I looked across the beach with a fair amount of concern. There they were, neatly lined up along the water’s edge just waiting for their passengers to hop in and start a day of exploration. I wasn’t like those day-trippers though, no, I was standing at the edge of the Bay of Fundy with a different adventure planned, one out of my comfort zone but thrilling nonetheless. I was deep in the heart of rural Nova Scotia ready to embark on a two-day kayaking adventure on the Bay of Fundy, including lots of paddling and a night out under the stars. To be clear, I am not a camper. Heck, I’m barely a glamper, but even though my preferred travel style includes fancy hotels, I was still excited. One of the world’s great natural treasures, I knew there was no better way to truly appreciate the Bay of Fundy than spending time on and around it.
Advocate Harbour is not a place one ends up in by chance. A rural community along Nova Scotia’s Route 209, there’s not much there aside from a convenience store/café, a school and a few houses. It’s also home though to one of the province’s most well respected adventure tour companies, . Showing up I timidly announced that I was the sole overnighter that day, which seemed to draw broad smiles on the faces of the kind staff. I had too much stuff with me, I realized that almost immediately. I felt like Frasier Crane embarking on what he thought an outdoor adventure should be, replete with gimmicky gadgets I bought on impulse while checking out at my local REI store. How many headlamps does one person need, after all? They sensed my apprehension though and eased me into the pre-trip preparation, clearly having some experience with newbies like myself. It wasn’t until I was standing on the edge of the Bay though when it all hit me suddenly, that I was really and truly about to spend two days kayaking and communing with nature. My already cold feet starting to freeze immediately.
I love kayaking and do it whenever I can, but never had I done an overnight kayaking trip and the last time I camped, I mean really camped, was probably as a Boy Scout 30 years ago. There’s a reason for that. While I almost always enjoy spending time outdoors, admiring the natural splendor of whatever place I’m visiting, I equally enjoy going back to my comfortable hotel at the end of the day’s adventures. No, I am not what you would call a camper, far from it. I’ve done it, I don’t usually enjoy it and I almost always try to avoid it. That all being said, my two days spent kayaking on the Bay of Fundy and camping along its shores was one of the highlights of my time in Nova Scotia.
Along with my guide, it was just the two of us and as soon as everything had been packed into the kayaks, we set off, leaving the smiling day-trippers in our wake. Turns out one needs quite a lot of supplies when planning an overnight kayaking trip, and both of our kayaks were weighed down with everything we’d need for a couple of days away. Almost immediately I began to understand why the Bay of Fundy is so very famous. Sure, its world-record tides are amazing, but more important to me was the gorgeous natural surroundings I found myself in. The only sounds were the splashes of our oars as we made our way across the still waters, looking up I caught sight of a bald eagle high up in a tree watching our progress. This isn’t just Nova Scotia the way it should be seen, it’s the quintessential Canadian experience, it’s why millions visit every year for the opportunity to experience a truly wild and rugged landscape in the way it was meant to be seen.
Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, the largest provincial park in Nova Scotia, was the stage for my first real introduction to the wilds of Nova Scotia. Paddling along, we stopped at an isolated bay to make lunch and relax for a while, soothing my suddenly sore muscles. Normally, I like to think I’m in pretty decent shape but whenever I do something like kayaking I’m reminded of just how many muscles I very rarely use. It’s a good feeling though, it makes a person feel alive and blessed with near perfect weather, it was a very good day to be alive indeed. Had I planned the kayaking trip I would’ve packed a few sandwiches and been done with the meal prep. But food is an oddly important aspect of the experience, and lunch was the first look into how much they value all parts of the adventure. Seemingly out of nowhere, a delicious and hearty salad appeared with some charcuterie on the side, fresh rolls and even homemade cookies. After an active morning, it was the fuel I needed to keep going, and an unexpected high point of the day.
Kayaking around the Bay was the best way for me to appreciate its awesome power. Paddling around the well-known rock formation The Three Sisters, when I visited again the next day the water levels were 30 feet or so different, enabling an entire different set of experiences at the same place. That’s fairly amazing if you stop to think about it and is the best way to understand the magnitude of the tides firsthand.
By mid-afternoon, the winds had picked up and the waters weren’t as mirror-like as they had been, so we decided to put in at our overnight destination – Seal Cove – and spend the rest of the day setting up camp and enjoying the natural surroundings. Turns out that Seal Cove is popular among day hikers and even overnight campers, and I soon saw why. With a variety of short hiking trails, I explored as much of the area as I could, enjoying a variety of gorgeous Bay views along the way. My guide and I went out again for another paddle, but the water had become too rough, swamping us as we tried to return to shore. Soaking wet and relieved that the dry bag had protected my camera, I looked up and smiled. I was as out of my element as I could possibly have been and yet I was also as happy as I’d been in a very long time. Sometimes we need those daily amenities in our lives to be stripped away in order to appreciate what we have, and that was the case for me as I hung up my shirt, hoping it would dry overnight.
The sun was starting its slow progression into the water as we made dinner, another gourmet meal when I least expected it. Having made a new friend, we laughed and enjoyed a glass of wine as we watched the sun set, as perfect an end to the day as I’d enjoyed for a long time. The second day brought more paddling adventures as we slowly made our way back to the starting point. While the second day was nice, it was really that first day and camping experience that meant the most to me and what made me value the trip so very much. Sure, you can experience the Bay of Fundy in any number of ways, whether at Burntcoat Head State Park to see the tidal changes or even on a wet and wild rafting adventure on the Tidal Bore. But nothing, nothing, is better than spending a couple of days being part of the landscape instead of just watching it. Admiring the eagles soar overhead and minding a precocious chipmunk try to steal your evening meal. While brief, I had become an active participant in the story of Nova Scotia and not just an observer. I was as immersed in the provincial experience as possible and it was only then that everything clicked and I understood why it’s so special. Nova Scotia is so much more than Titanic history or pretty lighthouses, it’s the story of Canada from intrepid settlers to those storied landscapes known the world over. There’s nothing else quite like it, this quiet fame it has earned over the years both well earned and very well deserved.