Posts tagged canada

Get us to the Coast!

Just kidding, Interior BC is ridiculously nice. We took our time getting across the province and found some really incredible camping spots in Jaffray, Salmo, Keremeos and Chilliwack, British Columbia.

In the interest of engine stress on Clemie, we decided to take the Crowsnest Highway again to get from Alberta to BC. Highway 1 through Golden and Kamloops is crazy beautiful but has more tricky mountain passes and we got word that the Coquihalla between Merrit and Hope had recently had a snowstorm so bad that it had to be closed – yikes. We took it as an opportunity to find new spots along the way that we didn’t check out last time. We passed through Fernie to get to a wicked spot near Jaffray called Suzanne Lake. It’s a secluded recreation area with plenty of trees and a lake with a mountain view. Being November, it was a bit chilly but this would probably be a super cool place to swim and boat in the summertime.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Suzanne Lake
Suzanne Lake was an amazing find! Can’t beat lakeside mountain views

BC is absolutely killin’ it with the free recreation areas. It’s so refreshing to be in a province that actually wants you to get outside and enjoy your public land. They’ve established many of these free user-maintained recreation areas that make for perfect dry camping spots and even spoil you with an outhouse. It’s wonderful how easy you are to impress when you live in an 80 sq ft van with no running water.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Outhouse
Admit it, this outhouse is probably in a nicer location than your house

After squeezing in a workday in Cranbrook, we geared up for the mountain pass we had been dreading: The Salmo Pass (Kootenay Pass) between Creston and Salmo. Our engine was in much healthier shape this time around but it’s still a bit nerve wrecking when you’re going up a steep uphill for what seems like an eternity. Signs at the bottom warned of slush and snow which seemed far off in the midst of mild temperatures and a misty rain. You can feel the air temperature drop as you ascend and suddenly everything – including the road – was covered in snow. Reaching the summit was nothing short of beautiful but turned the stress onto the brakes for the way down. We always just put it into low gear and tag along with the transport trucks to play it safe and thankfully it paid off. If you’ve done this drive and can’t understand our sentiments, it’s probably because you weren’t driving a vehicle that weighs over 10 000 lbs and pulls to the right.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Kootenay Summit
The Kootenay Summit in early November was definitely snowy

We made our way north of Salmo to another recreation area called Erie Creek where we came face to face with a logging truck on a narrow dirt road. We had to reverse all the way until we were in a spot with enough room for the truck to pass – as always, I was very happy Justin was driving and not me. Once we got to the spot, we had a beautiful rainforest-looking campground all to ourselves with a neighbouring creek rushing by. It then began to rain consistently until morning but hey, you can’t win ‘em all.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Erie Creek Salmo
Woods life rules

We kept on cookin’ through Castlegar and Osoyoos before heading to another great BC recreation area near the Similkameen River in Keremeos. The drive the next day through the Hedley-Princeton area all felt very familiar but the mountain passes that followed seemed to take us by surprise. We took the Crowsnest Highway in the summer heading east and must have blocked out of our memories how steep and winding the road is around Copper Mountain and Manning Park. Anyway, it wasn’t anything too crazy and was beautiful everywhere you looked although our poor ears didn’t know what to think with all the elevation changes.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Tunnel Keremeos
Pretty cool spot to camp in Keremeos amongst the mountains and Ashnola Creek

When we reached Hope we were disappointed to hear that forest fires and rockslides had closed off access to the Skagit River area. With some hesitation after reading several cautionary tales, we headed toward Chilliwack to make our way up a mountain to a BC Hydro recreation area called Jones Lake. We heard the road was rough and required 4×4 but after doing a bit of research, it seemed like our only challenge would be the steepness. And steep it was. To access the recreation area, you have to drive 9 km (5.6 mi) up a mountain where the first 3 km is all super steep switchbacks. A little intense but all in all, not too bad on the way up. By the time we reached the lake itself (actually called Wahleach Lake), we had forgotten about the drive altogether and had to pick our jaws up off the floor from how beautiful it was. A large lake surrounded by trees and mountains would be our backyard for the night.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Jones Lake Beach
Just try and tell me this isn’t beautiful

We spent the night on the west tract of the recreation area and saw no one but a couple of Hydro workers leaving the site in the evening. In the morning, we explored the other side of the lake and parked on a beach to have our coffee. It seems there are a handful of interesting A-frame cabins on the east side of the lake where other people put up with the steep drive to spend their summers. Having no one around made the whole place feel very surreal and made us super stoked to get to experience it. Vanlife has brought us to so many amazing places off the beaten track that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise been to.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Jones Lake Coffee
A pretty glorious spot to have our morning coffee

After a magical morning of sunshine and mountains, we got ready for the somewhat dreaded drive out. Remembering how steep the way up was, we knew the downhill was going to be pretty intense. The smell of burning rubber wasn’t so distant so we tried to give the brakes a break (ha) on a couple of the plateaus within the last few km’s of the mountain. Despite being in low gear and doing all the things we were supposed to, when we got to the bottom, the brakes were straight smokin’. Yup, our brakes had caught fire while struggling to hold back a very heavy van from dive-bombing straight into the surrounding forest. We were more so laughing than stressing and gave the van a chance to cool down before going any further. Somewhat luckily, there were huge puddles everywhere so driving through them a few times helped to sizzle down the steam.

Generic Van Life - Chilliwack Jones Lake Mountains
We had Jones Lake all to ourselves

That’s probably not how most people in the area started their day but it was just another day in the life for us and didn’t stop us from thinking that Jones Lake was totally worth it. Moving right along, we made a stop in Abbotsford to gym and shower before making our way into Vancouver and officially reaching the west coast yet again. With double digit temperatures and not a flake of snow on the road, we undeniably felt relieved to have made it back across the country in one piece. The plan now is to spend a couple weeks in the Vancouver area before making the last leg of our journey for the year onto Vancouver Island. We started 2018 off in Mexico and are so lucky to have gone to all of the places that we have and not completely lost our minds (maybe just a little).


From a Breakdown in Brandon to the Mountains in Banff

Nothing like breaking down on the side of the highway at night when it’s freezing out. We had a minor setback in Brandon before zooming through the prairies to reach Calgary and lust over the mountains in Banff and Canmore, Alberta.

Where did we leave off? Oh right, we were on a mission to drive through the prairies as quickly as possible. Leaving Thunder Bay that morning and making a few stops along the way, we were making great progress by reaching Brandon by nightfall…that is, until we started smelling burning rubber and saw smoke coming from under the hood. Fun! Truthfully, we haven’t had a breakdown in quite some time so we weren’t all that surprised. Naturally it was below 0 temperatures and the wind was violent when we had to pull over along the Trans Canada and check out the situation. It seemed that one of our belts had snapped, which was shitty news since we had just replaced them not long ago. Thanks to my dad’s suggestion, we kept our old belts just in case and thought we’d be in the clear by swapping the broken one out with our old one. Nope. After several attempts to get the tension right, we realized that the unit it was wrapping around was ceased and was just continuing to smoulder and smell gross. The question now wasn’t as much about how we were going to replace this part as it was about identifying what the part even was. With no help from CAA (we’re mad at you, CAA), a kind stranger pulled over on the side of the highway asking if we were alright and offered to tow us to a nearby gas station. That’s one great thing about being in the prairies – people are super nice and everyone has a truck. Long story short, it was an air pump (or smog pump), which is a part added in these older vehicles to help reduce emissions but virtually does nothing by today’s standards. In knowing that leaving the belt off would do nothing but increase our horsepower, we threw the broken belt in the trash can and got back on the road.

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Justin Russian Hat
Here’s a photo of Justin in a Russian hat to deflect the attention from the stress of a breakdown

We had a nice rest area scoped out in Broadview, Saskatchewan but once we arrived well after midnight, the gate was locked and we felt a second hit of dejection. Our bodies were also very confused after driving through two time zones in one day (Sask doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time) so we pulled into a nearby truck stop and hunkered down for the night to prepare for another long day of driving to follow. After a surprisingly quiet sleep, we got back on the highway and jetted through Regina, Swift Current and Medicine Hat before finally making it to Calgary and getting a chance to slow down for a few days and hangout with friends and family. Making the two long days of driving worth it was getting to meet Justin’s mom’s two new kittens that could put a smile even on Ebenezer Scrooge’s face.

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Kitten

With some major stroke of luck, we had clear skies and warm, sunny days the whole time we were in Calgary, sitting comfortable in double digit temperatures for over a week. As anyone who lives in their vehicle knows, that makes life much more pleasant for sleeping and pretty much just being alive in general. Even with the warm days, we were so bogged down with a huge workload that we spent most of our time behind our computer screens. We did, however, get to spend plenty of time with Justin’s brother’s puppy who doesn’t look like much of a puppy anymore but is still just as wild. Is it showing that I have major pet fever?

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Banjo
Grown up Banjo, one of our favourite buds

With so much time spent working, we took an overnight trip to Banff National Park to give ourselves a mini vacation and recharge a bit. If you’ve ever seen a postcard of Canada, it was probably taken in Banff. It’s Canada’s first National Park and is absolutely gorgeous from every direction. No doubt the Rockies are pretty epic the whole way down, but there’s something special about Banff. We started by driving through the foothills to Kananaskis Country and making Lake Louise our first stop. We’ve both been to Banff before but never at this time of year; October is shoulder season and is known to be the quietest month of the year. This was great news for us because the volume of tourists can often get a little out of hand when you have to time every photo just right in order to not get someone else’s family in the background.

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Mt Rundle
Mt Rundle, Banff’s most iconic mountain

Unfortunately the weather was a little overcast and grey but Lake Louise still glimmered with its vibrant blue-green waters. The canoes and kayaks had been put away for the season and were replaced by a bit more than a dusting of snow on the mountains and surrounding grounds. Despite the cooler temperatures and not-so-sunny skies, there were still bare shouldered brides and busloads of foreigners all checking out the Albertan staple. Moraine Lake, another photoshop-looking mountain lake, is usually the next stop but access was sadly already closed for the season.

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Lake Louise
Lake Louise looks too beautiful to be real

On a whim, we decided to go on the Banff Gondola since there’s a special rate for Alberta residents (who can turn down a deal?) and we figured it’d be one of the only times where we’d actually get our own cable car and not have to wait in line. As cheap as I am (I prefer economical), this was worth paying full price for. The ride up Sulphur Mountain gave us an awesome view of the mountains but the view from the top was kind of mind blowing. There’s a fairly big building where you get off the gondola with a gift shop and restaurant and all that jazz, and the start of a 2 km (1.24 mi) walking trail – which is pretty much ALL stairs – that takes you to the Sanson’s Peak. At the summit of the mountain, you have an incredible panoramic view of the entire park and the town of Banff nestled amongst the towering peaks.

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Sulphur Mountain Lookout
Amazing view of the mountains from Sanson’s Peak
Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Gondola Walkway
Pretty epic walkway up to Sanson’s Peak from the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain

With the quick change in elevation, things got majorly cold so we were happy to return to ground level and find some good food after working up quite an appetite. Another praise to shoulder season, we were able to find free parking downtown where we could stroll around Banff Ave and the other animal-named streets without having to shimmy through hoards of tourists. We had some pretty tasty BBQ and cocktails at Park Distillery and left downtown with full bellies and lighter wallets. We headed into Canmore for the night, which is the neighbouring town outside of the National Park boundaries where a lot of people who work in Banff live (which, I might add, is like 95% Australians). We parked in a designated RV parking zone in downtown Canmore that was clearly a very popular spot for travellers and vehicle dwellers alike. We had the best time in Banff and lucked out being able to end the night within walking distance of a bar for a nightcap (or two…).

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Banff Ave
A rare sight…downtown Banff not swarmed with tourists!
Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore
Not a bad view to wake up to in downtown Canmore

On our way back to Calgary, we stopped at Elbow Falls in Kananaskis and marvelled at how low the water levels were. Normally a pretty majestic waterfall, there was still a solid stream going but it was surrounded by dried up riverbeds that you could walk right on to. Sadly, they say the area really hasn’t been the same after the 2013 flood but in any case, it still is pretty.

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Elbow Falls
Elbow Falls in Bragg Creek surrounded by dry riverbeds

Keeping our eyes on the forecast, we spent our last couple days in Alberta starting our winter prep for the van. We bought a roll of Reflectix and made insulating panels for all the windows and sealed off any gaps. We tied up some more loose ends repair-wise and very reluctantly, traded in our cassette player (it was hardly working) for a newfangled stereo. Clementine is slowly making her way into the 21st century but still boasts plenty of 80s charm. Snow was on the ground when we left Calgary so we knew it was time to move and hopefully get as much of our mountain driving done before the weather starts to turn in BC. We had our fair share of cold weather last year in Alberta but escaped it by going south; this year, we’re staying in Canada and hoping to do everything we can to comfortably winterize. Stay tuned for a blog about winterizing tips for vanlifers – you’ll never cherish wool socks so much.

Generic Van Life - Banff Canmore Reflectix
Cutting our Reflectix to size for our window panels. Liquor bottles always make good weights.

Time for New Brunswick: Part II

Spending time with friends in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, catching low tide on Minister’s Island and camping beside the world’s longest covered bridge in Hartland, New Brunswick.

And so the journey back west commences. After getting off the very long and stressful ferry ride from Newfoundland to North Sydney, NS, we figured we would drive about halfway to St. Andrews, NB or at least call it quits whenever we burn out. We managed to “nap” briefly on the boat but an upright chair isn’t really the ideal place to get a good night’s rest. On top of barely sleeping, we arrived in port much later than we were originally set to because of the weather but were still feeling ambitious. My ambition ran out in Moncton but Justin had enough to drive us all the way to St. Andrews, where we were lucky enough to get to stay at a friend’s cabin for a few days.

Generic Van Life New Brunswick Part II St Andrews Deck
Beauty view from the deck of the cabin in St Andrews

The town of St. Andrews is considered to be a “historic resort town”, where east coasters and others have been vacationing for years. The buildings are old and beautifully maintained while all having lovely, unobstructed views of Passamaquoddy Bay within the Bay of Fundy and its crazy tide. The Algonquin Hotel in itself could probably be deemed its own resort town with its huge stately stature and triple-digit price tags. Being back on the mainland brought clear skies and much more comfortable temps so we were able to sit back on the patio and drink beers in the glow of the warm sun.

Generic Van Life New Brunswick Part II St Andrews Street
The pretty streets of St Andrews

After going to Hopewell Rocks and experiencing first hand just how drastic the Bay of Fundy’s tide change is, we weren’t surprised to hear about Minister’s Island. It’s an island that is only accessible during low tide when cars can drive across the ocean’s floor along a sandbar (or rock bar, more like) to reach it. In the late 1800s, the former president of the Canadian Pacific Railway bought the land and decided to make it his summer home island. Everyone’s got one of those, right? You can also walk down to the bathhouse, which was essentially a series of pools created during high tide where folks relaxed and got salty.

Generic Van Life New Brunswick Part II Ministers Island Bathhouse
The bathhouse on Ministers Island

We would have loved to go through Maine but sadly our US visitor visas are pretty well maxed out. That’s not to say that the drive through Canada wouldn’t be beautiful, but the allure of cheap gas and even cheaper beer is always quite tempting. After some much-needed Oceanside relaxing and catching up with friends, we were back on the road and heading toward the Québec border. We got word of a bad storm hitting Eastern Québec that night so we took the opportunity to get some work done at a café in Fredericton and check out the world’s longest covered bridge in Hartland. Although the title piqued our interest, this bridge wasn’t exactly something on our bucket list. That being said, it was actually pretty cool. It’s a single lane bridge that spans 391 m/1282 feet and kinda makes you feel like you’re in a secret tunnel. Maybe not what the architects intended in 1898 but who’s to say.

Generic Van Life New Brunswick Part II Hartland Bridge
Hoppin on that covered bridge

Westbound and down is the name of the game for the next while as we make one more stop in Toronto before heading to the west coast for the winter. We’ve had an incredible summer and have no plans of slowing down until we reach Vancouver Island.

Reaching the End of the Continent in Newfoundland

Boating into Clementine’s final province via Port aux Basques before spending some time in Rocky Harbour and Gros Morne National Park. We took our time driving across the island and checked out Terra Nova National Park before visiting Justin’s family in St. John’s, Newfoundland Labrador. The island must have really not wanted us to leave by treating us to a 23 hour ferry ride back to the mainland.  

After a relatively smooth 7-hour ferry ride, we had finally touched down in our final province, Newfoundland. Despite the moose warnings, we drove through the evening to find a good gravel pit to hunker down in for the night. If the weather wasn’t so undesirable, Newfoundland would be a vanlifer’s paradise. Hundreds of gravel pits and tons of crown land make the boondocking possibilities endless. Despite knowing that there were a lot of spots around, trying to find them in the dark isn’t always easy. One technique we use is to study the satellite view on google maps and try to find what looks like a clearing; the other half of the battle is figuring out if it’s vehicle accessible once you get to it. After some dead-end leads, we finally settled into an old mining quarry just outside of Deer Lake and caught some shuteye before continuing on our way across the island.

Generic Van Life - Newfoundland Gros Morne
Clemie beside the Gros Morne itself – AKA one really old mountain

Our first stop was to take Clementine to Gros Morne National Park. We went to Gros Morne for the first time last year while we were still living in Toronto and searching endlessly for a van. We had a rental car and fantasized about how nice it would be if we could be doing this in our hypothetical van. Fast forward a year and here we were. It was awesome to visit again and have our home with us this time. We spent a few hours walking around Rocky Harbour and Lobster Cove before taking in the gorgeous views of The Tablelands from Norris Point. We did the Western Brook Pond Tour last year so didn’t feel the need to do it again but if you’re visiting for the first time, it’s a must. Maybe the next time we go we’ll do the hike (ambitious).

Generic Van Life - Newfoundland Norris Point
View of the Tablelands from Norris Point

We spent our second night just outside of Terra Nova National Park at an amazing spot we found called Alexander Bay. Sometimes you take a couple blind turns on a dirt road and end up at the best places. Other times you just end up on someone’s property and you’re being chased with a shotgun (just kidding). After a peaceful night’s sleep, we made our way to Blue Hill in Terra Nova and trekked up to a pretty cool lookout point from the highest peak in the park. Had it been the spring, this would be the perfect place to check out the icebergs.

Generic Van Life - Newfoundland Terra Nova Blue Hill
View from Blue Hill in Terra Nova National Park

Once we got to town, we got a chance to catch up on a bunch of work and spend some quality time with family around Conception Bay South and St. John’s. We even got a personalized lesson on how to replace our brakes so we not longer have to pay quadruple the price at the shop – thanks Uncle Don!

Generic Van Life - Newfoundland New Brakes
Brakes 101 with Uncle Don

We also got a chance to check out The Rooms, a massive museum in St. John’s that happened to be having a pretty cool Mary Pratt exhibition. We learned about Newfoundland’s role in the war, lusted over one day exploring the Torngat Mountains in Labrador and contemplated if highly detailed paintings of salmon filets were actually just grocery flyers.

Generic Van Life - Newfoundland The Rooms
Pretty sweet view over St. John’s from The Rooms

One of our most important plans for our time in Newfoundland was to take Justin’s two grandmothers that still live on the island out for a trip in the van. One of them is named Clementine and played a big role in dissipating the fear in the family associated with hearing your (grand)son is leaving his apartment to drive to Mexico in a van older than he is – hence the name of our van. Anyway, we decided to take them to Cape Spear, which is the easternmost point in all of North America. As a surprise to no one, it was crazy windy and didn’t exactly make for perfect picnic weather so we drove along to Petty Harbour where we had some lunch and warmed up a bit. I’d say give it a year and the Nans will have their own van ;).

Generic Van Life - Newfoundland Nans in the Van
Talk about #NanVanLife

On our last weekend in the province, we spent the day with Justin’s dad and stepmom going on a little Avalon Peninsula roadtrip. We made our way to the lovely seaside town of Brigus and admired the quintessential colourful houses perched upon rocky hills despite the rain and heavy fog that the locals are oh so familiar with. We checked out the first English settlement in Canada in Cupids before having lunch in a super rad old building in Carbonear.

Generic Van Life Newfoundland Brigus Sailboat
Some anchored sailboats in Brigus

The standout, however, was a tasting at The Newfoundland Distillery in Clarke’s Beach. They put themselves on the map with their seaweed gin but blew us out of the water with all six of their craft sprits. Using all local ingredients, from juniper to bake apples (cloud berries), all of their spirits were delicious and along with their charcuterie options and beautiful branding, it made for a pretty great afternoon. No, we don’t own shares in the business, we just really, really enjoyed it.

Generic Van Life Newfoundland Distillery Tasting
Bring on the tasty spirits at the Newfoundland Distillery

After spending our last days eating fresh cod and pulled moose (yes, moose), we squeezed in lots of family time before saying our goodbyes and making our way off of the remote island that Justin calls home. Newfoundland is a pretty special place to visit and is full of unexpected surprises and some hilarious town names. We didn’t get a chance to go this time around, but we’ll certainly add getting a beer at the Dildo Brewery to our list for next time. After doing some calculations on the extortionate amount of money we spent on gas getting across the island (gas ain’t cheap in NL – especially for guzzler like Clemie), we decided that it would save us time and money to take the Argentia Ferry back to Nova Scotia. If you’re unfamiliar with the NL ferries, you can either take the Port aux Basques ferry for 7 hours and drive about 9 to get to St. John’s, or you can take the Argentia ferry, which is only over an hour’s drive from town but boasts a 16 hour boat ride – on a good day. The catch is that the long Argentia ferry only operates in the summer so we were lucky enough to book the last ferry of the season (September 22 in this case). We decided that we’d drive down the night before and spend the night at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Seabird Reserve before catching the ferry the next day. Unfortunately, this was a bit of a bust. First, most of the birds had already started their journeys out of the cold so the stars of the show were majorly lacking. Second, it was terribly cold and windy and there was a storm brewing on the horizon – perfect for a sail! Not.

Photo taken from NL’s website to show how Cape St Mary’s is supposed to look

And so the Argentia ferry saga begins. We received multiple storm warnings and weather alerts and were notified by Marine Atlantic that our ferry departure would be delayed a few hours until the waters calm down but we were still to be there at the original check-in time. No big deal, it was an overnight ferry anyway, right? Long story short, a 16 hour ferry ride turned into a 23 hour journey with 5 metre (16.5’) waves and hoards of water splashing over the front of the boat. These weren’t rock-you-to-sleep waves, these were startle-you-in-the-middle-of-your-sleep-cause-you-might-die waves. Ok, I never thought we were going to die but it sure was disconcerting to be woken up to the sound of a rogue wave crashing into the side of the boat. Aside from that, the boat itself was pretty swanky and felt more like a Vegas hotel than a commuter ferry. Being cheap and booking last minute meant that we didn’t get a room so we made ourselves at home in some comfy recliners and “enjoyed” the ride. The boat was massive and had all the essentials on board: an arcade/casino, a buffet, multiple restaurants and lounges and even a designated rum bar. Got 16 hours to kill, might as well spend it drinking and gambling, right?

The MV Atlantic Vision looks more like a cruise ship than a ferry

Once we got closer to Nova Scotia, the water calmed, the sun came out and all was well. We docked without a hitch and were super stoked to hop in the van and be on land again. Exploring Newfoundland was a huge milestone for us and marked a complete cross-country roadtrip across Canada. I think people are more surprised by the fact that Clemie has made it to more cities than most people since she’s no spring chicken. Sure, we’ve spent a lot of money on gas but for the places we’ve been able to go, it’s beyond worth it. As the weather is starting turn, it’s time to start heading west in hopes that we won’t get our fair share of snow like we got buried in at this time last year.

Cape Breton Highlands

Exploring Nova Scotia’s gorgeous Cape Breton Island where we spent a day doing the Cabot Trail through Ingonish and Chéticamp before sea kayaking around Port Hood, Nova Scotia.

Although it’s been up for debate and later concluded that John Cabot did not, in fact, make his first Canadian land break on Cape Breton Island, the province still loves to name things after him while embracing an increasingly prevalent Scottish heritage. Why bother fact checking when the place is this beautiful?!

Generic Van Life Cape Breton Highlands Road
There’s the money shot!

After crossing the causeway in the AM, we decided to do the Cabot Trail counterclockwise and start off heading from Baddeck to Ingonish. The few mountain lookout points were lovely, but just weren’t as spectacular as the photos and magazines lead us to believe. As usual, we took our time and stopped at just about every vista point where we soaked in the sun and questioned if we were really in Canada. By the time we reached Pleasant Bay, we finally got to see what all the hype was about. The Western part of the island put all the magazines and postcards to shame – it was even more beautiful than we had imagined. If you’ve ever seen photos of the coasts of Ireland and Scotland and thought you’d never get a chance to see them in person, just hop on a plane to Nova Scotia instead!

Generic Van Life - Cape Breton Ingonish
The National Park has some pretty beautiful spots

We stopped at La Bloc Beach within the Cape Breton Highlands National Park for some lunch where we had an amazing view of the cliffs and a constant battle with the wind. There’s something pretty amazing about a place that is so rugged and powerful making you feel so peaceful and calm. You really need to take a minute to admire the natural beauty of the area and rejoice that it’s protected land.

Generic Van Life Cape Breton La Bloc Beach
Lovely lunch spot on La Bloc Beach

As we finished the loop, we drove through some of the small towns outside of the National Park, like Chéticamp, and thought about how amazing it would be to wake up to that view every morning. Luckily for us, we can wake up to a different view every morning and have the freedom to abandon ship when the weather is bad. We stopped in Belle Côte for some fish and chips and set out to find a sleeping spot for the night. We had stopped at a lookout point not far from the restaurant that gave us a glorious view of the winding coastline but decided to seek out a spot that was a little more sheltered from the emerging winds. We kept on through Mabou, where we found a nice riverside spot right across from the harbour.

Generic Van Life - Cape Breton Lookout Point
Home for tonight? A lookout point near Belle Côte

After a good night’s sleep, we headed toward Port Hood where we’d be meeting with a friend’s mom in Judique. One of the best parts about travelling is phoning in all of the local connections you’ve got around the country. It’s so nice to catch up with family and friends and be shown around by a local. In this case, we got to experience East Coast hospitality at its finest by being taken sea kayaking from someone we had never even met before. The gesture for people to open up their homes and their schedules to share their town with you is pretty special.

Generic Van Life Cape Breton Highlands Port Hood
Hanging out beachside in Port Hood

While Justin had some kayaking experience, I had never been in one before so we took a casual cruise around the ocean-fed pond where we skimmed over thousands of fresh mussels and oysters. Just like in PEI, we scooped them right out of the water and ate some of the freshest oysters around, #spoiled. After a lovely day on the water, the eastern hospitality continued with a delicious home-cooked meal and an apple crumble made from apples as local as they get – hand picked right from the backyard. With our bellies full and an early morning reservation looming, we packed up and set out for North Sydney, where we’d be taking the ferry to Newfoundland the next morning.

Generic Van Life - Cape Breton Kayaking
Kayaking like damn pros

With everything from white sand beaches to a roaring rocky coastline, Nova Scotia slid right into my favourite provinces list pretty quick. The East Coast of Canada in general is super underrated and is somewhere every Canadian and tourist alike should add to their itinerary. Next stop is Justin’s homeland where we go just about as remote as it gets with a 7 hour boat ride as our next commute.

Mainland Nova Scotia

Basking in white sand beaches on Nova Scotia’s south shore in Hubbards and Chester before exploring the beautiful historic town of Lunenburg. We also watched the sunset over Peggy’s Cove and spent a night in Antigonish before hitting the Canso Causeway in mainland Nova Scotia.

After departing PEI, we were on a new mission to collect a very special antique from a family member in southern Nova Scotia. It was a 150+ year old spinning wheel used by Justin’s grandmother and great-grandmother for years to make yarn. We made our way down to Hubbards to see it, but not before grabbing a bite of donair on the outer rings of Halifax. If you’re American, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about but Halifax donairs are pretty famous and boast a wrap-sandwich-thing like no other – especially in the realm of drunk food. The secret is in the sauce, which has condensed milk in it, giving it a sweet taste as opposed to the usual heavy garlic of a shawarma or gyro. If you’re in Halifax, it’s practically your duty to at least try one. That being said, they’re not my favourite (womp womp woooomp) but at least I did my due diligence as a tourist. Also, do yourself a favour and tie up your hair before eating one – sauce in the hair is inevitable, no matter how proper you are.

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Antique Spinning Wheel
This spinning wheel was used for over 100 years in Justin’s family to make yarn

Saucy hair in tow, we made our way down to Hubbards, about half an hour outside of Halifax to meet up with Justin’s first cousin once removed (we spent way too long studying cousin charts to learn that that’s what your dad’s first cousin is to you to not use the term). We drove by some pretty gorgeous sandy beaches like Queensland Beach that made us question if we were in Nova Scotia or Florida. Seriously, these beaches were very different than the usual rugged and rocky coastal beaches. Another interesting thing is that although these are ocean beaches, most have a freshwater lake beside them. Pretty cool. Once we got to Hubbards, we disassembled the spinning wheels and realized just how big it was; the wheel itself was about the size of our bed. Luckily we didn’t have to transport it all that far.

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Soft sandy beaches in Nova Scotia?! The south shore was a real treat. This is Hubbards Beach

The East Coast hospitality continued as we spent the evening drinking beers on a private beach while the sun was setting and enjoying the last couple weeks of summer. We woke up the next day and checked out Hubbards’ farmers market that was filled with an interesting mix of people of all ages. Although not a place we had ever even heard of, we totally understood why Justin’s first cousin once removed (sorry, had to) has spent 20 years there. A small enough town for everyone to know your name but still with unique events going on all the time.

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Hubbards Farmers Market
Lots of folks hanging out at the Hubbards Farmers Market

After leaving the market, we drove through more beautiful seaside towns like Chester and Mahone Bay that made us lust over south shore Nova Scotia. Sid, Justin’s dad’s cousin, took us to Lunenburg, which is a town out of a postcard. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and played a big role in Nova Scotia’s history. It’s now the home to the Bluenose II schooner that was unfortunately out at sea the day we were on the wharf. The town is full of colourful buildings and amazing boats from all over, really similar to the coastal towns of Scandinavia in Sweden and Denmark. We walked around all the hills, popping in and out of cute little shops and eventually having a bowl of chowder while overlooking the ocean. Does life get any better than this?!

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A couple of yellow dories in the Lunenburg Harbour

After another open-ended goodbye, we set out to Peggy’s Cove to see one of Nova Scotia’s most iconic sites. Driving along more of the south shore was absolutely breathtaking and made for some pretty spectacular scenery. The views didn’t stop when we got up to the lighthouse where the rocks turn into smooth almost white boulders and the land opens up to beautiful, open coastline.

Generic Van Life - Mainland Nova Scotia Antique Peggys Cove
Post card Nova Scotia at Peggy’s Cove

As the sun started to set, we did our best to avoid moose on the road by boogying through Truro and New Glasgow to a gravel pit not far from Antigonish. Here we were close to the causeway to cross onto Cape Breton Island the next morning and do the Cabot Trail. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit downtown Halifax but seeing how much we enjoyed the south shore, I’m sure we’ll be back again.

Lobster Land, PEI

Crossing one very long bridge to get to the land of lobster and potatoes that is PEI. We got spoiled with fresh oysters on red sand beaches in Tyne Valley before hitting the big city in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

There’s no better way to be welcomed onto PEI than by having two fresh lobsters on your plate within minutes of arriving. After crossing the Confederation Bridge, we headed through Summerside toward Tyne Valley where Justin’s friend had recently moved and was living with some top-notch PEI’ers. People talk about Southern hospitality but East Coast hospitality is where it’s at. Along with fresh lobsters, we were also spoiled with the freshest oysters out there: hand-picked from a private lease of ocean just minutes from home. From living in Toronto so long, we know that PEI oysters are the crème-de-la-crème and come with a crème-de-la-crème price tag to match. At the last bar that I worked at, we charged $18 for a half-dozen raw oysters – that’s $3 per oyster. Out on the fishing boats, our friend’s dad sells a case of 400 for $100 – $0.25 a piece! They were flabbergasted to hear that PEI oysters, specifically Malpeques, were seen as such a delicacy and were equally grossed out to hear that we enjoyed eating them raw. On the mainland, we always think that people on the east coast practically eat raw oysters for breakfast but we soon learned that most of the locals wouldn’t even give you a thank you for a platter of them.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Lobster Supper
Now that’s a welcome dinner

As plentiful as the seafood was, the only thing that was even more abundant was the obscene amount of mosquitoes. After being deep in the woods in Northern Ontario and around plenty of ponds and bogs in other places, PEI easily took the crown for the most bugs. While shooing away hoards of skeeters, we went to a quintessential red sand beach and enjoyed PEI’s beautiful, undeveloped coastline. I had heard that Cavendish is a cool spot to visit but was quickly corrected that it’s really no different than any other beach on the island aside from the fact that it’s littered with shops and food stands, AKA it’s a tourist trap. We were so grateful to get the inside scoop from locals and be taken around to some much more authentic places.

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Embracing the red sand at a classic PEI beach

After the beach, we went to the wharf to watch the lobster boats come in and unload the fruits of their labour. It’s funny to see how different people’s daily lives are and see your own job from a different perspective; Justin and I are sat behind computers all day building websites and making graphics while others are out battling the sea. Anyway, we had some local grub called “fries with the works”, which is like a PEI poutine: fries with gravy, green peas and ground beef. That might not sound all that appetizing but it was actually super tasty and filled our bellies before a boat ride out in the ocean. We went for a cruise and even got to collect oysters and bar clams in the shallow waters. We indulged in a spectrum of bar clams by eating them raw, bottled and steamed – all delicious but I think steamed was my favourite.

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Lobster boats calling it a day

After leaving the Tyne Valley area, we drove the loop of the island, which barely took a couple hours. It’s a beautiful place and is filled with prosperous farms and exceptionally well-manicured lawns; you can tell that the folks take great pride in their farms and it’s nice to see. We popped into Charlottetown for a little while and drove around the island’s capital city. It’s definitely the most densely occupied area of the province but still maintains a small town vibe with a lot of character and charm. We were originally going to take the ferry from Wood Islands to Nova Scotia but decided to stick with the bridge to save a bit of time. If you didn’t know (I didn’t), it’s free to get to PEI whether you take the bridge or the ferry, but leaving the island comes at a price. Driving across the bridge into New Brunswick costs $47 and the ferry to Caribou, Nova Scotia is $78. Just a word to the wise so you don’t go blowing all your money on lobster and potatoes and end up having to live on the island since you don’t have the 50 bucks to get off.

Generic Van Life - Lobster Land PEI Wharf
Can you spot Clemie?

With Atlantic province #2 off of our list, we were Nova Scotia bound and ready to keep exploring. This would be Clemie’s second last province to conquer and my last while Justin had practically rode in with the Bluenose. Onward!

Crazy Tides in New Brunswick

Walking on the sea floor at Hopewell Rocks while the Bay of Fundy’s tide rolled (more like sped) in and out in Alma, New Brunswick.

With Québec in the rearview mirror, we crossed into the Atlantic time zone and our first province of the Maritimes: New Brunswick. We were on a mission to get to the Bay of Fundy so only a brief pit stop was made in Edmunston to top up the gas and admire how lovely-ly the landscape was changing from central Canada. Things started to get really hilly and lush since we were still fairly inland from the coast. Driving through NB, you’ll notice two things: first, all the signs are completely bilingual. Personally, we think that all of Canada should be like that since it helps people from all over the country feel unified and you might even pick up a few things on your daily drives. To clarify, NB is the only officially bilingual province so they’re required to have all signage in English and French by law while other provinces aren’t required to do so. Anyway, the second thing we noticed is that there were a lot of road signs with claims about being the potato capital. Ok, those are some pretty great awards and titles to have but we all know that despite McCain‘s prominence in the potato world, PEI holds that crown. “Potato country”, “French fry capital” and “world famous potatoes” were all proclamations made on roadside signs that contributed to this potato propaganda. Although I’d need to see the official documentation to back these statements up to truly believe them, all the talk about potatoes and fries made us realize that we were going to feel right at home in New Brunswick.

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A fish boat out of water in Alma, New Brunswick

After zooming through Fredericton and making an unsuccessful attempt at getting some Sussex Ginger Ale in Sussex, we settled into a forest road campsite just outside of Fundy National Park for the night. It was a beautifully treed area that had this mystical sort of haze floating around that made it look pretty magical. Our goal was to get to the Hopewell Rocks for low tide bright and early the following day so it was the perfect spot to get a good night’s sleep before having to wake up at the asscrack of dawn.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Fundy Campsite
Our magical looking campsite outside of Fundy National Park

On the way to Hopewell, we went through Alma, which is a cool little seaside town where we got our first view of just how crazy the tide really is. Huge fishing boats were completely out of the water and you could walk out at least 100’ beyond them. Once we got to the park, we could see people exploring the exposed sea floor way out beyond the steps to go down. We climbed down and checked out all the seaweed and flowerpot rocks that make the place so famous. The flowerpot rocks are also really good indicators of how much the tide changes – at 9AM we were walking at their bases and by 1PM, they were starting to get submerged.

Generic Van Life - New Brunswick Tides Hopewell Rocks Low Tide
Low tide at Hopewell Rocks

We walked out about 1km/0.6mi and the sand started to turn into quicksand-like mud. I wanted to feel just how sticky it was so I crossed into some and almost lost a shoe. It’s clear that those areas are where the tide line usually hangs out since it’s so much wetter than the sand closer to the cliffs. I found it really interesting how little sea life there was other than seaweed but I suppose with a tide that aggressive, it would be hard for little creatures to survive. It’s very different than a lot of west coast beaches where you dodge crabs and mussels as you walk out.

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Walking on the sea floor of the Bay of Fundy
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The aftermath of the mud quite visible on my shoes

We stayed until an hour before high tide and the fluctuation was drastic. People were no longer allowed on the beach simply because there’s nowhere to walk; the beach completely disappears and gets filled in with water. Apparently a lot of ignorant people have gotten stuck from walking too far and not being able to find enough dry land to get back. The unique thing about the Bay of Fundy is that with the tide changing so quickly, it transforms the look of all the towns that it touches in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia alike. People can even rent kayaks at high tide to explore the rocks that they were just walking alongside on the formerly dry sand.

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One hour before high tide at Hopewell Rocks. Note the kayaks

I’m going to refrain from subjecting any of you to the fun/Fundy jokes and just say that we had a wicked time in New Brunswick and that the Hopewell Rocks…rocked! Ouch, sorry. After leaving the park, we booted through Moncton to head toward the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island and hit up our first island in a while and take Clemie further and further east.

Living le Vanlife in Québec

Cruising along the St. Lawrence River in Canada’s Frenchest province through Beauharnois and the gorgeous countryside of Kamouraska, Québec.

You often forget just how big Ontario is and how long it takes to even cut across the bottom to get to Québec. I remember many $15 Megabus trips to Montréal to take advantage of the 18-year-old drinking age and late night bars where the drive seemed to fly by but in this case, it felt like more of a crawl (am I ageing myself?). A big part of how draining it felt stemmed from the days getting noticeable shorter. It’s starting to get dark earlier and earlier and autumn will definitely be upon us soon. Let’s just hope this year we will actually get to experience an autumn and Mother Nature doesn’t just slam the winter button way too early again. Anyway, after a long day, we decided to skip Montréal and settle into the small riverside town of Beauharnois for the night.

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Camping fleuve-side in Beauharnois, Québec

Beauharnois is home to a pretty massive hydroelectric dam with an adjacent gravel lot fit for a nice overnight stay. It seemed to be a pretty popular spot for people to stay the night, as there were more than a dozen vehicles already parked along the river when we arrived. Some folks even had their fishing rods out and were trying their luck with some poissons in the river. After climbing out of some not-so-obvious potholes, we crashed pretty quickly and had some much-needed rest after a long day on the road. We also had the free entertainment of locals bringing their Jeeps and minivans alike to do some awful-sounding donuts in the parking lot. In the morning, most people had cleared out but a man in a van not so different from Clemie came over to chat with us and welcome us to the area. It’s always super nice to get a chance to talk with locals and not feel like you’re seen as vagrant bums, especially when you’re just doing a quick overnight.

Generic Van Life - Quebec Beauharnois Night Shot
Werewolves not pictured in this full moon Beauharnois photo

We decided to pass on reliving our school year trips to Québec City and bypass the gorgeous historic city since we still had a fair amount of ground to cover in order to make our ferry to Newfoundland. Following the St. Lawrence, we drove through the countryside and got a taste for what the rest of our drive was going to be like. Small mountains were starting to pop up and water views were never far away. We had a few Québec vanners tell us that Kamouraska is where we want to be when it comes to travelling through the province so that’s where we headed. We stayed at a beach where the river felt like an ocean and there was nothing but peaceful, rolling hills in the distance. In the middle of all this painting-like scenery is a microbrewery all on its own called Tête d’Allumette where we popped in to grab a couple beers to enjoy on the beach as the tide rolled out.

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The beautiful beach in Kamouraska on the St. Lawrence River

Kamouraska gave us a definite East Coast teaser and made us all that more excited to travel through Atlantic Canada. After leaving the beach, we made a stop in Rivière-du-Loup to get some much-needed rations: cheap beer and canned maple syrup. Did you even go to Québec if you didn’t bring back the tastiest maple syrup there is?! French goods in tow, we headed into the Atlantic time zone where we’d be embarking on the last leg of our voyage across Canada.

Bringing our New Home to our Old Home in Southern Ontario

Walking alongside the rapids of Niagara Falls before returning to our former home of Toronto, Ontario. All while squeezing in some TLC time for Clemie amid camping trips in Port Elgin and Kawartha Lakes, Ontario.

After border crossing #487354, we were home, sweet home and ready to catch up with friends and family all around southern Ontario (whoever’s keeping the border crossing tally might be a tad hyperbolic). We were stoked to spend some time with friends in Niagara Falls before heading to Toronto and were lucky enough to have a hookup with Niagara Parks for all kinds of complimentary passes to the good, non-cheesy attractions (shoutout to Brandon and Bev 😉). We spent a day being tourists doing the cable car over the whirlpool, walking behind the falls and indulging in some kids entertainment at The Fury.

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View from the cable car going over the Niagara Gorge

The next day, we did the White Water Walk and got splashed by the most dangerous rapids in the world. That’s right, these are Class 6 rapids and are completely off-limits to rafters or paddlers because they’re that nuts. The limestone in the rocks give the water a beautiful, ultra-saturated teal colour that looks like a sea of cotton candy. If you find yourself in Niagara Falls, skip the wax museums of Clifton Hill and walk over to the gorge – in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the whole area. We didn’t bother with the Hornblower (the bigger, badder and crazier version of the Maid of the Mist, which is now the New York side’s attraction) because it was hot as hell out, the line was way too long and we had our share of plastic poncho-wearing for the day already.

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Niagara Falls Rapids
Getting up close and personal with Class 6 rapids

It had been 10 months since we left Toronto to move to Alberta and it felt a little surreal to be back – mainly because we brought our entire house with us. As always, it was great to spend time with friends and family and catch up on some work and van maintenance. We managed to cross quite a bit off of our list including rerouting our sink drainage, making a new table and sealing a couple chips in the windshield. It was nice to be parked at my parents’ house where tools and running water are plentiful. And of course, parents love to feed ya! With full bellies, we headed to MacGregor Point, an Ontario Provincial Park on Lake Huron, for a camping trip at our second paid campsite in 6 months. Yup, ever since we installed our solar system, we’ve only paid for two campsites since March. One in Tofino because we pretty much had no choice and this group camping trip that was planned months ago. How many people can say they’ve only paid one hundred and fifty odd bucks in rent in 6 months?? Fees aside, it was a really nice campground that felt like we were alone in the woods, which is generally preferable when camping as opposed to the all too common sardine can campgrounds where kids wake up super early and just scream all day. On our way out, we checked out the beach in Port Elgin where the crystal clear waters of Lake Huron make you feel like you’re somewhere tropical and do such a great job at making you forget just how damn cold it gets in the winter.

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The best part of our MacGregor Point camping trip was getting to spend time with this handsome devil (sorry human friends)

Not long after we returned to the city to get back to work, we were headed off on another camping trip. This time, we headed east about 2 hours north of Peterborough to do some boondocking on some of Ontario’s mythical Crown Land (public land). If you’ve ever tried to locate Crown Land in Ontario (namely southern), you’ll know exactly what I mean. Sure, the government website provides a map but it’s complicated and not very user-friendly. Truthfully, I think that that’s their intention since it’s unclear whether many of the spots are even accessible – especially with a vehicle. Anyway, deciphering maps and finding camping spots has become a regular part of our daily lives so we were game to give it a whirl. We found an amazing spot called Cashel Lake where a few other campers had already set up shop to enjoy the peaceful woods and pristine lake. We spent the majority of the weekend floating in the water with friends while soaking in as much of the non-city air as we could before heading back to Toronto. I even dug out my childhood fishing rods that became our new favourite tools and even helped to catch us dinner one night. Not bad for city folk!

Generic Van Life - Southern Ontario Cashel Lake Fishing
Nothing like fishing from an inflatable pink donut
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And then eating the fish at our little shanty town

After returning home and tying up some loose ends with van repairs, we were ready to get back into “routine” and hit the road again. Saying goodbye is always bittersweet but our goodbyes are always more “until next times” than anything else. Leaving the city this time around was so much more relaxed than last time when we were about to fly across the country to move into our house that we hadn’t even seen before. We’re geared up and ready to hit the East Coast and can’t wait to cross some more provinces off our list!