Riding High in Nova Scotia

August 11, 2010

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By Lorraine Sommerfeld Living Reporter

Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia—“Now, you’ll be wantin’ to hold onto the ropes real tight,” said Trevor.

RVing across Canada may be the best way to see the country, because you can get out of the cities and still enjoy comfortable amenities. Lorraine Sommerfeld photo/for the Toronto Star

This was the rugged young man who would be
piloting the dinghy his Nova Scotian lilt sneaking in on some broadened vowels. Six of us sat in the inflatable rubber boat, staring mutely at our feet that were encased in several kilograms of rapidly hardening red mud.

We’d descended the banks of the Shubenacadie River in central Nova Scotia. It’s the largest river in the province, but as I could safely see the other side, as well as several sandbars, I tumbled into the boat and anticipated a nice couple of hours on the water on a lovely day.

Instead, I had the most amazing experience of my life.

Shubenacadie Tidal Bore Rafting Park is one of several companies offering Tidal Bore rafting on the river. Daily from June to the end of September, groups head out to meet the incoming tide. As the sea water rushes in, it mixes with the fresh river water. In a mind bending visual that challenges all you know, one layer of water races atop another as the two combine to create one of nature’s greatest feats: a tidal bore.

The ensuing turbulence is “read” by river guides who then pilot the boats into the heart of the bore. Into. At strongest tides (we had a good moon—waves were about eight metres), you blast upriver into the cresting waves. The boat is nearly vertical as water pours over you from all directions, and it crashes to safety only to be filled with the raging river.

You get soaked. There is no way around it. This is a rodeo on the river, with the river bucking every way to toss you. Clutching the ropes and boat handles, I asked what happens if someone falls in. “Oh, it’s fine, I’ll just pop you back into the boat,” he said, unworried. Two hours later as we approached the dock, it felt like we’d been gone 10 minutes. Our shoes now clean from the pounding water, we headed for the showers.

Nova Scotia is the only place in the world you can do this. With prices starting at $55 for a two-hour tour, if you’re old enough to hold on tight and young enough to still get soaked this experience is not to be missed.

We were trekking through Nova Scotia in an RV; it’s still one of my favourite ways to see Canada, with the ability to leave the beaten path of the cities, but leave none of the comforts behind. With a series of classic trails (we were following the Lighthouse Trail), Nova Scotia is incredibly tourist friendly. And while it may not be hard to get lost in Nova Scotia, it’s definitely hard to stay that way. You can literally ask anyone, anywhere, for help, and be back on your way. Doing a multi-point turn in a 10-metre rig may be cause for concern elsewhere, but not here in the laid-back nest of lobsters, fishing boats and endless shores.

If you’re new to campgrounds or RV parks, reading between the lines of amenities can be overwhelming. Each destination has its strengths; larger grounds will have pools, parks for kids and larger showers and washrooms. In-town sites might feature more concrete than trees, but are frequently provincially run and more modern. My favourite? Hands-down the small, family-owned sites that often don’t translate in the splashy advertisements.

If you’ve never considered an RV holiday, much has changed from even 10 years ago. New units are marvels of space-saving configuration. Pop-outs on some units feature bunk beds, head space has been increased in higher sleeping areas, hot-water tanks are bigger, steps are automatic and even things like outlets are where they need to be. For $150 a day, the large unit we had let us take in the winding roads of Nova Scotia, cook, camp and vacation in comfort. We spent $250 on gas during six days; hardly exhorbitant.

Our first night on the road was minutes from Peggy’s Cove. Situated in a tiny perfect arc of Indian Harbour, King Neptune’s Campground is run by Kay Richardson and her family. As we packed up the barbecue and prepared to take in a promised glorious sunset, Kay rounded the corner of her home with a tray. Homemade gingerbread cake, whipped cream, coffee and tea. Here was our Nova Scotia welcome mat, in the form of a tiny white-haired lady who treated guests at her campground like guests in her home.

The following morning, she led me into her white frame house. An ancient wood stove dominated the living room. “It’s the only heat source in the house,” she said.

Deep in the heart of Kejumkujik National Park, you can bed down in the towering forest, and tour the efforts of experts and volunteers in protecting endangered species of turtles and birds.

We ate cod we’d caught while deep sea fishing; lobster we’d selected from the Bay of Fundy at Hall’s Harbour; a raw scallop that had been clacking at us moments before, on a dock overlooking a gorgeous golf course at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, a town of 2,300. And every night we gathered around a campfire, listened to the surf and marvelled at the star fields.

In a world of false promises, bait-and-switch and not-exactly-as-shown, Nova Scotia truly is better than advertised.

Lorraine Sommerfeld is a freelance writer based in Burlington. Her trip was subsidized by GoRVing Canada and the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture & Heritage.

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