PHOTO BY MIKE BYRNE
Wondering where your walks will take you this summer? You don’t have to wander far.
I’ve hiked trails all over Nova Scotia and experienced impressive shorelines. Munroes Island walk is exceptional among them. For most people, the walk at Caribou Provincial Park is a short jaunt, a mile or so up the shore. But continue another five kilometres to the tip of Munroes Island, you will be rewarded with not only a workout but a hike that will be etched in your memory. And here is why.
Situated 11 kilometres north of Pictou, Munroes Island, renamed from Doctor Island in 1976, juts out into the Northumberland Strait like a fist with a beckoning finger. What intrigued me was that the entire 10-kilometre walk out-and-back was directly on the shoreline. The journey to the picturesque tip of Munroes Island turned out to be more than just a walk. It was an adventure. What would be around the next bend? What would I see in the lagoons and hidden stretches along this remote and protected wilderness area?
The beginning felt like a quest. “Go to Caribou Provincial Park, walk to the grassy knoll at the top of the park, descend the stairs, and you will hit the beach,” said Gary Rankin, an avid hiking enthusiast living in Pictou. “Turn left, and just follow the beach. But time it,” he added. “You will want to aim for low tide so your walk to Munroes Island won’t be a wet one.”
Following Gary’s advice, I arrived at the park at 2:00 pm, four hours before low tide, allowing enough time to walk in both directions without worrying about wet feet. With my backpack brimming with binoculars, camera, snacks, water, rain jacket, and sunblock, I was ready for anything. I set off down the stairs and headed left.
Two walkers, Fay Marshall and Millie Hoffe from Pictou were just finishing their walk, so I stopped to ask if they had been to Munroes Island.
“Oh no, we don’t walk that far,” laughed Millie, “But we do walk here every day. Today is Fay’s birthday so we had to celebrate it in our favourite place.”
Full of curiosity, I started down the long expanse of reddish sandy shoreline stretching out about 1.5 kilometres ahead. Not another walker in sight. It was just me and the beach treasures in the sand, large surf clamshells, grandfather lobster claws, crab skeletons, and razor clams. The warm sea waters of the Northumberland Strait, the warmest north of the Carolinas, creates this flourishing environment for sea life.
Upon leaving the sandy isthmus called Little Caribou Spit, an outcropping of iron-rich, reddish rocks heralded my arrival to the island. Munroes Island, a farm until the 1940s, has now become a favourite place for birding enthusiasts, nature lovers, and wilderness walkers. True to the guidebook’s promise, I saw a bald eagle soar over the calm receding waters while about twenty-five Red-Crested Mergansers in their winter colours swam close to shore. Noticing a bird watcher carrying a tripod along the kelp banks, I stopped to ask what he saw.
“Great day today,” he replied while assembling his tripod. “You saw the Red-Crested Mergansers back there?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Have you seen anything else?”
“Well, I come here regularly to log birds. Today, apart from the Mergansers, I’ve had great sightings; Black Ducks, Long-Tailed Ducks, and a Bald Eagle.”
With today’s particularly clear air, I glimpsed the large head of a solitary seal bopping up behind the ducks. Focusing my binoculars past the seal, the hidden jewel, Pictou Island, lying 7.5 kilometres offshore, came into view. A few white houses, not often seen so distinctly, dotted its southern coastline.
After resuming my walk, the beach narrowed to a sliver around the second bend where an eroded cliff caused a number of coniferous trees to lean precariously over its banks. Others had fallen onto the shore in front of me. Previous tides had left seaweed markers at the foot of the cliff, clearly indicating this would be a wet slog at high tide. But today my challenge was not to keep dry, it was hopping over the rocks exposed from the low tide. An easy feat for my nimble, trusty hiking boots.
A pristine, marshy lagoon, framed in marram grass, lay just before the final stretch. This quiet, secluded area is a sanctuary for birds and ducks, far away from the noise and people of the mainland. Here, the sand changed from reddish to a soft light brown, and the coniferous trees were replaced with barren bleached trunks and skeletal branches, looking more like a windswept desert from a Sci-Fi scene than the North Shore.
The image that has been etched in my memory is the final one. The tip of the beckoning finger surrounded on three sides with clear, deep blue water gently lapping on the fine yellow sand. The ferry to P.E.I. rested at the Caribou pier across the channel. The red and white lighthouse, originally operated by light-keeper Alexander Munroe in 1867, stood alone and silent at the tip of Caribou Island.
Low tide had uncovered a virgin shoreline, imprinting my tracks to a log where I plunked myself down to savour this unique spot. A spot I appreciated even more after walking five kilometres and navigating through the rocky bits along this exceptional coastline filled with pristine beauty. Oh, and of course, at low tide.
Five Essential Tips for Summer Hiking
- Drink water in 15-20 minute intervals while walking. Hydrate days before and days after long walks.
- Choose socks and shoes that permit ventilation to avoid blisters. Pack an extra pair of socks.
- Bring snacks to maintain energy: dried fruit, apricots, dates.
- Protect nose and ears from
the sun. Sunscreen with 20% Zinc Oxide
- Pack an energy gel or electrolyte drink for long hikes and hot conditions.