Much of this, the third in the series of Nova Scotia travels, follows the Lighthouse Route south-west of Halifax, before turning inland by the Mersey and ending up in the middle of everywhere.
There are plenty of well known attractions dotted all along the Atlantic coast south-west of Halifax, all deserving of a visit and certainly a mention. But before you travel to any of those, consider a less well visited corner. Follow the Herring Cove Road south of the city and take your time about it (good advice anywhere in Nova Scotia). Stop and stroll around little communities like Herring Cove, or any of the hamlets sprinkled along the coast. Bear Cove, Portuguese Cove, Ketch Harbour and Sambro Head all reward those willing to leave the comfort of the car and breathe the sea air. Don’t be dissuaded by mist or fog rolling in from the ocean, it lends the settlements and their landscape a unique quality, bringing them even closer to the elements.
Exploring this coast it’s impossible to ignore Peggy’s Cove, that rarity in Nova Scotia – a tourist hot-spot. It is very beautiful and extremely photogenic, but perhaps no more so than a hundred other out of the way inlets and harbours along (or very close to) the well signposted Lighthouse Route.
It’ll lead you to Chester, a sizeable community once much favoured by holidaying Americans who came for the sailing. Chester looks and feels like New England and repays a dawdling walk with historic buildings and vistas of ocean, islands and harbours. Pause for food at fast and friendly Kiwi Café or finer dining at Nikki’s Inn.
Lunenburg is the next ‘must stop’ point on the map, but not before going via Oak Island, scene of countless – and fruitless – attempts to uncover buried pirate treasure, and the delightful Mahone Bay. Lunenburg is a designated UNESCO world heritage site and home to the magnificent Bluenose II sailing schooner. It’s a lot more too, with plenty of places to stay. A personal favourite eatery is the Tin Fish, worth the visit on its own.
Follow the Lighthouse Route as far as East LaHave where the ferry provides the chance to bypass Bridgewater, the regional centre, with all its facilities and bustling big stores. As with everywhere else, the little stores are doing less well these days and it’s sad to record the closure of Sagors a few weeks ago; one less place in the world to quietly browse for books.
From LaHave it’s a short drive to Crescent Beach and its lesser-known neighbour Risser’s Beach, two inviting stretches of sand lapped by the waters of Green Bay. The Risser’s Beach Provincial Park with its sweeping boardwalk is worth an hour or two of anyone’s time.
At the mouth of the Mersey, Liverpool offers similar facilities to Bridgwater, but on a smaller scale. A few minutes further along is White Point Beach Resort, sadly severely damaged by fire in November. The cottages are unaffected but the main lodge is being completely rebuilt. Hopefully, its opening later in 2012 will be the basis of a future article when the whole welcoming resort can be given the spotlight it deserves.
Turning north from Liverpool, away from the ocean, along the Mersey for the first few kilometres, you enter the typical heartland of Nova Scotia. Empty roads, apart from a few logging trucks, rolling countryside with the sparkle of water glimpsed through seemingly endless trees. Pick any detour that takes your fancy, you’ll probably end up by a shimmering lake.
Half way across the province (45 mins.) lies Caledonia, a small town where you’ll find everything you might need, including places to stay and even a bank with an ATM. Detractors say Caledonia is in the middle of nowhere, but locals know it’s in the middle of everywhere – an ideal centre for touring the southern half of the province. And no hotel better to stay in than the Whitman Inn, about 12k north of Caledonia and close to Kejimkujik Park.
The Whitman is open year-round – not always so with Nova Scotia accommodation – and hosts Herbert and Monika guarantee a warm welcome. All the rooms are comfortable but book early if you want to spoil yourself in the splendid four-poster bedroom with an en-suite airpool bathtub. A self-catering suite is also available, but make sure you don’t miss out on their delicious home-baked bread.
Put some of that bread in a packed lunch for the next excursion – to Kejimkujik.