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Whale watching

Adventures on Brier Island

Date Posted: September 15, 2016Reading time: 6 minutes

by Adam Bates
Header photo by Scott Munn

If You Only Knew… Nova Scotia

If You Only Knew Nova Scotia is a weekly look at some of the wonderful things to do around our province. From Yarmouth to Meat Cove and Canso to Advocate Harbour, Tramps will be reporting on many of the famous and not so famous sites, events and highlights of Canada’s Ocean Playground.

Early on Friday night, my plans for the long weekend were non-existent, but by midnight it was decided – in the morning, my friends and I would head out to Brier Island, one of two fantastic islands that form the northwestern shore of Nova Scotia. After hanging up with Brier Island Lodge first thing Saturday morning, we knew it was meant to be – they’d just had a cancellation and would be “happy to accommodate,” in true Nova Scotian fashion.


Looking toward the Western Light lighthouse

Jutting out of the northwestern coast of Nova Scotia is the peninsula that is Digby Neck, followed by Long Island and our final destination, Brier Island. A trip to the base of Digby Neck will take around three hours from Halifax, but as a car full of young athletes, we figured we would stop at Gullivers Cove en route to squeeze in a quick hike. Here, we found a rocky beach where we could take in some sunny ocean views before hiking the adjacent High Cliff Cove Trail. This 20-minute round-trip hike begins in the grassy area to the left of the beach, leading you towards the base of the high cliffs where picnic tables, a calm blue ocean, and amazing views await.

Hitting the road again, the East Ferry was conveniently only a half hour away, which took us first to Tiverton on Long Island. Those prone to seasickness needn’t worry too much – I am typically a nauseous wreck on any boat, but I found the short ferry ride to be extremely smooth.


Balancing Rock

From Long Island, we had the option to either continue through to the next ferry at Freeport, or, as we did, stop off at the Balancing Rock Trail along the way. The Balancing Rock Trail is perfect for those wanting to experience breathtaking views of the rugged basaltic coast of Digby Neck and its islands. And, perhaps even more importantly, the 2.4 km woodland trail leads to one Nova Scotia’s natural wonders right on the water’s edge – the famed and mysterious Balancing Rock. A column of rock completely defying gravity, the Balancing Rock is a sure spectacle, hanging half-off the cliff’s edge, resting delicately on thin air.

After marveling at the Balancing Rock, not able to comprehend how it has remained standing for so many years, we zipped up to Freeport at the top of Long Island for our final ferry to Westport on Brier Island. Arriving on Brier Island was like taking a step back in time to northern Scotland, or to the early settlement days of Nova Scotia. With many of the houses dating back 200 some odd years, it’s as though you can see and feel the history of our early settlers on the island, hearing their faint stories in the crashing shoreline waves.


Balancing Rock

Beyond its historic richness, I was also blown away by the island’s charm and unspoiled natural beauty. We took a sunset hike along part of a coastal trail that wraps around the whole island. A nature-lovers paradise, Brier Island has a large nature preserve and is home to a number of unique plant varieties, such as the Bluebead Lily, Pink Ladyslipper, Yellow Iris and the endangered Eastern Mountain Avens, to name a few. Rose hips were also certainly abundant (the biggest I’d seen, in fact) as were seals playfully basking on the shore.

After checking into the Brier Island Lodge for the evening, we headed to the forest, made a fire and roasted up some sausages for dinner. My friend even brought along his ukulele, which sounded much better than our voices, but we sang along nonetheless. As the temperature dropped in conjunction with the darkening sky, we pulled out our blankets, lay back and looked to the skies, appreciating the subtle sounds of the ukulele in the background. I’ve never seen so many stars. And, without the gleam of city lights, we were even lucky enough to catch the Milky Way.


A whale watching cruise setting out from island

Starting the next day with a nice breakfast at the local Lighthouse Cafe, we then set out for a whale watching tour on the Bay of Fundy. I had gone whale watching once before when I was young and hadn’t actually seen any whales, so I was delighted to see plenty on this ride — especially humpbacks and finbacks. We had debated between doing a whale watching tour and hiking the full coastal trail around the island, but I was glad we had chosen this option. We could find other great hikes in Halifax, but seeing whales beautifully occupying their natural habitat is not something you can do just anywhere.

If you’re not keen on whale watching but are still looking for a wildlife fix, I’d highly recommend paying a visit to Hooking by the Sea Retreats, where you can find a farm with sheep, goats, chickens, and even alpaca. Hooking by the Sea also operates as a bed & breakfast and a rug-hooking studio, offering many different adventures and packages, including family getaways, workshops, and historic tours.

As we drove back to Halifax, we reflected on a great summer and talked about what the fall had in store for us all. This was a perfect trip to wrap up the season, and I now feel like I can approach the fall feeling fully satisfied with having been able to experience Nova Scotia’s great coastline, beaches, hiking, islands, and marine life this summer.

If you haven’t had a chance to get out and experience at least a few of these things yet, I challenge you to do so before fall officially begins.

You have until September 22!

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