I’ve been wanting to write about those adventures for almost a year. Instead, my attention has been consumed by surviving the dumpster fire that is 2020. But at the tail end of this hot and steamy Florida summer, in the epicenter of a pandemic, and in the throes of the most turbulent time in recent history (worldwide and personally), I could use a peaceful escape, even if it’s just into our memories and photos. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.
Picking Up Where We Left Off
In mid-August 2019, we waved goodbye to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Our destination: Prince Edward Island, the smallest province in Canada. We set up camp at Caribou Monroes Provincial Park, a perfect location for catching the nearby ferry to PEI.
Just a few miles from the campground is the village of Pictou, considered the birthplace of New Scotland (now known as Nova Scotia). The centerpiece of the colorful harbor is a replica of the Hector, the aging wooden ship that carried the first wave of Scottish immigrants to their new home in 1773. They spent eleven weeks crowded onto a decrepit, disease-ridden ship in stormy seas, and barely survived the first winter in their new homeland. It kind of puts 2020 into perspective. Kind of. Because as you know, 2020 is a special kind of crazy.
Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia
While at Caribou Monroes Provincial Park, we made a day trip to the village of Tatamagouche to bike a portion of the Trans-Canada Rail Trail. Tatamagouche (or ‘Tata,’ as the locals affectionately call it) is a charming down-to-earth village, with an emphasis on local small businesses, including an award-winning brewery that turns out mighty fine beer.
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Getting To Prince Edward Island
After a couple of nights at Caribou Monroes, we were ready for our journey to PEI. There are two ways to get to the island: By ferry from Nova Scotia (a 75-minute trip), or across the 8-mile long Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick. Either way, traveling to the island is free. But you have to pay to leave the island (about $70 for our truck and trailer to cross the bridge; it would have been twice that for the ferry).
Notice that social distancing on the ferry was no problem, even before social distancing was a ‘thing.’
The PEI tourism office has a helpful website that organizes the island into three distinct areas: Points East, Central, and North Cape.
As you can see from our rustic little map, we stayed in two provincial parks and the national park on PEI, which allowed us to experience all three areas of the island. Although you can drive from tip to tip of PEI in about three hours, we spent two weeks, which gave us the opportunity for plenty of biking, hiking, and indulging in epic seafood feasts.
Exploring Eastern PEI
PEI has 35 working lighthouses, and there’s a cute one not far from the ferry landing. We made a stop at the East Point lighthouse, not just because we like lighthouses, but because of the name. The little town in Florida where my folks lived and where we’ve been marooned since January is called Eastpoint.
There’s a sign on the lighthouse grounds that has something to do with the Flat Earth Society (tongue-in-cheek, obviously). Looking back from the rubble of 2020, it seems eerily prophetic.
Our site at Red Point Provincial Park was perched on a hill with a view of the Northumberland Strait.
Shortly after setting up camp, we discovered that Harry Manx, one of our favorite musicians, was playing at the Cloggeroo music festival in nearby Georgetown. We made the 45-minute trek to Georgetown for dinner by the sea and then strolled a couple of blocks to the park for the music festival.
PEI is known for seafood and potatoes, and they work magic with those simple ingredients. Personally, I could happily live on seafood and potatoes, along with plenty of green vegetables (and gin & tonic and dark chocolate). That sounds like a reasonable food pyramid, don’t you think?
The Central Coast: Cavendish Campground, PEI National Park
Our second campground on PEI put us right in the middle of the island in the national park. The biking and hiking trails here are beautiful and easy—unless you’re biking seven miles against the wind on a 15-mile bike ride on the Gulf Shore Trail. Good thing Eric was in front of me so he didn’t have to listen to me yelling, “I am not having fun!” He hates when I do that. But it makes me feel better, haha.
An easy ride is the Homestead Trail. Riding from the campground made for a pretty 6.6-mile loop through lush fields of wildflowers and beside the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Greenwich Peninsula
The Greenwich Annex is a separate part of PEI national park that was rescued from a New York City developer who had plans to turn it into a golf course. It’s a unique landscape of marsh and bay and shifting sand dunes. It’s more than an hour’s drive from Cavendish, but it’s well worth the effort. (We stopped on our way from eastern PEI to Cavendish, and that worked out perfectly.)
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Charlottetown, Capital Of PEI
We drove one day into Charlottetown, the capital of PEI and a bustling little city (it’s a 25-mile drive from the campground). The excellent Saturday farmers’ market, the Confederation Centre of the Arts (with a free and inspiring outdoor performance celebrating diversity), a stroll along the waterfront, and a late lunch on Victoria Row made for a full and fun day.
Other Random Adventures On The Central Coast
A tiny fishing village on the French River is one of the most photographed and painted landscapes on PEI. Our friends MonaLiza and Steve told us we needed to search out Hostetter’s Viewscape for the best view. They were right.
North Rustico, just a few miles from the campground, is another picturesque harbor (apparently, all harbors on PEI are picturesque). We had a fantastic meal outdoors on the small deck overlooking the harbor at the Blue Mussel Cafe. More magic with PEI potatoes, and this time, seared scallops.
Many people make the pilgrimage to PEI to visit Green Gables Heritage Place, a 19th-century farm that served as the setting for the Anne of Green Gables novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Although I’ve been an avid reader all of my life, somehow I never got around to these children’s classics. We stopped by for a quick tour and were once again impressed with the attention to detail that Parcs Canada takes with their interpretive sites and programs.
A Farm-To-Table Evening
Of all of our culinary experiences on Prince Edward Island, this was the most memorable. We indulged in a leisurely multi-course dinner at The Table, a culinary studio that focuses on the local foods of the island. It was educational, fun, and an outstanding meal.
The restaurant is housed in a beautifully restored church, and dinners are limited to 20 people. We started off outdoors with oysters shucked by the local oyster farmer (wearing a “Shuck Me” cap) and lobster and oysters grilled by the chef, along with assorted local cheeses and local wines. It’s a good thing dinner was a three-hour long affair.
We then moved indoors, where we were served a multi-course meal of fish chowder, followed by platters of PEI seafood (lobster, mussels, and clams), grilled local vegetables (including potatoes, of course), and more wine with each course. Dessert was shortbread with local berries and cream.
The North Cape
Our final stop on PEI was Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. We tucked into our corner site in the trees (much better than the wind-blasted sites on the beachfront) and enjoyed a relaxing couple of days.
A half-mile walk along the red sand beach led us to the beautiful black-and-white striped West Point Lighthouse.
Walking the other direction leads to a tiny harbor and The Catch Kitchen, a surprise find that served up delicious lobster rolls (with gluten-free buns!), homemade potato salad, and local beer from Moth Lane Brewery. We liked it so much we ate there twice in two days, enjoying our lunches on the deck overlooking the harbor and watching the lobstermen unloading their catches.
We couldn’t leave PEI without visiting the farthest northernmost point at the North Cape. Here, the Gulf of St. Lawrence converges with the Northumberland Strait over the longest natural rock reef in North America. A lighthouse, a wind energy interpretive center, and a unique hiking trail that includes cliffs along the waterfront, boardwalks through blueberry bogs, and a forest of giant wind turbines—that was different.
Leaving Prince Edward Island
And with that, our two weeks of adventures on PEI came to an end. It was fun and relaxing, filled with all kinds of adventures served up in the unique style of the Maritimes.
We crossed the eight-mile-long Confederation Bridge—the longest bridge over ice-covered water in the world—and stopped to look back at Prince Edward Island from the Cape Jourimain Lighthouse (which has an excellent free interpretive center). Looking back always makes me a bit nostalgic. Grateful, but nostalgic. I hope we’ll be able to return someday.