Gaff Point, Nova Scotia: The Quintessential East Coast Summer Experience


We can hear the sound of gulls wheeling about overhead, accompanied by the peaceful whoosh of the waves as they hit the shore. The scent of sand and seaweed permeates the air, and a refreshing ocean breeze caresses our skin; all of life’s stresses begin to fade away. We have arrived at Hirtle’s Beach, a three-kilometre stretch of white sand and rocky cobble and the official starting point to the Gaff Point hiking trail.

Sunlight splashes off the blue water, creating a beautiful array of light as we make our trek along the beach; by planning our hike according to low tide, we are able to enjoy the soft sand beneath our shoes, rather than the wobbly loose stones. Due to the constant surf and powerful sea currents, Hirtle’s is always changing, and this inspires our ‘inner’ beachcomber. We stop occasionally to look for little treasures yielded by the sea; a piece of colourful glass which has been broken, rolled and tossed by the waves, then smoothed to perfection, is our lucky find. Taking a sharp right off of the beach and towards the wooded area, we finally reach the trailhead.

Gaff Point, located on the south shore of Nova Scotia, is a seven-kilometre trail that loops completely around the peninsula and is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy and the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. After reading the trailhead’s interpretive panels, we enter the forest where skeletal spruce trees loom tall, the ground is blanketed in moss and ferns and tree roots slyly await shufflers.

We trade in the open sky for shelter, yet the cool ocean breeze still manages to sneak through small gaps in the foliage, a friendly reminder of the upcoming sights. At last the trail opens again to emerge at the coast, and we are met with a steep rocky shoreline, cliffs and ocean. Sadly, we don’t spot any seals or whales from this striking view (maybe next time), but the endless expanse of the Atlantic is mesmerizing alone; waves roll and crash dramatically, igniting a sea symphony.

We meander through the same opening and closing of the trail, sky and  forest, wind and calmness, with the ever-present sound of the ocean coming and going with perfect rhythm. At times, the wooded section of the trail is obstacle-like; pathways of old, weathered logs create a corduroy pattern, and we hop from one to the next avoiding any muddy missteps. A woodpecker drums on a nearby tree (we like to imagine it is cheering us along), until we are embraced again by sky and ocean.

We find ourselves near the tip of Gaff Point; the wind picks up and tousles our hair wildly, and with the temperature drop, a slight chill runs through our bodies. It is an invigorating feeling. Here, we enjoy magnificent vistas of the seascape—LaHave Islands, Moshers Island and the steep cliffs of West Ironbound Island can be seen in the distance—while munching on granola bars.

Inukshuks of various shapes and sizes dot the surrounding space; they have been built by passersby and give us a sense of communal spirit. We leave a mark upon the landscape with our own human-like rock structure, and it stands tall with outstretched arms, ready to welcome the next group of hikers. It is a wonderful way to commemorate our adventure before having to loop around and return to Hirtle’s Beach.

With a mixture of beach, forest and rugged coastline, along with plenty of wildlife and exuberant colours, the Gaff Point hiking trail is the quintessential East Coast summer experience, and a true delight for all of the senses.


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