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Cyclists along waterfront

Summer Cycling in Nova Scotia

Date Posted: June 28, 2016Reading time: 5 minutes

by Mark Gascoigne

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. 

Whether you refer to the calendar or the weather forecast, either way, summer is here in Nova Scotia. Given that, it’s probably no coincidence that this pair of cyclists was spotted outside of MEC downtown this week preparing for a little trip. At first glance, they look pretty typical of the hundreds of people that drop into this popular Halifax outdoor equipment store to pick up a new raincoat, a nap sack, or in their case, inner tubes and protein bars. However, these two cyclists were anything but the typical day-trippers to the Bike & Bean, as enjoyable as that can be. These two — Thomas and Beatrice — were about to embark on day one of a round-the-province cycling trip.

Thomas & Beatrice

Thomas & Beatrice

When I asked them how long it would take, they shrugged their shoulders and said “our travel visa is for six months, so less than that.” You see, these two seasoned travellers had come to Nova Scotia from Lithuania and were in no hurry to get back. They were friendly, but not chatty, which I can appreciate, so our conversation was brief. Still, I was able to find out that their first destination was Yarmouth and that they were headed down the South Shore. Good call, I confirmed. From a quick look at their well-equipped mountain/cross bikes, I knew that they had all-terrain ability, which was perfect for mixing rails-to-trails with some road riding. Sprinkle in some back roads and they will be able to navigate our bike-friendly province in its entirety.

Let me explain how extraordinary this encounter was, for me at least. Of the 2.1 million people who visit Nova Scotia, less than 5% are from overseas. And of those, less than .01% are from Lithuania, which means they may very well have been the first Lithuanians to visit Halifax since the world hockey championships were held here in 2008. Clearly, Nova Scotia tends to fly under the radar as a North American tourist destination, so I’m always excited to see travellers from abroad coming over and taking advantage of all the amazing things that this province has to offer.

On day one of a journey from Halifax to Yarmouth, for example, these two could easily take advantage of the scenic rails-to-trails paths running between Halifax and the South Shore. Of course, they’d probably want to start by heading down to Peggy’s Cove from Halifax to catch a glimpse of the idyllic fishing village and the famous Peggy’s Point Lighthouse — one of the most popular and iconic tourist destinations in Atlantic Canada. (Check out any maritime postcard selection across the region and this fame will become immediately apparent).

shutterstock_33972331Heading up the eastern shore of St. Margaret’s Bay from Peggy’s Cove and from Tantallon to Hubbards, the scenic coastal route from Hubbards along the South Shore would easily take up the rest of the day, passing through quaint towns like Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg — a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the home of the world-famous Bluenose II schooner. Of course, there would be lots of opportunity for site seeing and adventure along the way that would break up the trip and allow the legs to relax in between lengthy pedaling shifts. Things like taking a ferry ride in Chester, kayaking in Mahone Bay or shopping and dining in Lunenburg’s historic downtown are all popular options, and for good reason.

Day two of a journey down the South Shore might start with LaHave, where a visit to the LaHave Bakery, right on the LaHave River, is a must. A detour inland from the coast would allow cyclists to reach Yarmouth by day’s end if keeping a quick pace and a tight schedule, but continuing along the water on the Shelburne Rail Trail would allow for more scenic coastal views and some well-earned afternoon sampling at Boxing Rock, one of Nova Scotia’s hottest microbreweries.

Beyond Yarmouth, the Bay of Fundy side offers plenty to see and experience, including Digby (think scallops), Annapolis Valley food and wine tours, and the highest tides in the world along the Minas Basin. On the north end of the province, the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island is also a highly sought after experience for both tourists and locals, and one of the top-rated cycling routes in the world.

Whatever the route, there is no shortage of things to do and see across Nova Scotia, and summer is definitely a great time to explore. Of course, if you’re not up for planning your own trip like Thomas and Beatrice, there are lots of organized tours to take advantage of, offered through groups like Freewheeling Adventures, I Heart Bikes, Pedal & Sea Adventures and more. The majority of these companies offer bike rental options in addition to their tour packages, and some even offer tours like hiking and kayaking as well. With many options, it’s just a matter of comparing costs and routes across cycling tour operators to find your best fit. After all, not everyone has the time or the budget to travel the province for six months like Thomas and Beatrice.

Fast Facts

Though we only shared a brief conversation, I was touched by Thomas and Beatrice’s journey. I had just enough time to get a few of my recommendations in and wish them well on their travels, but what I would have said to them, had I had the chance, was thank you. Thank you for choosing to explore Nova Scotia and sharing our adventurous spirit. We locals know why Nova Scotia is deemed Canada’s ocean playground, and I’m glad that these folks will soon know why too.