Editor’s note: As travellers cautiously make plans to adventure again, Nova Scotia is in our thoughts more than ever. Find out why in this feature post created with support from Tourism Nova Scotia. As always, we’re grateful to our partners in travel who keep us paddling forward.
By Kim Gray
When people ask what I do for a living, I typically tell them I write stories about travel.
But while I’ve dedicated the last decade of my career to travel writing, it turns out something else has been happening at the same time — travel has been busy writing my story, too.
What are we, after all, but the stories we tell? And when we consider the highlights of our lives, don’t these memories often include past adventures?
There’s a reason why Nova Scotia has become part of my life’s narrative and it’s not just because of my weakness for a good lobster roll.
If you ask me, this maritime jewel ticks off all the boxes when it comes to what I value most (and what I miss most!) about travel.
The people factor
If there’s anything we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that people need people. And few places in the world welcome visitors with the warmth that I’ve found in Nova Scotia.
There’s always a local at the ready to point you in the right direction if you need help.
And when you find what you’re looking for — whether it’s a lively, foot-stomping barn party on Cape Breton Island (like we experienced during our stay at The Normaway Inn) or a taste-bud exploding seafood pasta dinner at a Halifax restaurant (we love you Bicycle Thief!) — you’re made to feel at home.
Nova Scotia’s inherent generosity of spirit makes it a welcoming and easy-to-navigate destination for all travellers — whether you’re adventuring solo, as a couple, as a family or even as an extended family — looking to make memories.
I, for one, will always cherish my time in the province’s Kingsburg area where we gathered one hot summer with a handful of other young families from Canada and France.
We body surfed off the shore of nearby Hirtles Beach by day and enjoyed singalongs together under the stars by night, eventually retiring, happily spent, to our quaint waterfront cottage rentals.
The fact that Kingsburg is only a 22-minute drive to Old Town Lunenburg — a charming UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with unique shops, artisans and award-winning restaurants — was a bonus.
As much as I enjoy people when I’m on vacation, like so many travellers I also seek out destinations close to water.
Human beings have been seeking “the waters” since ancient times. We know, consciously and unconsciously that being in, near or on water is transformational.
We know that water settles our overstimulated minds and gives us clarity.
There’s even a book on the subject, called Blue Mind, written by a marine biologist named Wallace J. Nichols, that explores how water makes us happier, healthier and even better at what we do. Water, it’s believed, can heal us, too.
With more than 13,000 kilometres of coastline, Nova Scotia is an ocean lover’s paradise. While you can enjoy these beaches on your own terms, it’s good to know that if you want to take an ocean experience to the next level, a wide range of local businesses are at your service.
If it’s the breath-catching excitement of whale watching you’re after, then there’s no shortage of outfitters who want to take you out on the salty sea to observe these extraordinary giants.
Maybe you’re interested in paddling, and a guided kayaking and glamping adventure is what you’re searching for.
Cape LaHave Adventures will escort you, no experience necessary, along pristine coastlines and to colourful fishing communities.
You’ll get to enjoy the ocean’s bounty (scallops, lobster and oysters) at night around a beach campfire, and then retire to your own “sea-fari”-style canvas tent for a comfortable night’s sleep.
Or perhaps a luxurious stay at Fox Harb’r Resort is more your style. This exceptional resort offers ocean-side golf and ocean-inspired spa treatments, including a 90 minute “Warming Seaweed Mud Therapy” session with detoxifying organic kelp.
I’m not sure what your world has looked like since the pandemic hit, but ocean time, whatever the form, is sure inviting to me right now.
Culture lives here
Given the region’s history, Nova Scotia is home to influences rooted in Mi’kmaq, Acadian, African and Gaelic traditions.
I enjoyed delicious, fire-roasted bread and hot tea with my hosts during the Cape Breton Island experience, and I appreciated learning about Indigenous life from the perspective of the largest Mi’kmaq community in the world.
During another trip to the province, I immersed myself in maritime history at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.
Stories about newcomers to Canada also captured my interest at The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, which I wrote about here and which got me thinking about my own family’s story of immigration.
A later visit to Parks Canada’s Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site thrilled the young people in our midst when we were able to travel back in time with interpreters dressed as fishermen, sailors and servants from the 1700s.
One of my most memorable moments in Nova Scotia involves a lobster boil with a Parks Canada employee, who happened to be Acadian, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
After preparing a memorable feast with us on the beach at sunset, he surprised his guests with an impromptu performance on his fiddle, singing heart achingly beautiful songs in old French that sent shivers up and down our spines.
Rest assured, culture is alive and well in this corner of Canada, a fact that is especially apparent at the province’s Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, with its regular line-up of lively ceilidhs, or musical performances.
From what I gather, the soon-to-be opened Muir hotel in Halifax is even being designed with a distinctly Nova Scotian spirit in mind.
Into the wild
There’s a good chance that you, like me, have turned to nature to get through pandemic times — and if nature is what you’re looking for, this Maritime province has you covered.
Parks Canada has been particularly inventive when it comes to different ways to camp in the region.
We’ve enjoyed rolling out our sleeping bags around the province in Parks Canada oTENTik accommodations. Now, we look forward to trying out Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site’s latest innovation — the clever, teardrop-shaped camping pod seen above.
Of course, nature in Nova Scotia can provide respite, but it can also provide rare opportunities experienced only here.
Perhaps one of the wildest and most unforgettable adventures we’ve ever had in Nova Scotia was a visit to Sable Island National Park Reserve.
A number of operators, including Kattuk Expeditions, are teed up to get you to the storied island in the Atlantic and, chances are, you’ll never forget the windblown wild horses that greet you when you land.
On the radar for our next visit?
We’ve been getting promising reports from people who have rafted the tidal bore in the province’s Bay of Fundy, home to one of the world’s highest tides.
Choose your Shubenacadie River guide here for this exhilarating (and muddy!) adventure-of-a-lifetime.
Eats and drinks
I joked about my weakness for lobster rolls at the beginning of this story.
But there’s no denying the crustacean is serious business in this corner of Canada. Just follow our trusty resource on all things lobster @ladyloveslobster on Instagram and Facebook (who, full disclosure, happens to be our lead contact at Tourism Nova Scotia) to see what we mean.
There’s even a Lobster Trail that showcases over 40 Nova Scotian restaurants serving up everything from lobster poutine to lobster pizza to, yikes, lobster ice cream.
Food (with lobster as the leading star) and drink (there’s even a lobster beer called Crustacean Elation by Mahone Bay’s Salt Box Brewery) are arguably a way of life in Nova Scotia.
Wineries in Nova Scotia have a long history going back to the 1600s, with Tidal Bay being the province’s signature wine boasting a “cool, crisp, lively and aromatic flavour” that, naturally, pairs perfectly with seafood.
And the province’s Good Cheer Trail is Canada’s only brewery, distillery, cidery, meadery and winery trail.
When the time is right, we’re coming back for you Nova Scotia — for your stories, for your warm hospitality and for your ocean.
And maybe even, if we can summon the courage, for a pint of that legendary lobster beer.