“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
A mind that is stretched, that is taken to new places and driven to experience something new. I believe this to be my definition of travel.
I have always had a great fascination with new places, different worlds comprised of new perspectives that I wanted to see for myself. Sometimes I would sit, with my eyes closed, and bring myself to far off places.
I did adventure a lot as a child, but it never felt like it was enough. I had the opportunity to live in Australia for 10 months as a teenager, and I visited family members in Norway at 21. This only increased my desire to experience new cultures, and escape my own.
I often wonder if my want to travel is merely a curiosity, or the desire to runaway from my present reality, never to return. Regardless, I have felt an urgency to discover the east coast of Canada. An urgency that developed after reading the wonder filled pages of Farley Mowat’s books.
This man single handedly changed something in me, instilling a desire to witness this land for myself. The rocky coastline, fierce waters, fishing villages, rugged wilderness, I wanted to be apart of it all.
It took many years for me to fulfill my need to breathe the salty air that Farley called home. But when the opportunity finally came, I was more then ready for the adventure.
Our trip took us 5600km over 10 days, and of course, my husband Ryan and I did not plan anything, and only got approval from work 1 week before our departure.
Day 1 – Maryhill, ON to Grand Falls, NB (1,246 km)
It is truly astonishing to me that I can drive through 3 provinces in one day. Leaving our home in Guelph September 23rd 2016, we made our way towards the coast! Our aim was to camp for the majority of the trip because we had little funds, and we wanted to have as much flexibility as possible.
The “plan” was to spend our first night in New Brunswick, near the border of Quebec. And, as I began searching for campgrounds in the area, I came to realize one crucial bit of information that I did not think about; the camping season in the east coast is significantly shorter than in Ontario. As a result, 80% of campgrounds were closed for the season, ooops!
I was able to find a place in Grand Falls, NB that seemed to be open, so we took our chances. Also, being a photography fanatic, I get overly excited about any sort of photo opportunities and jumped at the chance to see some “Grand” falls!
As the sun began to set, we finally pulled into Grand Falls around 9 pm. After meandering through town, we found the “campground”, which was more like a small piece of grassy parkland located in town. It was soon made clear that this campground was also closed for the season, and we now knew why. Fall temperatures in the east coast are significantly colder than in southern Ontario.
Thinking over our options, a car pulled into the lot, rolled down its window, and a kind man began to chat with us. He informed us that his close friend owns this campground, and in the off-season people are welcome to stay the night for free. What a score! We proceeded to set up camp on one of the sites, and quickly went to sleep. Thank you, Ronny!
Day Two – Grand Falls, NB to New River Beach, NB (524 km)
Once the sun rose, we realized where we had been sleeping. The campground was situated right beside the gorge, and we woke up to a breathtaking view!
“Are you kidding me? What a treat!” –Ryan Vandenberg
I convinced Ryan to explore some of the trails along the gorge with me before we left. What a stunning place! This quaint little town is situated on the mighty St. John River, which runs along the Canadian and American border.
After our quick morning adventure, and many pictures, we packed up camp and headed to our next destination, Mount Carleton Provincial Park.
I chose this park for many reasons. Firstly, it has the tallest peak in the Maritimes! Secondly, it was a dark sky preserve, which would allow me to practice my long exposure photography. Thirdly, we wanted to really experience New Brunswick and all it has to offer. I feel as if most people go to the usual tourist traps when travelling to the east coast and pass right though the province without a second glance. But what if New Brunswick had more to offer? Well, it does!
Our journey continued northeast toward Mount Carleton, which is in the interior of the province. The landscape began to change the closer we got to the park. Who knew there were mountains in New Brunswick?!
When we finally made it to the park entrance, I began to bubble over in excitement. This was our first real adventure of the trip! Once our day pass was obtained, we headed straight for our destination, Mount Carleton.
I will note that this park has many mountains to hike, with some other exceptional views. They also have canoeing, camping and biking. It would definitely be worth a few more days in the park, next time….
We hiked, up and up. Through woods thick with alders, along cascading streams, lofty birch forests and then finally the rugged alpine vegetation to the top!
At this point all the trees had been left behind, and there were only jagged rocks and stunted shrubbery scattered everywhere. Once we reached the summit, the wind picked up and it started to snow.
Thankfully, there was a small hut located on the top of Mount Carleton, which was historically used by the fire rangers who would routinely lookout for fires in the park. Now, it is used as a place of refuge up on the mountain, and engraved on the walls are names from travellers past and present.
We quickly took refuge in the cabin on the mountain. What an amazing sensation, walking into a little shelter in such a wild and barren place. Not only did it have an interesting historical significance, it was really nice to get out of the wind and still enjoy being up on the mountain.
After a few grateful moments inside the hut, we happened to meet a group of friendly locals. The conversation quickly turned to where we were going next, and our answer was an island off the coast of New Brunswick called Grand Manan.
It was at this point that they got very excited, and continued to tell us about the island and how magical it was. From the intricate bays to the local fishing villages that are still in operation, they all agreed we were going to enjoy ourselves immensely.
After our final goodbye’s, the path led us back down the mountain toward our car. I will note the trail down is a lot more accessible and shorter, for those looking to reach the top by more efficient means.
Once back at our car, I was happy to see that it was still early in the day, and we were able to explore more of the park! We decided to hike a small trail called Pine Point, which contained the only red pine forest in the park.
Travelling along the road through the park was so beautiful. The surrounding forest was bursting with green foliage that hugged the road so tightly, I felt as if I would be engulfed altogether. Luckily, there was very little traffic and as the road wound its way along, the park seemed to only contain the two of us.
Pine Point offers a short trail that begins in an airy Red Pine forest. This pine forest was the result of a wild fire that took place many years ago. The Red Pine took advantage of the opportunity, and they now flourish on half of the peninsula.
We hiked along the trail, which boasted beautiful views of the mountain ranges surrounding Bathurst Lake.
After this small hike, I really wanted to see more, and decided to head for a waterfall on the other side of the park. These tiny falls are located on the Williams Falls Trail, which is only a 300m hike. The falls are lovely and very accessible.
Click, click… click…. click, click.
Thankfully Ryan was distracted and exploring the rapids while I practiced my long exposure photography skills.
Back at the “Yota” (my red Highlander), the time now read 4 pm, and we were debating whether to stay the night, or head straight for the coast. Feeling the rush of our adventure, and preferring an easier drive in the morning, we decided to go for the coast!
Leaving the park, our journey continued west, back out of the New Brunswick interior, and then south to the coast.
As the sun began to set, the road stretched on through the night. The drive was about 5 hours, and it was a hairy one.
There are a few things that the average traveller must know about driving through New Brunswick at night:
- Moose: we did not see any, but they exist!
- Gas stations: they can be few and far between
- Road conditions: not every road in New Brunswick is a 400 series highway. In fact, roads I assumed were highways were merely back roads with poor visibility.
Needless to say by the time we reached the coast, we were glad to see illuminated roads with two smooth paved lanes and a fence!
Turning the last corner our destination finally came into view, New River Beach campground, and the time read 10:30 pm. After pulling into a site, the tent went up and we slept, and slept and slept. The night was even colder than the one before, and we had underestimated the weather, again.
In the morning and out of my warm sleeping bag, I ran to the car and proceeded to put on every layer of clothing I had brought on the trip.
To us, this trip was a substitute for a honeymoon, as we did not have a traditional honeymoon after our wedding. While packing my bags, I day dreamed of cool salty summer breezes blowing my skirt in the wind as I stood on the coast. This was a fool hearty idea. One check of the weather would have set me straight, but no, I decided to be oblivious.
Day Three – New River Beach, NB to Grand Manan, NB (47.4 km)
After packing up the tent early in the morning, the plan was to head back southwest towards Blacks Harbor, where a ferry would take us to Grand Manan. Having no idea how to schedule a ticket, or even when the ferries left, we decided to just wing it.
Around 10 am, we arrived at the ferry terminal, and were instructed to purchase a ticket online for the 1 pm departure time. Being impatient, I did not want to sit in a line for 3 hours, so we decided to grab a coffee and then look around Blacks Harbor before the ferry departure. This turned out to be a great adventure!
Firstly we stopped at the only gas station/coffee shop in town, and this would be a memorable moment, our first experience with Robin’s coffee. Robin’s is the BEST coffee I have ever had. I cannot tell you how or why the phenomenon exists, but it is the best. It is not the highest quality or the richest flavor, it just was superior and I cannot tell you why. Needless to say we were hooked.
After grabbing breakfast, we headed back towards the terminal. Before descending the hill to the harbor, I had previously noticed a parking lot and a trailhead that I wanted to explore.
5 minutes down the trail and the forest opened up to reveal the coast! This was our first real look at the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean!!! The tide was low, which allowed for scrambling over rocks and exploring what lies beneath. As our feet hit the beach a HUGE Bald Eagle flew right above our heads! We took this as a good omen. HUZZAH!
We stood on the coast, frozen in time, taking in the true beauty of the salty and vast expanse. The rising sun glistened over the water, blinding our view of the horizon, and what may lay beyond. And in that beyond, was Grand Manan, and our ferry was to depart shortly. So it was back up the trail and through the thick coastline bush to our car.
We waited another hour for the ferry to arrive, and finally the time came to line up and leave. As the “Yota” slipped onto the ferry and left the mainland behind, I felt the whispers of a true adventure.
Out on the top deck of the ferry, I could see the full extent of the harbor, and with it, the docks disappearing in the distance. Loitering along the railings, we began to hear rumors of whale sightings. Curious, we inquired further, only to find out it was whale season in the area! WHALES?! Out came the binoculars, and I was henceforth engrossed in spotting a tail or waterspout on the horizon.
As I scanned the ocean for some time, I realized how desperate my intentions were. For an inexperienced sea lass (or lady), trying to pinpoint a dark animal amongst the waves was a tall task. Nonetheless, I believed I spotted something WAY in the distance, and was quite pleased. I had never seen a whale in its natural habitat before!
After one hour, we rounded the corner of Grand Manan, and set course for the loading docks. Our first glimpse of the Island set my heart a flutter! Sheer cliffs, lighthouses, fishing boats, I could barely contain my excitement! As our tires hit the pavement, it read 1:30 pm and we had less than 24 hours on the island.
We quickly stopped at the first tourist trap, and chatted with a kind local who gave us some vital information for our stay on the island:
- Most restaurants and coffee shops open at will, sometimes the owners decide to not open at all during the off season, so we were directed to the ONLY coffee shop open on the island (our first stop)
- There are 3 lighthouses located on the island (visit all of them)
- A map of the island, which our kind friend crossed off all the businesses that were currently closed (which was most of them)
With far too many trinkets in our pockets and our map in hand, we set off!
As our adventure immediately required caffeine, the next stop was the only coffee shop open on the island, Coffee Jitters Cafe. This is where I had a vanilla latte that is still second to none. Drinks in hand, we continued through small fishing villages, and past rocky beaches to the very southern tip of the island.
Once the car was parked at our destination, the door flung open and I was on the coast. When my prize came into view, it immediately took my breath away. The entire coastline was composed of jagged cliffs, separating the ocean from land.
The sun peaked through the scattered cloud cover as the wind swept along the sea. It felt as if all the corners of the earth were somehow visible from this point. Looking out into the entrance of the Bay of Fundy, it was then I understood what this place really has to offer.
Small fishing vessels puttered off into the distance, giving even more perspective to the view. We hiked along the top of the open and grassy cliff faces, scouting for whales as we went. In between running around and taking pictures, we finally rested on a bench and gazed out into the vast, glimmering expanse. And that is when Ryan spotted a whale! As quickly as it came, it was gone again. We wanted to stay the whole night and watch the horizon, but we still had much to see!
Back into the “Yota,” we headed north again. Our next destination was Dark Harbor, which was recommended to us by the lovely friends we made on the summit of Mount Carleton. They said there was a natural wonder of the world located there.
Curious, we set out to see this wonder ourselves. After following the road through more thick forests, the tree line opened up to reveal the bay. From our view on the hill we could see the natural wonder! A large seawall of rocks that lay just off shoreline.
This split of land makes the perfect location for farming Dulse, a repulsive looking seaweed that I decided not to try. Though, some love this sea grass, I was more fascinated by its creation than how it tasted.
We drove right down to the beach, where small houses and brightly painted dories dotted the shoreline
After running around the harbor, the plan was to reach another lighthouse and watch the sunset. This lighthouse was located on the most northern point of the island. We had less than an hour before the sun went down, and so the race continued!
The destination was reached just in time, with a few minuets to spare. I raced to set up my camera to take some shots. The sky was beautiful and we were lucky to catch the sun’s last rays.
Once the sun finally fell behind the horizon, we decided it was probably a good idea to figure out our sleeping arrangements for the night.
We puttered back towards the main docks, which contained a few Inns and B&B’s. The first stop we made was at a quaint B&B overlooking the bay. We talked to a kind man at the reception, who then informed us that they were full for the night. Not surprising considering it was 8 pm on a weekend.
Before shuffling out the door, the man offered us an alternative place to stay, which was owned by a good friend of his. At first I declined, but after more persuading we decided to give it a try.
The call was made and a room was available. Little did we know who this friend was, and what this amazing man had offered us!
The directions lead us to the entrance of the Castalia Marsh Retreat. The owner of the business gave us a warm greeting and told us we had 3 cabins to choose from. CABINS?! In the bush?! What a wonderful surprise!
Pouring over our options, one cabin in particular caught our attention. This cabin was called the birdhouse, and it was my obvious first choice given the name and our love for birds.
Our eyes spied the quaint, tilted structure, and it was love at first sight. The cozy 150 sqft palace was equipped with: a wood stove, kitchen, compost toilet, and a raised sleeping area surrounded by windows overlooking the marsh and the bay!
We quickly told the owner of our choice, paid for our stay and began to unload.
With the fire stoked and the electric heat on, the chill in our bones from the past couple days began to dissipate. The cabin warmed up and I had a “shower” in the kitchen sink. The night sky was clear and we enjoyed being under the stars. The views from our bed were remarkable, we could see everything underneath the night sky. I don’t think I got much sleep, watching the twinkling of the stars, the lights from the lighthouses and the boats floating in the harbor.
In the morning from my bed, I watched the sun peak over the horizon, kissing everything with pink light. Deer and birds frolicked in the marsh. It was like heaven on earth.
Our stay at the birdhouse was by far one of the most memorable parts of our trip, and I vowed that one day I would live in a house like this!
Day Four – Grand Manan, NB to Hopewell Rocks, NB (294 km)
After a cup of tea on the front porch, we slowly began to pack up. While checking out, the true beauty of this place was made even more apparent.
Firstly, our little nest was one of many spectacular accommodation options. Yurts, lodges and cabins dot the property, and each are unique. Second, the owner had a nice garden, and third there were chickens and roosters EVERYWHERE! I even ended up purchasing a dozen fresh Grand Manan eggs for the remainder our trip.
Once back in town, there was still plenty of time to kill before the ferry. So, I convinced Ryan to explore the last lighthouse on the island. We ran all around the lighthouse, taking pictures and recounting our last 24hrs on Grand Manan. Everything inside me wanted to resist the urge to leave, but the rest of our adventure was waiting!
After a quick breakfast right by the docks, the “Yota” loaded back onto the ferry, and our adventure took us back toward Blacks Harbor.
Once we returned on the main land, our next destination was Hopewell Rocks. It was only a 3 hour drive to Hopewell Rocks from Blacks Harbor, and I knew that there would be many places I would want to stop along the way.
When we finally wound the corner to the parking lot for Hopewell Rocks, the time read 4:30pm. There was just enough time to visit the park before the tide began to rise and the park would be closed. We ran to the entrance, and down the stairs to the beach.
How amazing it was to be there. Seeing these coastal formations up close! And, since the park was closing, and it was the off season, there were no crowds of people.
We hiked all the way down the beach, determined to admire every aspect of the coastline. After seeing more and more of the rock formations, it became interesting to me that the main formation at the entrance was the most popular. This was surprising because the formations just get larger and more amazing as you go down the beach. Huge towering pillars of clay, rocks and shells. It was so special to have been given the opportunity to view this unique and ecologically significant place.
Since our time on the beach was limited, it wasn’t long until we had to return to the entrance.
Back at our car again there was a decision to make. Our destination the next morning was a 6 + hour drive to Cape Breton, and our original plan was to drive back to the Bay of Fundy National Park to camp. The only problem was, that the drive back to the park was an extra 45 minutes in the opposite direction. After quick deliberation, we decided to check out a campground we had passed on the way in to see if it was open.
Luckily, Ponderosa Pines Campground was located only 4 km from Hopewell Rocks. The gentlemen at the front stated that he was open, and we could pick any site we wanted. He gave us a map and sent us on our way.
The campground offered many options to the average traveller; from fishing stocked ponds to camping right on the coast. Being next to the ocean all night was music to our ears, and as quickly as we pulled in, our campsite was set up.
What a cool and unplanned experience we had at this campground! The changing tides rose and fell all night, and from our wee tent, the power of the water was evident. Rushing water and waves churned all night, and the changing of the tides was very audible. Feeling the true energy of the place, it was hard to leave!
Day Five – Hopewell Rocks, NB to Cape Breton, NB (532.8 km)
Given that our destination the next morning was far away, our day started bright and early. Breakfast was enjoyed at the delicious Cinnamon Soul Café. This quaint café had everything a breakfast lover could ask for, including local ingredients, art work and friendly faces. Now full of comfort food, we continued on our journey to Cape Breton.
Cape Breton Island is just that, an island. It is divided into four counties: Cape Breton, Inverness, Richmond, and Victoria. The island is separated from mainland Nova Scotia by a narrow straight, which includes a large industrial port.
Determined to see as much of the Cape Breton coast as possible, our route was altered to include the northwestern side of the island. Our new plans took us along HWY 19, which follows the windy shores of the Cape. Stopping at historical landmarks, lookouts and tourist traps, our journey continued north towards the highlands.
As we approached the tip of the island, and began to run northeast again, the country-side became more and more populated. The small rugged settlements clung for dear life on the open pastures that lined the coast. The landscape in Cape Breton is bone chillingly beautiful. A clear close relative to Newfoundland.
The more distance that was covered, the hungrier our bellies grew. So after spotting yet another lobster dinner for sale, we pulled over and grabbed some grub to go. With hot buttered lobster in tow, we crossed into Cape Breton Highlands National Park, ready for food and a bed.
After booking our sites for the next couple days, the plan was to head to our first campsite, located at Presqu’ile. These campsites boast exceptional views over a rocky beach. We choose a site with a beautiful view, and very little wind cover.
Before the tent even came out of the car, the hunger could not be curbed any longer and down the lobsters went. Bibs and all, we hacked away like armatures at our seafood, right beside the beach.
Not long after dinner we were greeted by a lovely young couple from Alberta, Derek and Emily.
After talking our faces off with our new friends for the next 30 minutes, we finally allowed them to set up the rest of their camp. Once they were completed we got down to business. It turned out they were not only in the park for the same number of days, but both Emily and I had planned the same hikes on the same days!
A few short minutes later a plan was devised, and we all agreed to spend the next few days as an adventure team! Trying to see as many viewpoints and hiking as many trails as possible.
Many conversations later, the wind continued to pick up and we found refuge in our tents. The winds continued to batter our tents all night. The views may have been nice, but the torrent was so fierce there were many times I thought our tent would collapse altogether!
Rebecca is a canoe loving, adventure seeking, outdoor enthusiast with a passion for photography and writing. Ever since early childhood she was encouraged to adventure outdoors, often with her immediate family. Continuing her education, she graduated from the University of Waterloo with a major in Environmental Resource Studies and a Business minor.
Fast forward to the present; Rebecca fills her days with hiking, bird watching, camping, canoeing, snowshoeing and photography. She has plans to take her adventure writing and photography to the next level by recording her adventures for other blogs. A true advocate for conservation and environmental sustainability, she wants to turn her passions into a career one day. Her current ramblings and adventures are recorded on her Instagram page, @alter._.eco
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