Conduct a poll amongst Nova Scotians--actually, ask most people from the Halifax-Dartmouth area, about who has made the trip to McNabs Island. We are willing to bet the bank that not more than 1 in 10 people have stepped foot on this adventure paradise. Sure, it’s an island, and that simple fact may be the barrier keeping most away. But let us tell you: that’s no excuse. Time and time again, we’re asked for a great place to visit near Halifax and we always reply ‘MCNABS ISLAND’.
Let us explain why.
Situated at the mouth of Halifax Harbour, McNabs Island Provincial Park and National historic site is 5 km long and 1.5km at its widest. It is packed to the brim with adventure opportunities. Even getting there is part of the adventure. The island is serviced by ferries that leave from Halifax, Dartmouth and the Eastern Passage (a full list can be found on www.mcnabsisland.ca). It’s not uncommon for the ride across the harbour to turn into the marine-life safari. Numerous sea birds, a variety of species of seals and (if you’re really lucky) a passing whale, dolphin or porpoise might make your trip that much more memorable.
Once you land on the island, the first thing you’ll likely notice is that McNabs is stacked with some incredible beaches. Wreck Cove, on the eastern side of the island, is a classic spot for boating enthusiasts from around Halifax to gather which makes sense given that the beach is gorgeous and is protected from South West wind (the most common in the summer months). On the western side of the island you’ll find Maugers Beach. A classically beautiful white sandy beach, the views are enhanced by the towering lighthouse at the end of Hangman’s beach, the Halifax city skyline in the distance and the ongoing boat traffic into and out of harbour.
At the far end of the Maugers Beach, there's a small estuary that flows in and out on the tide, making for an excellent place for a quick dip! Once you’re cooled off, it’s time to hit the trails. The whole of the island is serviced with excellent hiking trails and roads that traverse the length of the island. The hiking trails will lead you through the heart of the island and to the edges for some amazing views.
Our favourite way to explore the island, and ensure that you’ll be able to see as much as possible, is to bring our bikes to ride on the old road. Most ferries to the island can accommodate bicycles, but again call ahead to make sure there is room. The island has so many points of interest that it’s hard to pick just where to go. If you’re looking for stunning views then we suggest you head for Fort McNab. Due to its strategic location, Halifax has a rich naval and military history.
Throughout both world wars the entire Halifax harbour was turned into a defence complex to defend the city. These sites also include: Halifax Citadel, Georges Island, Prince of Wales Tower and York Redoubt (all of which are also top-notch places to explore!!!). Thanks to the ongoing work of Parks Canada these areas have been designated as National Historic Sites. The history of the Island is much MUCH deeper than just the last century. Evidence suggests from archaeological sites near the island that indigenous peoples have been visiting the island since the last ice-age over 10 000 years ago. Standing from the top of Fort McNab you can understand why this island has been such an important place for so long.
Despite being just minutes from the city, McNabs Island retains a wild charm. It has a bounty of wildlife and it is common to see eagles, ospreys, owls, white-tailed deer and fox to name a few meandering about the island. The flora is equally impressive. Past residents were prolific gardeners including the area known as the Teahouse which is built on the site of the former Hugonin-Perrin Estate, and features many introduced plants and trees that are still growing over a century since they were planted.
Recent upgrades to outhouse facilities, hiking trails, signage and helpful interpretive panels make the island easy to explore. We also highly encourage any visitor to check out the Friends of McNabs Society. They are the go-to portal for all things related to the island and have many events and tours throughout the year that are very much worth checking out. Make sure to study the island map found on the site! You can also find out more information on the Teahouse Restoration project. (link below)
Halifax has so much to offer as a destination but you are definitely missing out by not visiting this incredible place. So grab some buds, organize a trip, and when you find yourself asked about the island in the future you can join us in saying that it is indeed a paradise of adventure. See you out there!
All photos are copyright of Acorn Art & Photography. Please visit www.acornart.net for more info. This blog post is written in partnership with Nova Scotia Tourism. Visit www.novascotia.ca to start planning your trip today!