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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Autumn Hues of Nova Scotia

Staring at the Map of North America, I wondered what it would be like driving up further north of Maine along the maritime coast. Having been to Bar Harbor in Maine during October, the peak of autumn, I knew it would not disappoint. This led to our very first hiking trip! We had done short day hikes previously during our vacations. But never was a trip planned centered around hiking trails.

The internet is so full of useful resources to plan a visit to this Canadian maritime province. We got a brochure sent to our home in Texas for free which had tons of information on general geography of the province and places to stay. Soon we knew the highlands of Cape Breton was where we wanted to focus.

Nova Scotia (New Scotland), specifically Cape Breton has a rich Scottish/Celtic culture and lots of history. Together with various activities like hiking, sea kayaking, whale watching, scuba diving, biking and so on, this place attracts people of all age groups and interests.

We flew to Bangor, Maine at the peak of Fall and drove from there to Cape Breton, NS. Though a long drive, I loved that such drives always give a good feel of the country. 

Driving through New Brunswick

Moose Crossing

Best of New Brunswick

Quite a heart warming welcome sign!

Our first stop was at Burnt Coat, near the Bay of Fundy. It's known for its world record for the highest tides, averaging 55.8 ft. Each day 100 billion tones of seawater flows in and out of Bay of Fundy during a single tidal cycle. Isn't that amazing?!

The water you see near the island behind us receded by the
time we got down to the sea bed
This was an island during high tides

The seabed

The lighthouse at Burnt Coat, destroyed, relocated and rebuilt several times;
its history goes back to 1858

We still had 4 more hours to our destination, Ch├ęticamp, a small town near Cape Breton Highlands National park's western entrance. After a heavy dinner(bad idea!) at Truro, we were back on the road again, Bobby sleep-driving, and me constantly waking up from my sleep to make sure his eyes were still open. A few hours later, way past midnight, we found ourselves in a cozy little inn called Albert's motel.

Next day we headed out for our first hike of the trip - Skyline Trail. It was forecasted rainy. But from previous experiences we knew we can't plan our trips around sunny weather all the time. Sunshine makes the hike more comfortable, but cloudless sky doesn't help me capture nature at its best often yielding over-exposed photographs(yes, I'm a lazy photographer). But how likely are we to find the perfect sunny days with just enough clouds for that astounding scenery?! 
Plus, I probably have some vampire like genes in me that I tend to hide myself from excessive sun. So we hiked the Skyline trail (9.2 km loop) in the cold drizzly rain, which I sure enjoyed. Heavy wind gusts made us skip the overlook point which is the primary highlight of the trail. On a windy day it could get as high as 130 kph. I enjoy taking risks, but not the kind of risks that are definite killers.

The scenic Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Near the Skyline trail overlook point

Skyline trail

Willow Ptarmigan, still in its summer costume.
Generally seen in colder countries, these birds develop
white plumage during winter to camouflage with the snow.

After the hike, we made a couple of short stops on our way to Dingwall, where we had a cabin awaiting us to spend the night. First stop was at the Bog. It was very awe inspiring to see this habitat in vibrant Fall colors, very distinct from the maple or birch hardwood forests you would normally run into along the coasts of New England.

The Bog at Cape Breton Highlands National Park

The Bog

Pitcher Plants. Tubular leaves of this carnivorous plant
hold water to trap insects

Lone Shieling, with the largest undisturbed tract of old hardwood forest in the maritimes. Trees as old as 350 years!

Scottish Crofter's Hut replica at Lone Shieling

Old growth hardwood forest
(not sure how much of it is old growth)

Another view from Cabot Trail

After exploring the forest, we did a short 1.7 km hike to MacIntosh Falls. Night was already sinking in. But it was an amazing experience to be out in the forest at dusk all by ourselves, listening to the sound of waterfalls & crying of coyotes, and not knowing if we would run into a wild moose or a black bear.

MacIntosh Falls at dusk

The cabin was rustic, though not spotlessly clean to my liking. But we were just happy to find a comfortable bed and hot shower after a long day of hiking and driving around late in the night looking for some restaurant still serving dinner. The next morning, we woke up to this beautiful view which made the stay overall very pleasant!

Morning view from the Lodge

Drive through Cabot Trail

This entire time we had not come across a moose or a bear. And Bobby desperately wanted to see one. We headed out to Warren lake in the morning. You are more likely to see wild animals around lakes and rivers at dawn and dusk. The trail around Warren lake is 4.7 km long, and it gives magnificent view of the Acadian hardwood forests. Just walking along the trail, breathing in the fresh moisture laden morning air itself was so refreshing. Lighting on this cloudy day was just perfect to enhance the autumn colors. Shortly after we began our hike we ran into a female moose. That was the first time we saw a wild moose up close and it made our day!

Warren Lake trail

Ha! There she is!

We ran into her a second time

An unanticipated stream crossing.
Pebbles felt like sharp stones in the freezing cold water.

B drying off his feet at the shore

Mary Ann falls on our way to the next hike

Stream from the falls. As we crossed a bridge
to get to parking lot

The next item in our list was to explore a rocky headland that projects into the Atlantic Ocean, called Middle Head (3.4 km loop). This part of the island was loaded with spruce trees that gets shorter as you get further into the headland. The heavy wind keeps the trees from growing larger. We spotted a couple of bald eagles in this area. Standing on the cliff by the end of the trail, one could fly back in history and see the fleets of ships that sailed from Europe. Sadly many wrecked in the frigid waters by the coasts of Nova Scotia and New Foundland, including The Titanic. Which also makes this area interesting for scuba divers.

Middle Head trail

Another view from the trail
Walking on the grassy patches I had no clue what was below

Ingonish beach near the trail

Our original plan for the rest of the evening was to drive to Sydney and get a glimpse of the ongoing Celtic festival. But we got sidetracked, and reached Sydney quite late in the night. So had to put away the Celtic event for another time.

The following day we continued exploring the eastern part of Cape Breton island. A waterfalls that flowed right into the ocean by the Black Brook beach caught our interest. Beach got its name from the many dead logs accumulated giving black color to its waters. 

Back on the road!

Seagulls surfing the waves at Black Brook beach

Rocky cliffs by the beach
Black Brook Falls

A short rock scrambling to get to the foot of the falls

Hungry birds!

I guess we got greedy by this time and wanted to see MORE moose, especially a bull. We hiked around Jigging Cove lake (1.5 km) with no luck, and then went on an evening stroll on Benjie's Lake trail. We didn't complete this trail, but just walked up to a clearing and sat for a while. It was almost dusk, beginning to rain with no one else in the trail. Soon we saw two bulls quietly walking through the woods, stopping often to eat off the spruce trees. We were so thrilled to see them up close, though in the back of our minds we were devising plans to escape had they behaved differently. 

Somebody looks curious

The clearing on Benjie's Lake trail where
we waited for the moose

Bull #1 

Bull #2

A perfect ending to an awesome trip!


Some useful links: