NOTE: The Extreme Group and Destination Cape Breton have contracted me to tour Cape Breton Island and blog about my journey for four days. I have editorial control of the content and promise to write honestly and openly about the things I see and do. I hope you will accompany me on this adventure by reading my posts and commenting as you see fit.
Hiking in the Highlands
Walk loudly and carry a big stick. Sound advice when you're hiking in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. For extra safety I also carried a bell—it is coyote and bear country, after all.
I drove from Chéticamp into the west park entrance and started my clockwise journey. I immediately faced a steep incline and seconds later was lured to a roadside lookout point that offered a sweeping view of green mountains, rocky beaches and the Cabot Trail. A minute further, there was another lookout and another stunning vista. Than another. And another. Like a fly to light, I couldn't resist the temptation to stop at each one. Every view took my breath away. (So did the highway's hairpin turns that required slowing down to 30 km/hour!)
A moose is loose
Then I rounded a corner and saw her. A moose, ambling down the highway like it was nobody's business. By the time I caught my breath and grabbed my camera she'd turned into the woods and ascended a steep hill with astonishing speed and grace given her size. My day was pretty much made at that point, but it was only mid-morning.
I reached the MacIntosh Brook Trail and set off into the old-growth hardwood forest, noisemakers and pointed stick in hand. About 20 minutes in I reached the waterfalls. There, I took a minute to close my eyes and listen, and concluded that along with the sound of waves crashing on the beach, this is the most soothing sound on Earth. I walked back to my car, safe and sound.
At Cape North I turned left to head out to the tip of Cape Breton Island and the peculiarly named Meat Cove. The last eight kilometres were unpaved and I'm not going to lie to you, with more twists than a Twizzler and steeply graded slopes, I was more nervous driving here than I was when hiking alone. But I made it, without incident, to the end of the road where the Saint Lawrence Seaway meets the Atlantic Ocean. Here sits the Meat Cove Campground, which is rated one of the 10 most scenic campgrounds in Canada by Outdoors Canada magazine.
Meat Cove is extraordinarily beautiful, with campsites and picnic benches perched on a lush green field high atop cliffs that descend raggedly to the beach below. A seal's head bobbed up from the turquoise water. I found a narrow trail leading down the bluff, and at the bottom discovered the most extensive and ambitious collection of inuksuit I'd ever seen.
I then began my drive down the eastern side of Cape Breton Island, stopping next at Green Cove. This little gem is a rocky ocean headland, with a boardwalk trail that takes you to the top of marvelous huge volcanic rocks adorned with granite patterns in the shapes of stars. The waves can wash over the rocks and a rogue wave claimed two peoples' lives a few years ago so I keep well back.
Whale of a time
I arrived in Ingonish ready to see some whales. I'd booked a tour with Coastal Zodiac Adventures and met my guide, the charmingly named Kinnon MacKinnon. He tossed me a suit to wear, which I can only describe as mechanic chic—when coveralls meet spacesuit. I don't think Vogue Magazine will be calling me any time soon.
Kinnon and I were joined by his friend, Greg, a local jack-of-all-trades who knows plenty about area wildlife, and a father and son from Frankfurt, Germany. We boarded the Zodiac and in my eagerness and ignorance, I grabbed the seat at the bow. We hit some high winds and huge waves early on, and after a series of four-foot drops, I slunk to the stern like a landlubber. It was much steadier there.
Before too long Greg spotted a dolphin, and minutes later we saw two more. Kinnon told us they were Atlantic white-sided dolphins, a multi-coloured and slightly larger cousin of the common dolphin. We all looked for whale spray and groups of gannet, which circle above whales when they feed, but to no avail. On our return we saw a seal and three bald eagles perched majestically on a rocky island. Although there had been two humpbacks in the bay that morning they had either left or were feeling shy this afternoon. Too bad, but nonetheless I enjoyed a great couple of hours on the water meeting new friends and seeing other marine animals and birds.
Tonight was my treat night—a stay at the swishy Keltic Lodge in Ingonish. Situated high on a peninsula with a view of Cape Smokey rising out of the ocean, Keltic Lodge Resort has been open since 1940. Prime Ministers, foreign dignitaries and other honoured guests have come for meetings, to play golf at the Highland Links, or just to relax.
My room was in the historic main lodge (pictured) and after checking in, I aimed to squeeze in one final hike of the day, along the Middle Head trail which leaves from Keltic Lodge's parking lot. It's 3.8 km return and I left after 6 p.m., thinking I'd build up a strong appetite for dinner. Signs early on warning hikers not to fall down cliffs both amused and concerned me, but I continued forward. There were yet more fabulous views of the cliffs and white caps, but the sun was descending quickly and on the heavily wooded portions of the trail it was getting dark quickly. I turned and hightailed it back to the cozy lodge, where I enjoyed a fine meal of cod fishcakes and baked beans at the bar.
It was a day of high adventure, summed up best by following equation:
1 moose + 2 seals + 3 dolphins + 3 bald eagles = An incredible day in the Cape Breton Highlands._