Southern Nova Scotia: Water, Whales and Wonder

By Kent E. St. John, GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor

Harbor at Nova Scotia. photos by Kent E. St. John.
Harbor at Nova Scotia. photos by Kent E. St. John.

The Scotia Prince had one more surprise as I walked the fore decks about forty-five minutes before landing in Yarmouth NS. Two huge blue whales lunging or spy holing leaving a ghostly vapor hovering above the sea.

My only complaint was that the eleven-hour crossing was almost over. That was the last time I was ever disappointed during my travels around Nova Scotia. It’s wonderful that traveling to a destination can be as exciting as actually getting there!

A Night at Sea

Boarding the Scotia Prince in Portland Maine can be time consuming. Adding on the fact that I am not a cruise ship type I was less than thrilled. However once on board, I reveled at just what the new outfitting of the ship provided. The cabin we had was well laid out with shower and private bath. [editor’s note: Scotia Prince Cruises ceased operations shortly after this story was written.]

There are several different cabin classes and a sitting area for those who option to ride cheap. There is plenty of activity to keep you going. Better yet cruise through the dark on the Sky Deck, top of the ship, complete with bar and hot tubs. The casino, though it ate up money was modern and fun. Better yet, my car was stowed below and ready to go after the journey of the chilly Gulf of Maine crossing. Looking for Light

Despite my greetings from whales on arrival in Yarmouth, we pressed on the Lighthouse Route towards Halifax. This is the Scotia that is usually seen in pictures. Lighthouses and weathered shingled buildings perched on rocky coast. Unless you have unlimited time it is best to take route 103 and target several villages. The Lighthouse Preservation Society website will help. I choose Shelburne as my first stop. It is a historic town founded in 1784 by Loyalists fleeing the US. Check out The Shelburne Historic Complex, three museums within steps of each other.

Blue Nose

Fishing Shacks
Fishing Shacks

There happens to be a little bit of German mixed in between British and French traditions in NS. Lunenburg is a prime example and was settled in 1753. Today this UNESCO site is the perfect blend of working town and visitor delight. Fisherman work side by side with shopkeepers and pockets of counter culture.

Add in the fact that 70% of the buildings date from the 17 th and 18 th century and you will find every reason in the world to stay. No chain stays in Luneburg, lodgings run to inns and small hotels. Many in the shells of old mariner’s homes. Surprisingly price is not the obstacle, small inventory is. In season plan ahead.

The harbor is filled with whale seeking boats and the home of Canada ’s icon, the SS Bluenose. The ship found on the Canadian dime. After some time at sea park yourself in the Rum Runner and feast on fresh fish. You may never get a dinning view like this matched with good prices. Lunenburg is zer gut!

Peggy Oh!

If you’ve ever seen a picture of Nova Scotia, the chances are it was the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove. It has a population of 600 but ten times that number visit every day in season. That’s okay; it is worth it just for photo ops alone. However the town of Prospect a few miles away is just as scenic, sans lighthouse. The Dovers both East and West also offer tidy houses and rocky oceanfront. If flying into Halifax it is possible to catch a trip to the area via Atlantis Tours. Its flexible and return trips are 90 minutes apart. The cost is about $18 and reasonable.

Hail Halifax

Fun, modern, lively, historic, you get the picture, it’s great. Two hundred year old buildings mixed between modern, all with green space and waterfront.

Key zone is the refurbished harbor complete with redone stone warehouses, Canada ’s oldest. The city center clings to a hilly peninsula capped by an imposing Citadel, and has just about anything you would want to do. The waterfront offers great dinning areas as well as pubs that will take you back to Scotland. Halifaxians love a well-crafted brew! Do not miss the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, complete with info about the Titanic sinking. There is even a graveyard in the city where some are buried.

Pier 21 Historic Site is a glimpse into Canada ’s Ellis Island and covers the story of the 1 million immigrants that escaped war, and bad times. The Discovery Center features over 80 hands-on exhibits presenting basic principles of science.

Real Matters

A city to me is best discovered by its street scenes and places to hang. Halifax has terrific energy and attitude. The liveliest area for both people watching and affordable pleasure is the Spring Street area. Besides slightly bohemian restaurants and pubs, the Public Gardens are at the top end. At the bottom end you will find Alexander Keith’s NovaScotia Brewery. Sing along and sample

Best dishes can be found at il Mercato great pasta, pizza, all in a fabulous setting that will not break the bank.

Halifax and the Lighthouse Route are a great way to step back into maritime lifestyle and exploration. Next year it’s on to Cape Breton. Of course a stop back in Halifax is part of the plan!

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