by Doug van Hemessen, Nature Conservancy of Canada
Gaff Point is a lush peninsula dangling into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Nova Scotia. If you look due south from the bottom tip of the point, and if you could actually see far enough, the land on the horizon would be South America.
Gaff Point is almost completely surrounded by ocean, with just a sliver of sandy and cobbled shore—known as Hirtle’s Beach—connecting it to the mainland.
Hike at Gaff Point and you’ll experience the elements that typify the South Shore of Nova Scotia: long walks along sandy beaches at low tide or on wobbly cobbles at high tide. There’s a breeze, sometimes gentle but often strong, blowing off the ocean. There’s the rhythmic sound of waves breaking and rushing up the shoreline, and where the cobbled shore is high and sloped. The receding wash pulls the rounded stones back down the slope, creating a distinctive sound of rushing water and stones bouncing off each other.
After crossing the beach and reaching the Gaff Point trailhead, you enter a forest of tall coniferous trees. It’s a transition from open sky and breeze to shade and shelter, from sand and cobbles to forest floor, moss and tree roots and, further along, the exposed bedrock that is the very foundation of the peninsula. The breeze comes and goes as you walk through forested sections of white spruce and red maple, across open heath of grasses and crowberry, back into the forest. The trail opens again to emerge at the coast, where the forest and trail meet the high rocky shoreline, cliffs and ocean.
Seals and sea ducks can be seen from this grand view. You may even catch a glimpse of small colourful buoys and their attendant lobster-fishing boats, the ocean bouncing and rolling all around. Along the trail, shrubs, trees and soft green ground are on one side, while rock, stones and the ocean are on the other.
Fog comes and goes. You may be admiring an island off the tip of Gaff Point, only to notice it obscured by cloud or mist a short time later. It may emerge and disappear a few times as your hike progresses.
The return loop moves you through the same opening and closing, forest and sky, trees and heath, breeze and stillness. You hear the calls of furtive songbirds and brash gulls. You notice the briny smell and ever-present sound of the ocean coming and going.
Past the trailhead and back along the beach, the kilometre-long walk skirts the crashing, washing waves. On a warm summer day, the parking lot is full with families arriving to swim and sunbathe, enjoy the view or perhaps walk part of the beach. Others hike the full Gaff Point loop: a rewarding choice.
Gaff Point is one of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s properties featured in Nature Destinations, a program that invites you to take a journey through some of the greatest examples of our country’s natural areas and to connect with nature. Visit naturedestinations.ca.
Featured image: Gaff Point. Photo by Mike Dembeck