The defining moment of this particular road trip came when Kay and Joyce brought out the ginger-cake. Kay Richardson and her daughter, Joyce, own and operate the King Neptune campground just outside of Peggy's Cove, right on the Nova Scotia coast at Indian Harbour. Kay's husband, Vince, built the place more than 50 years ago, and when he passed on, she took it over, with Joyce moving back in with Mom to help out.
"It's a labour of love," says Kay, and she'll keep doing it as long as she can, despite the fact that it's getting harder every season. I've stayed at my share of campgrounds over the years, but have never seen the proprietors serve cake to the customers after dinner.
The King Neptune was one stop on a six-day tour of Nova Scotia behind the wheel of a 29-foot, C-class RV supplied by Fraserway Rentals and organized by Go RVing. It featured a Ford E-450 chassis, powered by a gas V-10 engine and sleeping accommodations for up to six people. Thankfully, there was just two of us and we were part of a group of four other rigs, making the rounds of this intriguing corner of Canada.
Like most RVs of this size, ours had all the modcons: air conditioning, slide-out room extender, microwave oven, freezer, and a decent-sized fridge. The room extender, in particular, is extremely cool; press a button and the interior volume of the unit virtually doubles within seconds. Other amenities include a proper shower, propane furnace, and a portable generator.
This is about as civilized as camping gets, and were you to buy this kind of rig new, you could expect to pay around $85,000. Fraserway will rent you one for five days for about $1,500 before extras. You pay for your own gas, supply your own food and incidentals, and are responsible for bringing the rig back with a full tank of gas and empty grey/black water tanks.
A quick word about the RV industry in Canada. According to Go RVing, which represents manufacturers, dealers, suppliers and campground owners and whose aim is to "provide the public and media with pertinent information about the benefits of RV travel", there are currently about one million recreational vehicles, of varying types, on the road in Canada. Despite higher gas prices, and what may seem like an expensive way to go on holiday, sales are up - some 46 per cent in 2009 over 2008 in Ontario, for example.
And apparently, it's not just old farts who are buying them. Mike Powell, spokesman for Go RVing, explains that some 67 per cent of RV owners are under 55 years of age, and 90 per cent of the people who own them insist that it's the best way to travel with kids. Indeed, on this little jaunt, one journalist brought along her three daughters, aged three, five, and seven. The little treasures.
But getting back to Nova Scotia. This province must be one of the best-kept secrets in Canada. At least in terms of things to see and do. I've travelled to some pretty exotic locales, but Nova Scotia - especially along the coast - is picture-postcard beautiful, with intriguing surprises around every corner and a sense of history unrivalled in the country. This is where it all started, folks. Our route took us along the so-called Lighthouse Trail, up across the centre of the province to the Annapolis Valley and the Bay of Fundy, and back to Dartmouth via Grand Pre' and Wolfville. A big circle.
The Lighthouse Trail starts near Halifax and winds its way westward along the South Shore of the province, passing through unbelievably picturesque villages and harbours, such as the aforementioned Peggy's Cove, Mahone Bay, Lunenberg, and, eventually, Yarmouth. Some of the Maritimes' most fabled icons are found along this route: Lunenberg and the Bluenose schooner, Cape Sable, and, of course, Halifax, where the great explosion of 1917 is still remembered.
We drove past countless art galleries and museums, interspersed with sugar-white sandy beaches and fishing ports that look almost too perfect to be real. Example: Bush Island, where a seemingly innocuous little secondary road leads off the highway beside the almost tropical-looking Crescent Beach. It ends up at a tiny government wharf built in one of the coast's endless inlets and home to a small fleet of lobster boats, a museum, and about half a dozen families. Bonus: you can drive your car right onto Crescent Beach.
A few other highlights of my Maritime vacation:
- Running the tidal bore on the Shubenacadie River. When the tide turns, tidewater from the Bay of Fundy roars up this river at some 15 knots, with up to two-metre waves accompanying it. It's an astonishing sight and you can get into the thick of things on a zodiac on a guided tour. Be prepared to get wet and muddy. Very wet and muddy.
- Self-guided tour of Lunenberg. The Bluenose schooner is an impressive piece of work, no question, but so are the homes and buildings of Lunenberg. Now that it's a Unesco heritage site, Lunenberg has evolved into something of a mecca for both classic architecture aficionados and wooden ship buffs. There is no shortage of wonderful old houses along the Lighthouse Trail, but this European enclave is in a category all its own. Excellent golf course to boot.
- Turtle-hunting in Kejimkujik (Keji for short). But not to eat. The painted and snapping turtles are endangered species in this neck of the woods, and the plan was to hike out to their nesting grounds at dusk and see them up close and personal. Unsuccessful, but worth the effort, nonetheless.
- Lobster lunch at Hall's Harbour. You get to pick our your own pre-lunch crustacean and name it, if you choose, before it goes into the pot. This funky little port is right on the Bay of Fundy, which was at low tide when we were there, and the local fishermen hang their boats by hawsers and cables from the wharf when the tide drops almost 10 metres.
- A tour of the second-oldest wooden house in Canada in Annapolis Royal (the oldest is also in this beautiful little town). Built in 1708, the Sinclair Inn has been preserved but not restored, and you can see exactly how they built houses in those days, with exposed lathe and plaster wall construction. Ghosts in the basement, too.
Before I went on this trip, I'd heard that Maritimers are friendlier than most - especially if you're a tourist. This city boy is here to tell you it's true.
Never underestimate the power of cake.