in New Brunswick, and even a baby mouse by a doughnut shop parking lot in Baddeck. Such were the little charms of the trip which made our east coast adventure a memorable and packed 5-day excursion.
Day 0: Boston, MA
Although we were living in Manhattan at the time, our trip began in Boston as we tried to optimise our travels by escaping the madness of Manhattan’s traffic. I took my Mini Cooper from Long Island, where it was in kept with my sister, and drove it to Boston, bypassing New York to save on time and traffic. The passage from Long Island to Boston was one where I had use the services of three ferries:
1. South Ferry: North Haven – Shelter Island
2. North Ferry: Shelter Island – Greenport
3. Cross Sound Ferry: Orient Point – New London, CT
In Beantown we were fortunate to have been hosted by one of Kai’s old classmate. I arrived in time to have dinner with Kai’s friend. Kai, however, came later in the night, after finishing work, by way of the infamous Chinatown bus that ferries between the Chinatowns of New York and Boston.
Day 1: Wiscasset, ME; Acadia National Park, ME; Saint John, NB
Our first stop after leaving Boston was Wiscasset, Maine where we happened upon a copy of “Gulliver’s Travel” (printed in 1905), that we bought for a mere $5. The town was also the first of many pit stops for us where we helped ourselves to a great seafood feast, where lobsters featured prominently on our plates. Wiscasset was followed by a stopover at Acadia National Park where we ascended the peak of Cadillac Mountain and saw the full moon shimmering in the distant ocean. Before ending day 1 we arrived in Saint John and found an inexpensive motel to rest for the night.
Day 2: Alma, NB; Hopewell Rocks (Bay of Fundy), NB; Shediac, NB; Baddeck, NS
We started the second day with a hearty breakfast and drove to Alma, a fishing town on the edge of Fundy National Park. There we saw perfectly good boats lying on a bed of sand on the shore with no water in sight, a product of the tidal range that varies from 15 to 17 metres (the world’s highest). And it was those waves that were responsible for the “flower pots” that we saw at Hopewell. Then we came upon a rustic Acadian village — with an intriguing Anglo and Froncophone mix — by the name of Shediac, which also goes by the name of the “Lobster Capital of the World”. Finally, we called it a night in Baddeck, but not before coming across a tiny and unbelievably cute mouse in the parking lot of the local Tim Horton’s which found refuge near our parked car.
Day 3: Cabot Trail, NS; Pleasant Bay, NS; Chéticamp, NS; Mabou, NS
On Day 3 we did a tour (counterclockwise) of the Cabot Trail, which included a stop at Pleasant Bay for an intimate whale watching experience — Kai and I were the sole passengers on the Zodiac as the captain navigated us to within an arm’s length (literally) of scores of pilot whales. Before finishing our tour of the Cabot Trail we dined in Chéticamp, a primarily French-speaking fishing town near the eastern terminus of the at the Cabot Trail. For the night, we decided to rest at Mabou, Nova Scotia, home to legendary musical Rankin family, and where we were also able to sneak in a visit to the Red Shoe Pub.
Day 4: Peggy’s Cove, NS; Halifax, NS; Sackville, NB
When we left Mabou in the morning of Day 4 I had doubts about visiting Peggy’s Cove given its distance from Mabou and the fact that a trip to Peggy’s Cove would require us to backtrack to return on the road towards New York. But the thought of missing a site that Kai spoke so fondly of did not settle well with me and so I decided to rev the car to get to the renowned fishing enclave of Peggy’s Cove, with its iconic lighthouse. And I was not disappointed with the effort of driving 6 hours (without stop) as the natural beauty of the coastline more than atoned for the ride. Indeed, for me the highlight of the road trip was Peggy’s Cove where the power of the ocean crashes onto the rocky shore, and in its wake leaves tidal pools teeming with aquatic life for the curious to explore. But be careful as the waves end up swallowing (and almost never returning) a handful of visitors every year into the frigid waters of the Atlantic! After Peggy’s Cove we went into Halifax to take in a view from the Citadel and indulge in live Celtic music. We ended that night in Sackville, crossing back into New Brunswick as we tried to get an edge for the last full day of our trip.
Day 5: Saint Stephen, NB; Bar Harbour, ME; Boston, MA
We started the last day by making a beeline to the border town of Saint Stephen. But on our way we had chance encounter with a salmon smoker — selling Atlantic salmon with the gentle sweetness of Canadian maple syrup and the smoked taste of alder — loved by locals yet totally unknown to the majority of travellers. And the gastronomic bliss would grow throughout the day as we passed back into the United States and made a dinner stop in Bar Harbour, Maine. But the true gem was somewhere to be found between Bar Harbour and Boston, when we stopped on the side of the interstate highway, attracted by the wood-fire smoke and steam emanating from the plethora of lobster pounds that dot the highway. It was at one of these pounds that Kai had his favourite meal of the trip, a generous selection of clams and lobster tied in a net and dunked into a boiling pot of brine flavoured with the sea. The taste of the crustaceans still sings a song in our mouths, with our only regret that we stuffed ourselves earlier in Bar Harbour. Upon arriving in Boston Kai would take the first bus back into Manhattan in order to get into work the day after, while I stayed in Boston that night to rest up before driving back to Manhattan after having covered over a thousand kilometres in less than a week.
FAREWELL TO NOVA SCOTIA
Cotton candy clouds,
Rocks and waves in a perpetual battle,
Pilot whales swimming around us…
In all, we travelled 5+ days from Manhattan (via Boston) to Cape Breton Island and back, transported from the concrete jungle of New York City to the rugged seaside highways of Nova Scotia and back. The transition from big city to small towns to fishing villages to nature was at once seamless, yet marked by each stop we made in planned and unplanned places. Our Mini Cooper logged over 1,000 km in our journey, but the memories and the beauty of the scenery, food and cultures we encountered were immeasurable. We salute the good folks of the US northeast and the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for an entertaining road trip in which we were treated with the charm of east coast.