How To Have Fun on the South Shore of Nova Scotia on a Multigen Trip

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Nova Scotia woods and waterways feature lovely hiking trails.
Endless options for outdoor activities fill Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Nova Scotia’s huge. Checking out bits of it calls for a motorcoach or cruise with speedy stops at the highlights. Picking one region and delving in worked better for my family’s multigen trip to Canada’s eastern maritime province. The South Shore of Nova Scotia proved to be a good base for exploring the many things to do in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia’s a friendly place. That’s a fact shoring up every experience my family of three generations experienced on the South Shore – on land and on the waters. The 10-year-old noticed good cheer with restaurant servers, grocery clerks and tour guides, and so did I—the eldest in a group of eight.

We honed in on the South Shore to touch base with friends of one of us from decades-ago theater projects. My generations live in a world of acting on stage and for film, reviewing theater performances and playwriting too. Arts organizing partners well with travel planning.

Turns out regional focus is the way to think about things to do in Nova Scotia. Here’s what we learned engaging deeply with the South Shore.

Read More: 5 Star Luxury at The Muir Hotel in Nova Scotia

Lunenburg UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nova Scotia
Colors define Lunenburg along with its seafaring history and UNESCO World Heritage status. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Lunenburg Colors the Photo Albums

Bold primary colors distinguish the exterior walls in Lunenburg, and the doors on everybody’s house. Each one is a gotta-take-the-picture moment.

Old Town Lunenburg is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rum running and ship building are part of the reason, and so is the architecture.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Seaweed Tours is the way to gather delicious insider stories about the history from the daughter of the town’s first (decades ago) tavern owner, and a visual overview of the Lunenburg region from the comfort of a small van.

Just gazing can be fulfilling enough because of the colors. Dining on a deck or patio is the best choice for looking at tall-masted sailing ships or buildings that date back to the 1753 founding by Swiss and German immigrants.

Allocating an afternoon of things to do in Nova Scotia in Lunenburg easily includes:

  • Art galleries with working artisans
  • Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in an old fish processing plant
  • St. John’s Anglican Church with art of the constellations in the sky matching the night of Jesus’ birth
  • A five-foot-long cod as the weather vane above the roof of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
  • Boutique shops

We stayed a week in a VRBO in the charming community of Mahone Bay, but I eyed the Lunenburg Arms hotel longingly for a full circle connection to history.

This building was originally the tavern where Seaweed Tours owner Nancy Rogers helped her father welcome the fishing community.

Sea kayaking in Nova Scotia fishing village
The little fishing village of Blue Rocks is a grand place to sea kayak, and to discover artists in their studios. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Glimpse Life in a Fishing Village in Blue Rocks

Just six minutes from Lunenburg, Blue Rocks is another little world. Climb on the blue slate rocks in this fishing village and pop into some art galleries, like Linda Roe’s The Art Barn, which are also artist homes. Rodney Daniels is here, with Folkworks Studio and Gallery,

Dedicate a couple hours for a sea kayak tour with Pleasant Paddling.

Blue Rocks is actually an archipelago of 50 islands–feels like a maze with lots of chances to see wildlife above and below the water. Waters stay calm, and winds don’t reach in these many island coastlines.

Guided tours happen for four morning hours, three in the afternoon and two hours at sunset. Vigorous kayakers? All day paddles involving lighthouses, bridges, wildlife and islands go from 10a.m.-4p.m.!

Yes my multigen family could easily drive to Blue Rocks from our Mahone Bay rental. But being with Rogers and Seaweed Tours meant all local people wanted to stop and visit and tell us their tales. That’s the way to really immerse in the essence of a place.

Nova Scotia schooner history on Bluenose II
Sailing on the Bluenose II exact replica of the 1921 ship felt like living seafaring history as much as marveling at the schooner’s beauty. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Sail on the Bluenose II Just Like 1921

Fishing or racing? Actually both, so my three-generation traveling buddies and I learned on the Bluenose II sailing out of Lunenburg for two hours.

The original Bluenose was built in 1921 to race against a fast American schooner from Gloucester, Massachusetts. . . and remained undefeated until the last International Fisherman’s Race in 1938.

I got a crick in my neck looking up to the top of the mahogany main mast – 125 feet, 10 inches! My 10-year-old grandson, with a penchant for climbing rocks and trees, eyed the rope ladders, presumably dreaming of high perches.

College kids relish summer jobs on this exact replica with eight sails; the original sank in 1946 off the coast of Haiti. Veteran seafaring men lead the crew of 19, and happily tell stories of the old glory days.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Take your daughters and granddaughters on the Bluenose II for a sail or at least a tour. Half the crew are girls and that’s empowering to see. This summer (or longer) job is a live-at-the-office commitment. All of them seemed eager to talk about their experiences living and working on this historic schooner.

Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia reflects the Ice Age
Feeling a part of the Ice Age is one of many bonuses in Nova Scotia’s Peggy’s Cove. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Peggy’s Cove Way More Than a Lighthouse

380 million years ago – that’s how long since the granite boulders I encountered with my grandchild might have arrived in Nova Scotia’s South Shore at Peggy’s Cove.

I stood; he climbed and clambered using hands and feet simultaneously, both of us lured by the ocean and its craggy shoreline.

Sailors for centuries surely needed the lighthouse here to guide them. Peggy needed the sailors.

Shipwrecked as a young woman, and saved, she fell in love with one of her rescuers and stayed ever after in this cove.

High winds and harsh storms are normal in Peggy’s Cove, fog flows in too, and the small community is well known in Nova Scotia for ingenuity and tenacity. They figure out how to cope with granite too massive to dig wells, treat wastewater and bury the dearly departed.

Trees, plants and soil are scarce. Fish of many names new to me are abundant. Ever heard of  sea raven, shorthorned sculpin, mummichog or threespine stickleback?

SheBuysTravel Tip: Bone up before you go, or at least on the road trip to Peggy’s Cove, about glacial terms like magma and plate tectonics and colliding continents. This is a place to experience them. Watch your feet when you pop in the Peggy’s Cove Visitor Information Center: you’ll be walking on an ancient ocean. The slate floor once was soft mud and silt on an ocean floor long before all that continent collision.

Ice age boulders in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia
Modern-day kids can climb boulders deposited by melting Ice Age glaciers in Peggy’s Cove. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Wild, Isolated and Pristine: Nova Scotia Redefines Beach

My lifetime of barrier island beach trips did not prepare me for the astonishing seashore called Kejimkujik on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

I thought I’d entered the beginning of time.

Seals and shorebirds had arrived before me, and my grandson rejoiced with the abundance of boulders to climb. I stood and stared for a long time, hoping to create emotional space to think profound thoughts.

The Ice Age had something to do with this. Melting glaciers dropped thousands of boulders, resting now precariously on big slabs of granite.

Erratics, they’re called, which is funny in its aptness. I saw them on hikes along forest trails elsewhere in Nova Scotia, but they dominate at this beach.

Kejimkujik national seashore in Nova Scotia
Cormorants and seals warm on the rocks  off shore at Kejimkujik, a stunning national seashore – but it still feels like the beginning of time. Photo credit: Christine Tibbett

Sea levels were higher 13,000 years ago, scientists and Parks Canada say. In Keji, as the seashore is nicknamed, I could see and feel the thousands of years of post-glacier energy.

Take a hike to get to this seashore; it’s the only way in. Look low for bog flowers, like pitcher plants.

Look a little higher, but not as tall as an adult, in the barrens along the route to this seashore.  Scientists call this stretch a miniature Acadian forest. Stunted white pines, Balsam fir, black spruce and red maples struggle to grow here, with thin soil and cold, salty winds.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Teach the kids (and yourself!) about “two-eyed seeing” in Keji Seashore. Parks Canada honors science and indigenous knowledge caring for this beautiful space—two eyes! The Mi’kmaw people knew the word Kejimkujik means little fairies. Or gnomes. Or small entities in the petroglyphs at the inland partner, a national park and historic site of the same name.

Hikes in Nova Scotia offer pensive moments
Walking the many trails in Nova Scotia’s South Shore offer moments to contemplate deep thoughts, or simple joys. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Take a Hike Every Day in Nova Scotia’s South Shore

Walking opportunities are so abundant there’s even a brochure, and web site, to match up energy-level styles with locations.

My multigen one-week holiday did not allow time for the dozens of trails! Choosing was part of the fun, and every day involved some of us power-walking and others sauntering.

The Buddha showed up one afternoon, a surprise sculpture along a wooded path.

When I walk with a group, I prefer a trail with an end point, to turn around and repeat the route. That’s because I’m slower than some and lag behind on loop trails.

The South Shore trail guides clearly point out which kind, and which ones have tree roots instead of smooth surfaces.

We saw forests, rivers, lakes, glacial boulders, fern and wildflower meadows and wildlife from our various paths. Even pitcher plants up close.

Link several routes to follow the Rum Runners Trail. Seems to be a nod to Mahone Bay’s history as a resort for pirates!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Consider a trail walk as a travel event every day when planning things to do in Nova Scotia. We paid attention to each other, and knew we were noticing much of what makes the South Shore special.   

Art in an outdoor maze in Nova Scotia
Creatures defy the imagination in BernArtMaze where mosaics and sculpture fills vine-lined paths. Photo credit: Steve Murray

Wander Among Art in a Maze

Staying outside is a big part of things to do in Nova Scotia so no wonder that’s true for art too!

Not far from Lunenburg and Mahone Bay is a set of paths that turn back in on themselves, flanked with mosaics, sculpture, 3-D creations, living walls of vines and flowers and messages.

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?” was a favorite of mine.

BernArtMaze is a little visible from Highway 325, curious sighting unless you know about it ahead of time. Some of the art is fanciful, some straightforward. All of it is colorful.

Outside the outdoor maze are two large courtyards, also art filled, just right for a rest and a picnic.

The artisans behind the visions are Bernd and Nicole Krebes, Germans relocating to Canada in 2002. By day they are tile installers. Round the clock they connect art to experience.

For instance: They built a hollow 20-foot whale to truck to seashores and fill with debris which is then properly recycled or repurposed. Project SculptShore they call this.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Purchase luscious bakery treats, or a perfect baguette very close to BernArt Maze. Balangeria La Vendeme is the French bakery, and the coffee is good too.

Lobster dinner in Nova Scotia
Cooking lobster at home on a Nova Scotia vacation is a learning experience, as well as delicious. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

What’s the Rest of Nova Scotia Called?

Of course I anticipated connecting with Anne of Green Gables when Nova Scotia became a travel destination.

Then I studied the map. Prince Edward Island is far away. And Nova Scotia is big. Both are considered maritime provinces along with New Brunswick.

My South Shore focus could easily have lasted another interesting week; it’s a big region too.

I saw nothing of Halifax except the airport and rental car office so that’s a trip for another time. I missed the Bay of Fundy and its famous tides. Now I know to think big when someone says, “I’ve been to Nova Scotia.”

Is that Cape Breton Island or the Eastern Shore? Or maybe Bay of Fundy and the Annapolis Valley? Perhaps Yarmouth and the Acadian Shores? What about Northumberland Shore?

Christine Tibbetts believes family travel is shared discovery — almost like having a secret among generations who travel together. The matriarch of a big blended clan with many adventuresome traveling members, she is a classically-trained journalist. Christine handled PR and marketing accounts for four decades, specializing in tourism, the arts, education, politics and community development.  She builds travel features with depth interviews and abundant musing to uncover the soul of each place.
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