Dave Stewart recently travelled all the way to Nova Scotia, Canada to discover a wealth of culture, hauntingly beautiful landscapes, sea kayaking, whales and even creepy graveyards.

Nova Scotia is a bit special. It’s literal Latin translation is New Scotland, but as you get to its captial city Halifax, an old port, you start to get a sense of its special atmosphere.

As a port it used to trade heavily with the then newly-founded American cities of Boston and New York and you can even discover a great immigration museum in the former docklands where all the new arrivals would see their first taste of the New World.

For me parts of Nova Scotia look like Cornwall, with its rugged coastlines and many beautiful lighthouse,which have become something of a local symbol. As well as the hundreds of real functioning lighthouses you see scattered about the landscape, you also see garden lanterns in the shape of mini lighthouses dotting people’s front gardens, at bars you can drink out of lighthouse-shaped tankards and salt and pepper shakers at lobster shacks are also mini lighthouses. But you’re quickly reminded you’re not in Cornwall when you also see vast pine forests just a few minutes drive inland.

The only thing more important than lighthouses is lobsters. It’s in everything, and the live tanks can be found in many local restaurants. They all have their claws taped up to stop them fighting each other in the tank. I have mixed feelings about this. Probably so do the lobsters. But man they’re tasty. Where not served whole you’ll find local lobster meat served in sandwiches, mixed in with pasta, salads, scattered on top of ‘poutine’ (Canada’s national dish of cheesy chips + gravy). It’s affordable and abundant here and is on everything, as opposed to the relatively expensive meat it is in other parts of the world.

Foliage in this part of the world during ‘the fall’ is amazing, as any tree-type will tell you. Everywhere we went we’d see beautiful reds, yellows-contrasted against the lush green pines.

Sea Kayaking

One experience that will stay with me for a long time was sea kayaking in the Bay of Fundy.  There’s a certain part of your brain, the part that was taught as a child never to go too far into the sea that starts kicking off a bit when you’re standing on a shoreline of the ocean, about to push a tiny 2-person kayak into watery oblivion. Having said all that, it was actually a lot of fun. About five boats headed out and it was great as we saw bald eagles perching, seal sightings, rocky outcrops on the shoreline that look like celebrities, you know that sort of thing. And the seas were choppy but relatively calm long enough for us to get our rhythm going, and then, well we were ready for the bloody storm, man! Except there was no need, because it turns out the Bay of Fundy is a sheltered bay renowned for its relatively calm seas. 

The Graveyard Tour

If that wasn’t thrilling enough, we also did a midnight graveyard tour in Annapolic Royal, the former capital of Canada, arranged by the local historical society of the picture-postcard pretty town of Lunenburg, originally settled by the Acadians (where we get the word Canadian from). The place is rich in colonial-era maritime history, and this sort of thing seemed right up our street. We met our guide at midnight, the wonderfully charismatic and slightly insane man who does this for a living. He quickly points out to the superstitious in our group that this isn’t a ‘boo! A ghost!’ sort of tour, saying they have enough interesting historical stories around the graveyard without having to make up any What followed was magical as we heard amazing stories about the deceased, including EG Rose Fortune, an 18th century black woman whose family escaped slavery when she was just a child, and who later became a successful local entrepreneur and, eventually, Canada’s first female police officer. Incredibly, her direct descendent –Daurene Lewis also became Canada’s first black female mayor when she was elected in Annapolis Royal in 1984.

Whale Watching 

Do you know what a Zodiac is? I sure didn’t. Turns out it’s a tiny little boat that goes at high speed into the sea. There seems to be a theme developing with Nova Scotians and water. When it isn’t falling out of the sky, the locals seem determined to find new ways of immersing themselves into it. this time, it was the fastest, bumpiest little ride (the kind where you have to hold onto ropes else you could easily be tipped overboard) I’ve ever been on. At one point our captain – a small wood-stain tanned man who looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy and I wasn’t entirely convinced hadn’t escaped from a suitcase and stolen the boat from his master- said “can you believe Disney spends so much money trying to recreate this? And here we are getting it for free!” (conveniently forgetting that we’d spent $75 each for this possibly jaunt). Mind you, it was soon all worth it. About an hour into the journey,  a merry school of dolphins started splashing about our boat and following us, seemingly looking for spilled fish in our wake. Or possibly trying to warn us, I’m not sure, they weren’t clear on that. And then – blimey. Humpbacks! Massive ones! On the horizon! Splashing about like they own the place! We saw their heads, their amazing dark shadows looming under the water and then –SPLASH- out they come. I’m aware these aren’t the biggest whales of them all but trust me, they’re still bloody huge when you’re that close. It’s surreal, and beautiful, and despite all the swaying and splashing and crashing and bobbing, oddly calming. Well done whales, good show. Thanks for having us.

Tidal Bore Rafting

Basically think an amped up, proper white-knuckle version of the river rapids at Alton Towers, except occurring via an entirely natural phenomenon whereby a tide – and with it an immensely strong current- suddenly sweeps into view and crashes against the flow of what was shortly beforehand a very calm and picturesque river in Schubenacadie (my favourite town name ever), with bald eagles flying overhead and chipmunks scurrying for cover in the trees as we motored past. The bore had to be seen to be believed. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen – like someone suddenly turned on the wave machine. It was thrilling but you had to hold on super tight– two of the eight of us fell out during one particularly strong wave, but were quickly helped back on board by our very competent driver just to do it all over again moments later! This went on for about an hour or so I think – I lost all concept of time as it was like being on a rollercoaster-but in case you weren’t wet or muddy enough, at the end you can also go mud sliding down the bank and back into the river, at a much calmer point away from the crazy waves.

I’m telling you, if a Nova Scotian isn’t wet, or nearly drowning, or covered in mud, or eating lobster, or all of those things at once, they’re not happy. I think I’m in love.