A steady breeze billows Amoeba’s sails as we quietly glide across Nova Scotia’s choppy Bras D’Or Lake before a shout breaks the tranquillity: “Bald eagle!”
Two dozen pairs of eyes dart up to the cloud-flecked blue sky and there it is, languidly circling above on huge, outstretched wings.
In a flash, the majestic raptor swoops down to the water with its razor-sharp talons thrust forward and spears a fish the captain has just thrown, a process repeated several times so that everyone can at least attempt to photograph it.
Bald eagles are a common sight in summer here, as Cape Breton Island is home to most of Nova Scotia’s bald eagle population, and ospreys are resident here, too. Seeing one in action close-up is a special moment, however.
Although, sadly, the 1960s-era schooner Amoeba has since been retired due to its age, there are plenty of other vessels that operate sailing tours on this enormous tidal, saltwater lake, delighting tourists with wildlife sightings and coastal views.
During the exhilarating half-day excursion from Baddeck’s quaint harbour, we also sail by the lakeside summer mansion of inventor Alexander Graham Bell and the white-and-red Baddeck Lighthouse.
Bustling Baddeck is the start and end point of the Cabot Trail, a 300km (186-mile) loop around northern Cape Breton named after Italian explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) who landed there in 1497, commissioned by England’s King Henry VII.
It links festival-filled coastal communities with histories from Acadian to Irish and Scottish, influences still found in the distinct accents, as well as rugged coastlines and forested highlands.
Back ashore, I explore the village after a seafood lunch and a pint at harbourside pub The Freight Shed before visiting the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site’s interactive museum that celebrates Bell’s life work.
For keen golfers, Cape Breton’s coast boasts three of Canada’s top golf courses: Highland Links at Ingonish, on the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and sibling courses Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links, in Inverness.
One thing’s for certain – you need several days to truly appreciate the Cabot Trail’s magnificent nature, traditions and activities.
From coast to coast
Canada’s long stretches of coastline are attractions in their own right.
One of the longest coastlines of any country, it stretches more than 243,000km (over 150,000 miles) and spans mainland coasts bordering the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans as well as Newfoundland, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island and Vancouver Island (among its many islands).
Along with deep-blue seas, this visual smorgasbord and palette of colours also encompasses the verdant greens of British Columbia’s temperate rainforests, the Bay of Fundy’s brick-red rocks, the golden sands of its many beaches, traditional red-topped white lighthouses, the multi-hued houses of its timeless fishing villages and coastal towns, and its vibrant cities.
Nature is key to its appeal. Wildlife experiences include viewing bears in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, whale-watching off both east and west coasts and in the Gulf of St Lawrence, and seeing orcas, dolphins and seals while kayaking.
Some of Canada’s most spectacular natural treasures are on its coast, with everything from mountains tumbling into the sea to towering icebergs nudging past cliffs and bays, the highest tides on earth and remote, nature-filled islands.
“It has been a very busy shoulder season for Newfoundland,” says Candice Walsh, International Market Development – Travel Trade and Travel Media at Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.
“The province’s tourism season now extends well into October and early November, where days are crisp but sunny and ideal for coastal hikes.
“The East Coast Trail, for example, links 32 historic communities over 300 kilometres of world-class hiking, passing colourful towns and fishing villages nestled around fjords, inlets, coves, guts, bays, and tickles.”
Walsh adds: “From spring to early summer, you’ll watch for 10-year-old icebergs drifting along Iceberg Alley as they make their way from Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, while the summer is rife with whale watching and fishing activity. You can explore on foot or by boat, or simply on a road trip.”
Friendly and welcoming coastal communities make stays special for visitors with accommodation options by the sea including luxury hotels or lodges above the waves, a cosy inn or B&B right on a beach or even a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
Fly-drive tours can include Vancouver Island’s culturally-rich indigenous communities, Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail, Québec’s Whale Route and Gaspésie Tour along the Gaspe Peninsula and the colourful seaside settlements of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland’s 526km Viking Trail.
Interest in Canada coast-based holidays has soared since the pandemic and, says Lisa Cooper, Destination British Columbia’s trade sales account director, wildlife remains the big draw.
“The province’s coastal bear lodges and viewing experiences are all in very high demand, and marine wildlife is very popular too, with dedicated whale-watching tours selling well.”
Kayak red rocks and caves: Paddle a sea kayak on a guided trip below dramatic red cliffs and explore wave-sculpted caves in Québec’s Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence, before touring sites on land including fishing village L’Etang du Nord, nearby Borgot Lighthouse and Pied-de-Vent cheese factory. tourismeilesdelamadeleine.com/en
Walk on the sea floor: From May until mid-October, visitors to the Bay of Fundy’s Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park in New Brunswick can walk on the floor of the ocean below sandstone sea cliffs three hours either side of low tide. Then at high tide, which reaches between 9.75 and 14 metres (32-46 feet), they can kayak among the rock formations. There’s even night kayaking now. thehopewellrocks.ca
Gaze at grizzlies: Stay at indigenous-owned Knight Inlet Lodge, located 240km (150 miles) north-west of Vancouver in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, for some of the best viewing opportunities of grizzly bears. Guests arrive at the floating, all-inclusive lodge by floatplane from Vancouver Island, taking water or land tours to see the bears between May and September. grizzlytours.com
Hike far-flung sand dunes: Take a hike on Nova Scotia’s tiny Sable Island, 290km (180 miles) off Halifax. A national park, its nature embraces giant sand dunes, wild horses, the world’s largest grey seal colony and rare birds, plants and insects.
Only day visits are allowed, between June and October, with visitors arriving by charter helicopter and plane or by sea. Hurtigruten includes a beach landing there on a cruise from Halifax September 2023. pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ns/sable
View storms from your bed: See Pacific tempests from the comfort of your bedroom through picture windows on a stay at the Wickaninnish Inn, a luxury boutique hotel nestled on rocks between rainforest and the ocean near Tofino on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Experience the nature on your doorstep with bike rides, beach campfires, surfing and hiking. wickinn.com
Watch icebergs and whales: Stay at Quirpon Island Inn, a former lightkeeper’s cottage alongside a working lighthouse on an island off the northern tip of Newfoundland, to enjoy two natural wonders. Migrating whale species including humpback and minke skirt the island year-round while icebergs drift past on Iceberg Alley from June to as late as October in some years. linkumtours.com
Dig for clams: Board a boat from Prince Edward Island’s historic Georgetown to dig sand bars for giant clams on a deserted island, before savouring them on the beach once they have been steamed. The tour also includes hauling pots from the boat for lobsters, crabs and mussels as well as passing by PEI’s oldest wooden lighthouse. tcapei.com
Attractions: New Brunswick’s 30km (19-mile) Fundy Trail Parkway, which opened in May 2022, can be experienced by car, bike or by hiking and features 20 lookouts with panoramic views, the Fundy National Park and pristine beaches. fundytrailparkway.com
A new accessible viewing deck at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia allows visitors to see the famous lighthouse and experience the waves and rocks in safety. discoverhalifaxns.com
A new three-week, 10-stage road trip of eastern Québec starting in Québec City includes whale-watching in the Saguenay-St Lawrence Marine Park and the Gaspesie mountains, where the Matane Wildlife Reserve has high numbers of moose. quebec-cite.com/en/road-trip-quebec/3-weeks
The Island Walk is a new 700km (435-mile) walking route looping around Prince Edward Island, making it possible to circumnavigate the entire island but with 32 sections for shorter walks. theislandwalk.ca
Launched this summer, St John’s Walking Tours with a local guide introduces highlights of the Newfoundland and Labrador capital’s historic and brightly-coloured downtown. stjohnswalkingtours.com
Premier Holidays has launched a new 12-night Vancouver Island Explorer self-drive itinerary for 2023, visiting Tofino, Knight Inlet, Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver. Priced from £3,399pp, it includes flights. premierholidays.co.uk
Accommodation: Boutique eco-hotel Blackbush Resort at Old Tracadie Harbour on Prince Edward Island will open in June 2023 with 30 rooms overlooking the coastal dunes of Prince Edward Island National Park and a rooftop patio for viewing stars and the Northern Lights. blackbush.ca
The newly-opened Gros Morne Inn is a sustainable boutique hotel in the heart of Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. grosmorneinn.com
Opened in May 2022, Klahoose Wilderness Resort in Desolation Sound on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast is an indigenous-owned, all-inclusive eco-resort that can only be accessed by boat or seaplane. Activities include grizzly bear viewing in Toba Inlet. klahooseresort.com
Book it with…Prestige Travel
Prestige Travel’s 13-day Classic Maritimes round-trip self-drive tour from Halifax takes in Nova Scotia highlights such as Peggy’s Cove, Lunenberg, Annapolis Royal, a Bay of Fundy whale-watching excursion, Baddeck and the Cabot Trail and the Fortress of Louisbourg as well as three days exploring Prince Edward Island. Costing from £1,398pp it includes accommodation and car rental. prestigetravel.co.uk