“So close, yet so far!” exclaims kayak guide Scott Cunningham.
He’s discussing the marine environment near Tangier, Nova Scotia, and of the province’s rural Eastern Shore at-large. It is a subject he knows well — as a guide with nearly 35 years of experience, as well as one of the only known people to have circumnavigated Nova Scotia via canoe, Cunningham has a seafaring knowledge that’s tough to match.
I’ve come to the tiny town of Tangier (population 1,100), located about an hour’s drive northeast of Halifax, to paddle alongside Cunningham, owner of the locally famous Coastal Adventures kayak operator. Though Cunningham has paddled just about everywhere in his home province, as well as throughout Newfoundland & Labrador (where he also runs expedition tours), the area around this home base is still his favourite haunt.
“It’s the diversity of the islands,” he explains of why he loves to kayak and canoe around Shoal Bay and Tangier Harbour. It doesn’t take long to see what he means.
Under a bluebird sky, our group paddles from shore into a crossing that leads to Inner Baltee Island. The water is calm, protected by the plethora of islands; it facilitates a quick paddle. Once alongside Inner Baltee, we cruise along stony shoreline with scrubby spruce beyond, atop submerged sand flats, past alluring beaches and near rock-stacks with the occasional sunbathing harbour seal.
Below, the ocean dramatically changes colour — jet black, muted green, cobalt blue — depending on the intensity of the sunlight and the composition of the seafloor. Above, a peregrine falcon screeches; aside from our paddle-strokes, it is the only sound. Towards the north-end of Inner Baltee, I notice an increasing frequency of ethereal lion jellyfish, some drifting by with amber-coloured tentacles spiralling a metre long.
After we arrive at a whitesand beach on Baltee Island’s western shore, Cunningham further demonstrates his knowledge by running a quick seminar on local flora and fauna and even identifying some archaeological remains from an ancient First Nations settlement. Turns out our brains, as well as our arms, will get a workout today.
From Baltee Island, we leave the beach and pass Sugarloaf Rock — a large stone painted white with cormorant poop — en route to Hog and Hen Island. Clouds begin to roll in, quickly turning our azure sky an ominous grey — typical of the ever-changing Atlantic Coast. Soon, we cruise through a glassy, protected gap between Hog and Hen, where Cunningham points out that, eons ago when the continents were one, the area’s metamorphosed sedimentary rock was deposited here from what is today North Africa. Yes — this means Tangier, Nova Scotia, and Tangier, Morocco, are geological siblings.
As we paddle back towards home base, wind blows up a light chop and the first smatterings of rain arrive. Call it cliché, but if you don’t like the weather on the Eastern Shore, wait 10 minutes. We push up to the gravel shoreline and find Cunningham’s friendly old Lab howling for our return; a fine welcome by any standards.
It’s a mere introduction to the area, but I see clearly why Cunningham has such a connection. One could spend a lifetime paddling this area and find something new every trip. All of this so close — a day-trip from Halifax — yet feeling so far.
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If You Go
Coastal Adventures: http://www.coastaladventures.com
Tourism Nova Scotia: http://www.novascotia.com
Marquis of Dufferin Seaside Inn: http://marquisofdufferinmotel.com/home/