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Trip Report Trip Report: Nova Scotia (mostly Cape Breton Island)

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Thanks to all who provided helpful information! Our trip was a wonderful success, including the day that the hurricane that fizzled into a tropical storm blew by the west side of Cape Breton and produced a marvelous sunset over the water at Cheticamp.

PHOTOS
I'm a serious photographer, so my wife and I only show our best images (fewer than most people show). The following link provides access to our pictures of Canada. All of the images of Nova Scotia are clearly identified. http://www.pbase.com/mike_buckley/canada

PERIOD OF TRAVEL
Late August and early September 2010

TRIP SUMMARY
Day 1: Flew to Halifax.
Day 2: Drove to Whycocomaugh, getting out often every time we saw a beautiful park, cove or whatever.
Days 3-6: Explored the lower area of Cape Breton Island using Whycocomaugh as our base.
Days 6-9: Enjoyed the upper area of Cape Breton Island using Cheticamp as our base.
Day 10: Drove from Cheticamp to Halifax, stopping often along the way.
Day 11: Drove from Halifax to Lunenburg using the slow road that goes through all the small villages, stopping often to get out and walk around. Returned to Halifax at night using the expressway.
Day 12: Flew home.

LODGING
Two-room suite at the Holiday In Express near the Halifax airport. Great location and service. Perfect for the little time that we were there for the first night and the last two nights of our trip.

Keltic Quay in Whycocomaugh was an ideal apartment with a full kitchen for the four nights we were there. A very quiet setting on a gorgeous lake with grocery store, gas station and other essentials just minutes away (actually within walking distance).

Pilot Whales Chalets in Cheticamp was also a perfect apartment with full kitchen for the four nights we were there. Groceries and a decent wine store were only 15 minutes away.

RESTAURANTS
We did most of our eating in our apartment or while hiking, but I'll mention the few restaurants that worked out well.

The Lobster Shack at the Salmon River (about 45 minutes north of the Halifax Airport) has an award-winning seafood chowder and its light cream base is to die for. (I didn't try the version that is prepared in broth.) I wrote down all of the ingredients I tasted, hoping I can devise something close to it. The bowl costs less than $9 and is a complete meal by itself. It is the single best value I have had in years. Fabulous taste and a low price, though the seafood itself was just slightly overcooked.

The Restaurant Acadian in Cheticamp gave us our one meal of apparently authentic Acadien food while the tropical storm blew by outside our restaurant window. Considering the very hard life that the Acadians led while existing on the potatoes they could grow and the fish they could catch, I was not surprised that the simple meal was made of the same. The flavors and style were that of simple home cooking, perhaps Cape Breton's version of comfort food.

Sorry that I don't remember the name of the restaurant in Lunenburg, but it is next door to Big Red's Family Restaurant. The food was good (not fabulous) and the apple strudel was terrific (the chef is either German or Austrian and the owner is German). The service was friendly and helpful without being overbearing.

Though not a restaurant, I have to comment about the famous salmon smokehouse near Tangier. The salmon was delicious, uncharacteristically devoid of oil and made for a great picnic snack at Lochiel Lake. However, it wasn't particularly special. Perhaps I was spoiled by some smoked salmon in a famous restaurant in rural Ireland that was equally good but also sliced paper-thin.

WALKS, HIKES AND OTHER SCENERY
The primary reason that we went to Nova Scotia was to do day walks and hikes in Cape Breton and, of course, to enjoy some pleasant drives while stopping a lot along the way. For those with similar interests, I'll explain them, some of which were awesome. NOTE: I make the distinction that a hike is a bit more strenuous than a walk due to the terrain, uphill walking, or both.

Cape Auguet Hike in Arichat: This can be a long hike (I think about 7 hours) or you can do part of it and return to your car. I strongly recommend starting at the end that begins behind the seafood plant, as there is a gorgeous beach scene immediately at the beginning and a great hike above the beach to a point. We loved it! Once you get beyond the point, there is a lot of water on the trail, so plan ahead if you are into that kind of hiking. Also wear long pants, as the meadows above the beach have lots of brambles that are only a problem if you are wearing shorts (as I was). The hike requires walking over huge rocks along the beach and going uphill to the top of the point (not appropriate for small children and people with limited mobility). A scene from the Cape Auguet hike is included in our pictures.

Whycocomaugh Provincial Park: This park has three mountain hikes that join each other. We used two of the trails, starting in the parking lot and ending in the campground. There are two great vistas on opposite sides of the mountain top, though be aware that the hiking is very steep (the steepest of all the hikes we took) and at one point we lost the trail for a few minutes. You don't have to be athletic to do this hike, but you do have to be in reasonably good health and shape to be able to enjoy it.

Usige Ban Provincial Park in Baddeck has a walk along one river and a stream that is just gorgeous. It ends at a waterfall in a very nice setting, though not so nice that I could get a good photo. The Falls Brook, which is included in our pictures, flows in a setting of beautiful trees whose long roots wrap around huge boulders. Ideal for children and anyone who can stay on their feet for an hour or so.

Bog Trail in Cape Breton Park: This is an easy 20-minute walk in the wetlands that is entirely on a flat boardwalk. Moose are apparenrtly common at dawn and dusk, though in my four attempts I never saw any. (I did see moose three times on the side of the Cabot Trail scenic highway in the four days that we traveled it.) If you like seeing pitcher plants, which are carnivorous, they are easily seen throughout the walk.

Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Park: This trail is an easy walk that has two parts that make a circuitous route, though 95% of the people only do the one walk out and back. That primary walk has beautiful views of the mountains and ends in a steep set of steps that were installed to protect the mountainside. You'll know immediately upon seeing the steps whether you will want to descend them, knowing that you will also have to ascend them on the return trip. The picture of the Cabot Trail at my website was taken from this part of the hike.

The second part of the walk gets better and better as you enjoy the solitude of the woods and wildflowers. Moose are commonly seen on this part of the walk, though I saw none.

The White Point walk at the village of the same name is just gorgeous. Without a doubt, it has the best ocean views (from above cliffs about 60 feet tall) of all the hikes we took. This area is so important to geologists that a group from Europe was celebrating their 40th annual meeting while we were there. The cliffs of White Point are also shown in our pictures.

Corney Brook trail in Cape Breton Park is ever so slightly uphill as you walk along a pleasant river. The entire walk is underneath a heavy canopy of tree branches. A beautiful waterfall is perfectly situated at the end of the trail. Ideal for children and anyone who can walk comfortably for about two hours at a slow speed.

PARTICULARLY NICE PLACES TO GET OUT OF YOUR CAR
Any pull off along the Cabot Trail, of course. Peggy's Cove, of course. Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. At Lunenburg, the area of Blue Rocks is quaint and charming in an unpretentious, entirely non-commercial way.

Black Brook Cove (pictured at my website) with great waves and a beautiful forest rising above the beach.

Marie Joseph Harbor (pictured at my website) with boats drydocked as if they have run aground in the middle of fields of wildflowers. Gorgeous in the afternoon.

Margeree Valley is so serene. See the sunflower pictured at my website.

Small chapels and churches and their cemeteries. Two are pictured at my website.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
I feel that the Bras d'Or Lake scenic drive is mostly hype. The problem is that very little of the drive provides views of the water. The scenery is boring for the most part compared to everything else that we saw.

Hope this trip report is helpful to others planning to enjoy Nova Scotia. I wouldn't hesitate recommending the area to anyone.

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