Tag Archives: roadtrip2015

Places: New Brunswick’s National Parks

I had promised I would come back to our time in New Brunswick and here we are. Our experiences in New Brunswick were really focused around the two National Parks we camped at and both of them left us wanting to go back.

On our way east through New Brunswick, we stayed on the north shore and spent two days at Kouchibouguac National Park – or as I described it, the one that starts with a ‘K’, kouchi-something…(koo-chi-boo-gu-ack).

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Site #136 with some sort of lightsabre battle going on

The weather was threatening a bit as we arrived at Kouchibouguac so we got the tarp over our site right away. Just as we were tying off the last rope, it started to pour! For about a half-hour it was a full downpour but once it was done, it was the last rain that we saw in New Brunswick and our next two days were beautiful.

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Headed to the beach

The facilities at Kouchibouguac National Park were not quite as deluxe as we had experienced at Gaspe National Park but there was still a great playground for the kids, clean bathrooms and the dish sinks that make washing up after meals so much more enjoyable.

dscf4051We only really spent one full day in the park but got a good sense of the area and enjoyed learning about the natural area through the kid’s junior ranger program. We went to two of the beaches and unfortunately, Kelly’s Beach was overrun with jellyfish the day we were there so we did not get into the water. Depending on the currents this seems to happen along the Northumberland Strait from time to time due to the high concentration. Regardless, the sand bar is very beautiful and there is an excellent boardwalk system for walking out to the beach to limit the erosion.

The kids also enjoyed the variety show that was put on by the park staff at the amphitheatre that night featuring Parka, the official mascot of the National Parks. We were there during the middle of the week so it may not have been indicative but availability seemed pretty easy to come by as there were many empty sites around us.

dscf4067Overall, a great campsite and although you are pretty isolated, it is part of the fun. We stayed on site #136 and it was very nice; private and a good size.

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On our way west from Halifax we debated for a while what to do; whether to stay there for a couple more days, whether to stop in Fredricton or Quebec City but in the end, with the weather looking good we decided to book in for two nights in Fundy National Park and it was one of the last sites remaining.

Stopping just outside of Fundy National Park in Alma, before we even arrived we had a delicious dinner of lobster rolls and seafood chowder at the Alma Lobster Shop. dscf4617On the main road in to the campground they were doing major construction so it was a kind of an unsightly mess with dust and dirt everywhere but it was hard to complain with views like the one below right off the road.dscf4680

Our site was one of the better we saw so we must have gotten awfully lucky – some had hardly any privacy but ours worked out really well. (site #253 – Chignecto North) Even when our neighbours pulled back into their site at 1 in the morning and then decided to start a campfire, at least they were quiet!

dscf4675Knowing we only had one day to explore Fundy, we made the best of it. The kids loved exploring the rocks and caves at low tide and the National Park actually has a giant outdoor pool that overlooks the Bay of Fundy and is constantly refreshed by water from the bay and heated by solar panels. It was a really fun way to spend the afternoon and even included in the price of our park pass. There was also a giant playground that the kids made very good use of.  In the evening, we took in the show that was put on at the amphitheatre and headed home for our last campfire of the trip.

dscf4628The National Parks we stayed in were really a highlight of our trip and made us anxious to try and explore more of Canada’s National Parks. Each of them were new for us and we couldn’t have been more impressed with the facilities and of course Canada’s beauty is on display at each of them as well.

We said goodbye to Bay of Fundy the next morning before daybreak – taking down the tent in the dark and heading for home. Fifteen hours and 1300kms later, we pulled into our driveway with another vacation in the books.

 

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Places: South Shore, Nova Scotia

Wow – Labour Day weekend ended and then all of a sudden it was Thanksgiving and now the end of October is in sight! I am not sure what happened in between but enough that I didn’t seem to have time to keep up with this! As a result, I will be going back in time to capture some of our other summer adventures and maybe there will be enough of a lull now that I won’t fall behind on anything else.

Continuing on from our train car experience, we headed to the south shore of Nova Scotia – just outside of Lunenburg on an ocean-front site at Risser’s Beach Provincial Park. While being oceanfront provided an incredible view, but it also provided an incredible wind! As we stepped out of our car, it nearly knocked us over and it took a fair amount of patience to even get the tent up.

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We went to bed pretty early the first night and then a couple of hours later we were awoken by a thunderstorm that was right on top of us. It was the most intense that I can remember and sounded even worse with the crashing of waves on the rocks as the tide was coming in. After a few minutes of waiting for it to pass, we were all certain we were only moments away from a bolt of lightning hitting our tent, or a tree falling on it, so we made a break for the car and waited it out there. That is the only time I can ever remember doing that but it certainly seemed like a good idea. While E, H, and I watched anxiously out the windows, N just slept right through and didn’t remember a thing in the morning.

Although we got off to a rough start, we awoke to a beautful morning the next day and the kids played around on the rocks that separated our site from the ocean before we took off to Lunenburg.

In Lunenburg, we enjoyed exploring the waterfront and the Bluenose II was actually in port so we got to go on board that as well. After a delicious lunch at the Salt Shaker Deli overlooking the harbour, we went to the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum. This has to be one of the best value museums there is. We spent a full four hours exploring the many exhibits, the touch tank and listening to presentations for less than $20 for the four of us. The kids loved the exhibits and it was a great experience.

We returned to a much more calm evening at our campsite and enjoyed our view and the beautiful setting.

From Lunenburg we headed to Halifax, a city I’ve never spent much time in – and we didn’t spend much this trip either. After arriving at our hotel right downtown, we cleaned up for camping and then were ready to head out. We ate on the patio at the Stubborn Goat in beautiful weather and then set off for the harbourfront to do the tourist circuit. We rode the ferry over to Dartmouth, ate some Cows ice cream and climbed up and slid down the big wave before finally making it back to our hotel.

The next morning, after debating whether to spend another night, we made a break for Fundy National Park and the last couple of nights of our trip after finding a campsite that had opened up. Before leaving Halifax though, we took advantage of our National Park Pass one more time and visited the Halifax Citadel. Although I thought the soldiers would be a hit with N, it was actually E that enjoyed all the exhibits and the participants in period clothing. After a couple of hours there, we were on our way again – headed west.

The Stay: Train Station Inn, Tatamagouche, NS

Who could possibly give up the opportunity to sleep in a train caboose? In planning her trip, my mom had come across the Train Station Inn and suggested that it might be quite a hit for our kids as we left Prince Edward Island. To call it a hit would be underselling it; I am pretty sure they would still be there if they could be and they weren’t the only ones that were impressed with this unique accommodation.

Caboose #9

The Train Station Inn is a collection of cabooses and train cars that have been renovated into unique hotel rooms and located on the tracks surrounding the century-old Tatamagouche train station. The Inn opened up in 1989 and has been chosen before as the most unique place to stay in Canada.

We stayed in Caboose #9 – a two-bedroom caboose with 2 conductor seats in the cupola where the kids spent most of their time. It also featured a private deck on the back and somehow also had a shower and bathroom squished in there.

I don’t believe the caboose had the deck while in service.

We also enjoyed breakfast in the train station the next morning and exploring the small town of Tatamagouche, complete with excellent bakery and their own microbrewery Although we were only in Tatamagouche for one night, the caboose accommodation provided a memorable experience that I would certainly recommend. 

Places: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

This trip recap will go a little out of order now, and if anyone reading this blog is from New Brunswick I know that they are going to be upset that it is being skipped for the time being but I certainly will come back to it.

Our visit to PEI was the anchor of the trip, our first thing we booked that let us get started with everything else. My parents had also planned a trip to Maritimes this summer and after scoping out dozens of places to meet up, we found a great spot in Charlottetown to stay for four days that would hold all of us.

On our way into Charlottetown, we stopped on the south shore of the Island beside Argyle Shore Provincial Park to spend the the afternoon with our friends from Ottawa – they had rented a place for the week and our arrival coincided with the arrival of good weather. After a miserable three weeks of weather for the island in July, our stay had some of the hottest weather of the summer so we were very lucky. After the day on the beach exploring tide pools and even having a swim, we stopped before arriving at our house at Pizza Delight for some garlic fingers, a genuine Maritime tradition.

Endless red sand at Argyle Shore

On our first morning we headed north to to see Anne of Green Gables – a recent interest of our daughter’s since she has just started reading the books so the timing was excellent. More surprisingly, our son was also fascinated by the farm and the old house. My memory of the last time I visited this site about twenty years ago was of huge crowds and tour buses but it was not like that at all. In fact, this was a general theme on the island – it did not seem to be very busy at all despite it being the height of tourist season. I am sure this does not bode well for the local economy and people were certainly talking about it. We spent a couple of hours at the site but didn’t really take the time to explore this part of the island much on this trip.

What a job…

On Saturday, it was a beautiful day and we found out where all the people were in PEI – they were at Basin Head beach just past Souris on the east side of the island. This is a beach that I had first read about here and although it is about an hour outside of Charlottetown, it certainly doesn’t hurt it’s popularity. Although I am sure there were a good number of tourists there, the crowd seemed to mostly be made up of locals. Once we made our way through the crowds, the kids really enjoyed walking out to the sandbars, making castles and finding little sea critters.

Hanging out at the Lobster Shack in Souris

On our way out to Basin Head, we stopped at the Lobster Shack in Souris for some excellent lobster rolls and local oysters. Even little E tried an oyster! And despite her distaste for it, she managed to keep it down which is probably more than I could have done at that age – I would have ordered the grilled cheese. As an aside, I have never seen anyone eat more lobster than little E did on this trip – whole lobsters, lobster rolls, lobster mac n’ cheese – she was willing to take any delivery mechanism to get her favorite crustacean.

Exploring Basin Head

On Sunday, we spent some more time in Charlottetown, exploring the harbour area and some of the historic sites downtown including the area around Province House since it is currently undergoing a massive renovation. We also had lunch at the famous Water & Prince Corner Shop, an excellent seafood feast on the picnic tables they have outside. H and I split a seafood chowder that was my favourite of the trip. Later that day we went back out to Argyle Shore Provincial Park, stopping first at the Dream Park in Cornwall just outside of Charlottetown. This massive park could entertain the kids for hours and had many elements that we just don’t see in our cookie-cutter parks here in Ottawa anymore. A good run there helped everyone work off one of their multiple Cows ice cream trips.

To me, the Argyle Shore beach is quintessentially Prince Edward Island. The red sand and the tide pools make it look like a postcard. On a future trip, I would be tempted to spend my time on this shore. And again, despite the beautiful weather, there couldn’t have been more than a dozen people at the park. 

On our way from PEI on our final morning we took the time to tour Government House, the residence of the Lieutenant Governor and also got in a final lobster roll at Dave’s Lobster near the water. Overall, PEI was certainly one of the kids’ favourite stops on the trip and although small, we will still have more to do next time we return since our four days just let us put a small dent in the activities that it offers.

Places: Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec

During our Maritimes adventure, we spent time in four Canadian provinces and the first of these was of course Quebec. Sometime last summer I had my interest sparked in going to the Gaspe by this article in the Globe and Mail. The funny part is that the article really doesn’t cover anything that we actually did in the Gaspe but the inspiration did manage to get us there.

One thing we found out about the Gaspe during the first couple of days is that it is a LONG way out there. To get to Forillon National Park, our first destination of the trip, took us about fourteen hours of driving with two distinct components. Until Riviere-du-Loup, it is an easy drive flying along four-lane highway but after that it moves to more tedious, but much more interesting and beautiful, driving along rising and falling two-lane highways with limited passing lanes until reaching the tip of the Gaspe peninsula where Forillon lies.

This drive really peaked my interest in returning to the area, there are so many beautiful scenes along the St. Lawrence Seaway and tiny towns that could be explored. One thing that started to strike me as we drove is how isolated this area of Canada could be, particularly before the Internet and during the winter. We stopped for groceries about two and a half hours from our campground and it was the last grocery store of any size that we saw.

Our morning view

We arrived around dinner time to Forillon National Park and everyone’s eyes lit up when they realized I had booked an Otentik rather than sleeping in our own tent. This counts as luxury on an adventure like this!

Our four-season canvas tent could not have had a more beautiful view, looking out toward the Gulf of St. Lawrence from our front porch. We really enjoyed our two nights at Forillon – there were very few people and the facilities at the National Park were excellent. The weather was pretty funny – it changed constantly, from hot and sunny to rainy and windy and back again in a matter of minutes as different systems blew in off the ocean.

One of the six weather patterns we experienced that day.

Our campground provided a rocky beach, a playground overlooking the ocean, and excellent facilities to make it a very comfortable experience.

We did the eight-kilometre Les Graves trail to the lighthouse at Cape Gaspe – this was a fun hike although it did make us come to the realization that our kids are probably still more suited to six kilometre long hikes…

On the way back to the campsite, after spotting a seal and some foxes earlier, we also saw a black bear which brought traffic to a halt and let E check another animal off her list for the trip.

The next day, from Forillon, we drove west on the south side of the Gaspe Peninsula, passing by the famous Perce Rock and other beautiful scenery. We stopped at a nameless beach for an hour or so and the lack of people in this wonderful landscape continued to amaze us. The only place we saw any people was in Perce, which actually seemed like sort of an aberration as we arrived to a town that was packed with tourists. We made that a very short stop and as soon as we were on our way, the crowds disappeared once again.

Our last night in the Gaspe was spent in Carleton-sur-Mer at the Manoir Belle Plage. This small town again provided nice views over the water and although we didn’t have a lot of time to spend, we enjoyed some excellent coffee the next morning from La Brulerie du Quai while the kids explored one of the largest playgrounds that we saw all trip along with its 200-foot zipline.

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From Carleton, it was only about an hour until we were into New Brunswick, ending our Gaspe portion of the trip. I think we would all welcome going back to the Gaspe – there were so many idyllic little towns that we sailed through because of a lack of time but each one we stopped in provided an interesting glimpse into the history and culture of this isolated part of Canada.

Places: The Maritimes

In our quest to see more of Canada, this summer we headed East. After 18 days, five provinces and 4900 kilometres we finally pulled back into the driveway on Sunday night and can at least say we’ve put a small dent in it. Over the next week or so I will post some of the details of our trip but for now, here’s a glance at our route:

We had unbelievable weather, particularly for this part of the world, never spending any time at all inside due to rain. Our minivan performed admirably, even as our GPS continued to lead us through backroads that could only be loosely categorized as roads at all. If you’d like to get a sneak peek of our adventures, check out my instagram photos in the sidebar. Otherwise, stay tuned…