coastal wanderings: peggy’s cove, polly’s cove & the halifax waterfront

Sunday, September 25: We were sorely disappointed to find we still had no power in our Airbnb when we woke up. Surprisingly, there was still a bit of hot water, so we were both able to take short showers. The next-door neighbors said that Nova Scotia Power showed on their website about what time they estimated power to be restored, and it showed an estimate of 11 p.m. tonight for our neighborhood. It was frustrating because so many places around us already had power. The worst thing was not being able to have phone access; we had to keep turning off the phone to conserve power. It made me nervous in case Alex or someone in the family had to reach us. Also, we were going to Peggy’s Cove and Polly’s Cove today, and I had so little charge in my phone I might not be able to take pictures. I wished I had brought an extra camera along.

We stopped at Tim Horton’s and found a table with plugs so we ordered hot coffees and sat for about an hour, waiting for our phones to charge.

It was a gorgeous and sunny day, and the forecast was for warmer temps than yesterday.  Sadly, it was supposed to rain all day Monday.

Peggy’s Cove

After charging our phones sufficiently, we drove to the beautiful Peggy’s Cove, the home of Canada’s most photographed lighthouse. It sits on Margaret’s Bay on rugged outcroppings deposited by the last glaciers that crawled through. One one side, massive granite boulders stand semi-erect in scrubby fields, on the other, they lie prone, creating the granite shelf on which Peggy’s Cove lighthouse is perched.

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Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse

The lighthouse sits on what geologists call “perched boulders” or “erratics.” They are boulders left behind by melting continental glaciers that crept their way across the area some 20,000 years ago. As the glaciers thawed, water filled existing fractures in the granite bedrock. When the water froze, the glaciers plucked up and carried away chunks of rock. The more the glaciers moved, the more rock they gathered. When they melted, they left behind these perched boulders.

The hamlet is a fishing village in miniature, sitting on a harbor with a tiny wooden church, a cluster of shingled homes and salt-bleached jetties. The solitary lighthouse towers over a slab of wave-blasted rock.

Tourism began to overtake fishing in economic importance in Peggy’s Cove following the Second World War. Today, Peggy’s Cove is a major tourist attraction, though its inhabitants still fish for lobster and the community retains a rustic undeveloped appearance. It has been declared a preservation area to protect its rugged beauty.

We enjoyed wandering through the village with its colorful lobster pots, old weathered boats, and piles of rusted anchors. We found a yellow fishing boat called “Hunger & Thirst” and a shop selling weathered buoys which people around these parts use as home and yard decor.

Peggy’s Cove got increasingly crowded by the minute. By the time we left, they were swarming all over the place. The sea was quite lively, leaping up as it hit the rocky shoreline. Though it was beautiful, I get impatient and annoyed at crowded places. I was ready to move on.

Polly’s Cove

I had read about this hike in an article: “12 Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Nova Scotia.” We went to the unmarked trailhead about 2km from Peggy’s Cove. Polly’s Cove is full of expansive coastal views. From June to October, the landscape is colored with a carpet of red and green shrubs and wildflowers. From various points we could catch glimpses of the Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse. The landscape is dotted with huge glacial erratics, boulders deposited thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers.

This place is truly a hidden gem, not at all crowded with tourists. It is a coastal barrens landscape full of monolithic granite.  All the trails are unmarked, narrow and naturally rugged. Wades through brush are not uncommon.

We stopped at the foundation ruins of a former radar station to scope out the area.

Walking on this trail was one of my favorite experiences in Nova Scotia. The whole scene was breathtaking with expansive views of the sea as well as the rocky coastline and the rocks intermingled with green and red vegetation.

Swissair Flight 111 Memorial

We stopped near Peggy’s Cove to see the Swissair Flight 111 Memorial. This was a scheduled international passenger flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Cointrin Airport in Geneva, Switzerland. On September 2, 1998, the McDonnell Douglas MD-ll performing this flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax Stanfield International Airport at the entrance to St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia. The crash site was 8km (5 mi) from shore, roughly equidistant from the small fishing and tourist communities of Peggy’s Cove and Bayswater. All 229 passengers and crew onboard were killed, making the crash the deadliest McDonnell Douglas MD-11 accident in history.

The memorial commemorates the 229 casualties and honors the courageous local fisherfolk involved in recovery efforts and in comforting the grieving families.

Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk

After our hikes and visits to the memorial, we returned to our house but the power still wasn’t on. I was so depressed that we could still be days without power. But, after a short while at the house, we were suddenly surprised when the lights popped on. We had seen so many houses and businesses and stoplights all around us, yet our neighborhood had still been dark. I was ready to insist we move to a hotel, but suddenly, there was no need for that. (Yes, I’m spoiled rotten.)

Suddenly the world was brighter. I was able to take a quick shower and then we went to the Halifax Waterfront Boardwalk.

We ate dinner at Bluenose II. I enjoyed mussels and clam chowder and Mike had Digby scallops. As a seafood lover, I was in heaven here. We had an Indian waitress who was very friendly and talkative. She was attending Dalhousie University (she called it “Dal”), which has a 25% international student population. It’s a large public research university in Nova Scotia.

Then we strolled along the lively boardwalk in the blue light. I felt happy that our discomforts were over. I’m really such a wimp for hardships. The 3km (2mi) boardwalk runs from the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 to Casino Nova Scotia. The path offers backdoor access the the Marine Museum of the Atlantic and other historic properties.

We walked up a tiered wharf with a rectangular glass and metal sculpture. We admired the Cable Wharf and a wire sailboat sculpture that glowed golden in the blue light like an apparition. We saw the backsides of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic with its anchors, skiffs and motors lying scattered about.

We came across the festive and crowded BG Beer Garden that was inviting, but we didn’t really want another drink.

We met a statue that said: “This monument is a universal symbol of a proud, strong and globally united Lebanese community. The statue honors the early Lebanese settlers who, 130 years ago, established a presence in this country, sewing the bonds of loyalty, faith and perseverance. We are thankful to our Nova Scotia community and for the enduring friendships built in our new home, Canada.” 

We also might have been tempted by the poutine shop, Smoke’s Poutinerie, if we hadn’t already eaten. “You’ll think you’ve died and gone to Canada!” and “How Do You Like Your Poutine?”

We heard on the news that it was quite a mess up in Cape Breton so we wrote to both our Airbnb hosts to find out the situation.  They both said we shouldn’t come up to Cape Breton and offered to refund us fully. We were very disappointed but they were without power and would be for some time; there were long lines at gas stations and there was no food on the shelves.

Luckily, we now had power and could finally enjoy our time in Nova Scotia. We settled into the cozy living room and watched an episode of Bitter Daisies (O Sabor das margaridas). Because we’d cancelled our two days in Cape Breton, and our Airbnb had availability for the next two nights after our rental period ended, the 27th and 28th, we opted to extend our stay in Halifax. Also, Lisa, who we planned to visit in Prince Edward Island on September 29, told us she needed more time to get up to her house in PEI from Pennsylvania. PEI had suffered intense damage from the hurricane so we weren’t keen to go up there so soon and possibly encounter shutdowns and lack of power. Thus we rearranged everything, cancelling our Saint John’s Airbnb and booking another one from September 19-October 3. We’d now go to Alma on October 3 and to PEI on October 4.

Here’s a petite video of our time in Peggy’s Cove, Polly’s Cove and the Halifax Waterfront.