“Nowhere in Nova Scotia is more than 67 km (42 mi) from the ocean.” – Ted Harrison
Until about a month ago, I had never been to any of Canada’s eastern provinces. For years, I have longingly looked at photos of lighthouses, beautiful sunsets, pretty coastal houses and gorgeous stretches of beaches until I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to spend a few days exploring Nova Scotia’s South Shore. I was more than ready for beaches, fish and chips, fried clams and all the lobster I could handle!
The flight to Halifax is over an hour long and can be very affordable. Alternately, you can also drive there but it takes about 12 hours to drive from Montreal to Halifax. I hear the drive is lovely and I would’ve driven had I had the time but since I was only there for 5 days, I decided I’d rather drive around Nova Scotia than to Nova Scotia.
Day 1: Halifax Airport to White Point
It takes a little less than two hours to drive from the Halifax Stanfield International Airport to White Point Resort, the first stop and first beach on this trip. Along the way we stopped for lunch at Fredie’s Fantastic Fish House, a fast food fish and chips spot in a strip mall off the highway. Thanks Aimee for the recommendation because this was some great fish and chips! The fish pieces were big and juicy, the batter crispy but not greasy and the onion rings were fantastic!
White Point Beach Resort is one of the only beach side accommodations on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. The resort is celebrating its 90th anniversary and has been the vacation spot for many generations of Nova Scotians. Cottages, vacation homes or regular rooms are available for rent and the resort has trails, a golf course, indoor and outdoor pools, and many more activities available. There’s also a restaurant on site, which is convenient as there aren’t many eateries around.
White Point Beach is a private beach that belongs to resort and is located within the UNESCO Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve. It’s one of the nicest beaches on the South Shore. If you’re not staying at the resort, you can still access this beach by purchasing a day pass from the hotel. The kilometre-long sandy beach is perfect for lounging around or learning how to surf or boogie board. I spent my first afternoon in Nova Scotia lounging poolside and my first morning walking along this beautiful beach.
Day 2: Carters Beach
The drive from White Point to Carters Beach is only about 15 minutes long. It’s a lovely drive that took us along the coastline and through tiny little one-store towns. The road is dotted with lovely coastal homes and cottages for rent as well as little beaches. We parked in Carters Beach’s (free) parking lot and walked along the narrow path to the beach. Coming upon Carters Beach felt as if I’d been transported to the Caribbean. Three crescent beaches of fine white sand and crystal clear turquoise water connect one after another. We crossed a tidal river of warm water between the first and second beach (careful as this river could be waist high at high tide and ankle high at low tide). The further we walked from the parking lot entrance, the quieter and more secluded the beaches got. This was definitely the most beautiful beach in Nova Scotia, and one of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever been on. I believe that’s where I declared that Nova Scotia was my new favourite province. Carters Beach is still a bit of a hidden gem and definitely a wild beach in the sense that there is no supervision or facilities on site. The only down sides to this pristine beach beach are the horse flies and the freezing water temperature. I would still go back just to be able to walk down those gorgeous stretches of white sand and gaze at the turquoise waters. We stopped by Seaside Seafood on our way back to White Point for more excellent fish and chips, fried clams, onion rings and coffee flavoured soft serve ice cream! We also took the slightly longer way around to admire more of those adorable and colourful Nova Scotian coastal homes.
Day 3: Hirtle’s Beach, Lunenburg, Queensland Beach and Peggy’s Cove
When I complained on Instagram that the water was too cold at Carters Beach, I was told to go to Hirtle’s, which was already on my list. This was our first stop on our way from White Point to Peggy’s Cove, where we were spending our second night. It was rainy and very foggy that morning so we couldn’t make the most of spending some time at Hirtle’s Beach but the way to the beach is lovely and the 3km-long beach itself is really nice. There’s something so mesmerizing about a beach on a foggy and grey day, isn’t there? The ocean is quite wavy at Hirtle’s beach and is perfect for surfing year-round. If it had been a nicer day, we might have attempted the moderate 7km Gaff Point Trail hike that takes you through gorgeous sceneries and allows you to spot some wildlife such as birds, dear and even whales if you’re lucky! The looped trail leads to “Secret Beach” or Sand Cove, a beach that’s only accessible at low tide by climbing down a cliff on a rope. Next time!
After walking along the beach and admiring some of the humble yet so charming beach front houses, we continued on to Lunenburg. Whatever you do, make sure you have time to stop and visit this charming little town which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The town’s historic center is also a National Historic Site of Canada. It feels like waking around a town made up of doll houses. There were charming and breathtaking views everywhere, whether it was the architecture or the great views of the water. We stopped by the laid-back The South Shore Fish Shack for a great lobster lunch that included a huge lobster, melted butter, a delicious potato salad and corn on the cob with a great view of the harbour. After lunch, we crossed the street and went to No 9 for coffee. No 9 was opened by Montreal native and former member of Bran Van 3000 Sara Johnston. The coffeeshop is adorable with a lovely garden in the back and the best coffee I had had in Nova Scotia so far. We spent part of the afternoon taking photos of Lunenburg and driving around the Second Peninsula before heading out towards Peggy’s Cove.
Since it was sunny by then, we decided to stop by Queensland Beach on our way, which was definitely a great decision. Queensland Beach is one of the warmest beaches on the South Shore. It can get very crowded at the height of summer because it’s only 30 minutes away from Halifax and the white sand and turquoise surf attract beach lovers looking for calm waters. The beach is supervised in July and August and there are bathrooms and showers on site. The water was 20ºC, so definitely warm enough to wade in.
I really wanted to make it to Peggy’s Cove lighthouse in time for the sunset so off we went to check into our seaside cottage. The Lighthouse Lane Cottage oceanfront accommodations are the cutest! I highly recommend the charming location and lovely owners of these cottages, which are only a few minutes up the street from the lighthouse. Before the sun set, we had dinner at Shaw’s Landing where I enjoyed more fish and chips, of course, and a lobster sandwich with a great view of the water. It is mind boggling how every inch of that coast is breathtakingly beautiful. I hadn’t realized how much I missed being by the ocean.
The sunset from the lighthouse is lovely but very crowded! Everywhere we went in Nova Scotia was quiet and devoid of tourists… except Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse at sunset. I am not sure where all the tourist busses came from since we didn’t see any on the road but there they were, along with hundreds of tourists all trying to get the perfect shot. We did get to admire the sunset but vowed to go back early the next day so we can enjoy the site.
Day 4: Peggy’s Cove
The next morning we were at Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse at 6am, just us and the fog and not another soul in sight. That is the only way to feel the magic and to surrender to the serenity of the ocean lapping at the giant and smooth granite boulders that are scattered all over the sight. I sat down with my back to the lighthouse and facing the ocean. Enveloped in fog and silence save for the sound of the waves, I spent a few minutes meditating then hopped up and down the rocks to admire the different views all around. We also walked around the peaceful fishing village dotted with picturesque houses, fishing boats and lobster traps. By the time we were done exploring the tiny cove, bus loads of tourists started arriving. It was our cue to grab an ice cream cone from Dee Dee’s Ice Cream parlour and hit the road to Halifax.
Day 5: Halifax and Lawrencetown Beach
I had so many restaurants and bars marked down in Halifax, you’d think I was moving there! In fact, we spent about a day and a half in Nova Scotia’s capital city. We enjoyed a walk along the waterfront with a stop for ice cream at COWS. We had a great coffee at Weird Harbour Espresso Bar and an iced one paired with cake at the eclectically decorated The Old Apothecary. We visited the Halifax Central Library and its dizzying architecture and climbed to the top of the star shaped Halifax Citadel. I especially enjoyed exploring the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, established in 1750, just a year after Halifax itself was established. This market is the oldest, continuously operating market in North America. The market is open 7 days a week and hosts 250 vendors from all over the province. I was happy to walk around this true farmers’ market and to discover everything Nova Scotia produces, including apricots grown in the Annapolis Valley. I had never had Canadian-grown apricots, my favourite fruit! I ate an entire container just as soon as I had bought it then went back later in the day to buy a few more to bring home. We had dinner at Studio East in trendy West North End Halifax and brunch at Edna, THE restaurant that was recommended by everyone, including enRoute magazine. We even tried the infamous Halifax donair at King of donair, another recommendation we received from a lot of people. May I just politely declare that it really is not my thing at all? One bite is all it took for me to walk away shaking my head and muttering “why” to myself repeatedly. Apparently, it’s something one eats when hungover so perhaps that was my mistake, I hadn’t had anything to drink. Seriously though, why Halifax?
I made time to visit one more beach east of Halifax. Located less than 30 minutes from downtown, Lawrencetown is a gorgeous stretch of golden beach renowned for its world-class surfing. The high waves make this beach an excellent one for surfers but the rip tides make it a cautionary one for swimmers. We made it there just in time to watch yet another gorgeous Nova Scotian sunset, the last one before we had to head back home.
For more photos of my trip to Nova Scotia, check out this album on my Facebook page.