Stuck in the house, sick of the bus, hot under the collar?
Solution: Beg, borrow, steal or rent a car and follow this guide to mainland Nova Scotia hotspots for a week’s worth of kitsch-heavy day trips that allow you to head back to Halifax and sleep in your own bed every night. Other indications: Keeps annoying summer visitors out of your hair for at least a day at a time. Finer points: No one’s claiming this compendium is objective or geographically balanced. Got your own pet pit-stops for summer? Make your own damn list.
Warning: May cause weight gain, sunburn.
Day one: Fishcakes and flip-flops
Drive to: Hubbards, Queensland
From Halifax: Take Hwy 103 to exit 6 to begin
Roundtrip in the car: About 150km
There’s a reason people love Nova Scotia’s south shore. And as best as I can tell, that reason is seasonally-open Hubbards restaurant The Trellis, where the fishcakes are sweet, the cheese is grilled and the service is welcoming and warm. Next door sits the infinitely reasonably priced and just-untidy-enough antiques shop Mother Hubbards. After your meal, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Queensland Beach (which is Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service-supervised). The water’s warm and the sand is soft. Alternately, you could trade the flip-flops for sneakers and a GPS and walk the nearby Aspotogan Mountain Trail. Either way, drive home along old Hwy 3. It’s prettier. And there are places to stop for ice cream.
Day two: Carb loading
Drive to: Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, LaHave, Riverport
From Halifax: Take Highway 103 to exit 10 to begin
Roundtrip in the car: About 200km
Now that the Atkins Diet has been exposed for the madness it is, you ought to have no problem eating an all-sugar and carbohydrate diet for this indulgent day trip. You may require an early afternoon nap to sleep off all the starch, so make sure the car seats recline and you bring light blankets.
Here’s the plan.
Breakfast: Mahone Bagels and Coffee in prettier-than-a-painting Mahone Bay where the New York-style bagels and honest-to-Yahweh good coffee rev you up for the day. You can eat across the street in the gazebo if the weather’s fine.
Lunch: Magnolia’s Grill in Lunenburg. Get the fishcakes and lemonade. Or the soup. And then the pie. Don’t skip the pie. Trust me.
Dinner: LaHave Bakery in LaHave. OK, sure, cookies and sweet bread aren’t much of a meal. But come on. You only live once.
It would be wrong, of course, to send you out just to gorge yourself on pastries for an entire day. So I include on this day trip, for balance’s sake, a mention of just-past-Lunenburg outdoor marvel The Ovens, at Riverport, where you can not only hike the maintained trails, but see sea caves and imagine what it might be like to drown in one of them. Just the thought makes you want to sit down and dig into that clutch of cinnamon buns in your backpack.
Day three: Les fleurs! Les fleurs!
Drive to: Annapolis Royal
From Halifax: Take Highway 101 to exit 22 and follow the signs to Annapolis Royal to begin
Roundtrip in the car: About 400km
Devoted “accidental gardeners” (you know, those insufferable backyard fancies that never weed or fertilize or prop up or prune and still end up with gardens of Eden in their yards) take note: you must cast aside your distaste for organized gardening when you come to Annapolis Royal’s majestic Historic Gardens.
This little spot of heaven is a perfectly planned and planted petal commune, a gated community of the highest order, the poshest order, the most orderly order.
The garden was planned by the Annapolis Royal community and then opened in the summer of 1981, which makes no sense. Two decades of growth does not an historic garden make. But here’s the idea: the garden encompasses an array of small mini-gardens, each which represent a different time in the history of the community (which goes back to the 16th century). An added feature is La Maison Acadienne et Potager, a remake of an early French settler’s dwelling. You can go right in.
Day four: Water, water everywhere. And rocks.
Drive to: Parrsboro
From Halifax: Take Highway 102 to Truro and Route 2 to Parrsboro to begin
Roundtrip in the car: About 375km
When the tide is high in the Minas Basin, it’s way up there. And when it’s low, it’s an astonishing 54.6 feet lower and just over three kilometres farther away. That’s the greatest distance travelled by any waters in the entire world.
Parrsboro is the place to watch this colossal surge of salty goodness. And it’s the place, too, to tie your sneaker laces in a knot and hike them over your shoulder for a jaunt down on the sand when the tide’s out. The activity is called rockhounding and it needn’t be as vigorous as it sounds. It’s just trawling along the beach scanning for the motherlode, er, motherload of precious gems deposited in the area 200-million-odd years ago by volcanic activity.
If you’re easily distracted by shiny objects in everyday life, rockhounding is the leisure activity for you. And, if you couldn’t care less about the nice, um, rocks, you can pretend and just have a lovely seaside walk anyway.
The super-intense Minas Basin tides (remember this: each phase of the tidal process takes just short of six hours to complete) mean that you have to take care out on the sand—visit the Information Centre in Parrsboro to find out where to get the biggest rockhounding bang for your buck and to make sure you’re not going to be caught out there at the wrong time.
Day five: It’s called a Tidal Bore, buddy
Drive to: Some part of the Shubenacadie River, then Windsor
From Halifax: Take Highway 102 to exit 10 to Shubenacadie to begin
Roundtrip in the car: About 350km
In my husband’s family, they call any tidal bore (a rare environmental phenomenon where water rushes in two directions at once) a Total Bore. I think it’s unfair, really, since any body of water you can hop on in a raft and get soaked by while travelling over and down sounds like a bit of alright to me. In Nova Scotia, the Shubenacadie River has an enticing tidal bore.
This is serious business—a life jacket-required activity. You’re not just hopping on a big inflatable duck with a beer in the cup holder to tool along with the help of a little foot paddling. You’ll need to seek out a tidal bore tour operator to appreciate the full effect and stay safe.
After you dry off, there’s far less strenuously achieved fun to be had in Windsor. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s worth it. Go sit down at Windsor’s Rose Arbor Cafe for a round of tea and rousing debate. Please discuss: is Long Pond, the small pool on Howard Dill’s Windsor-famous vegetable farm, really the birthplace of hockey? (Some dispute the claim.) How does Howard Dill grow those award-winningly monster-sized vegetables, anyway? Do these two claims to fame have anything to do with one another?
The relentlessly adventurous and athletic members of your day trip party might decline a second round of chatter and banana cream pie slices, so send them to Windsor’s Ski Martock for a hike along the well-used mountain bike trails.
Day six: Happy dudes
Drive to: Lawrencetown
From Halifax: Cross the tiny river bridge to Route 207 and follow the signs to begin
Roundtrip in the car: About 60km
The first rule for surfing is never go out alone. And that goes for the pros as much as it does for the newbies. The second rule is don’t try to tackle waves that are bigger than you suspect you can handle. The third rule is not to pee in your wetsuit (but casual conversation tells me that good advice goes unheeded more often than not). Aside from all that, surfing is a bit of a mystery; like riding a bike or ollieing on a skateboard or finding the way back to your spawning grounds when you’re a salmon. You mostly just go and do it.
But there is help: The winsome folks at Happy Dudes Surf Emporium offer rentals and lessons. The shop (three kilometres past Lawrencetown in Three Fathom Harbour) is a good starting point, but there’s also the convenient Happy Dudes Mobile Rental Van, often parked near Lawrencetown Beach.
Everything you need for surfing is available for rent from the happy dudes at Happy Dudes. Surfing is Nova Scotia’s best-known secret. If you’re not in on the action, it’s about time you took the plunge.
Day seven: That’s onepleased-looking fish
Drive to: Upper Musquodoboit
From Halifax: Take Highway 102 to exit 10 to Shubenacadie and Route 224 to Upper Musquodoboit to beginRoundtrip in the car: About 300km
Get obsessed, stay obsessed. It’s the life approach of John Berry, the narrator of John Irving’s delicious novel Hotel New Hampshire. It’s also the sports mantra of every golfer I’ve ever met (god love them and their fanaticism). Me? I don’t golf. But I have golfed. (There’s a big difference.) And there is one place in the world where I’ve sunk putts and not felt like the course asshole who’s wearing the wrong pants and holding up the people behind her with her feverish-but-fruitless whacking at the grass: Upper Musquodoboit’s Fish Pond Golf Course (which, coincidentally, has just about the best smiling-fish-with-a-golf-club logo I’ve ever seen).
It’s a nine-hole, par-70 course, if that means anything to you. Green fees are $15 for nine holes any day of the week. Tee times are not required. There are sandwiches and potato chips in the club house and a sweet little well from which you can draw a drink on a hot day. And yes, true to the name, there is a fish pond. And you have to bloody drive the ball over it.