Pristine, turquoise water fringed with soft, golden sand beaches and lush rainforest. A group of wild, remote islands, some entirely inhabited by birds. It sounds like somewhere a little more exotic than Canada doesn’t it? But the 100 Wild Islands archipelago is located just off Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.
And as soon as we heard about it, a kayak trip was somewhat inevitable.
The 100 Wild Islands were largely forgotten until 2014, when the Nova Scotia Nature Trust launched a campaign to protect this beautiful area. Most of the islands (of which actually number more than 100) have been untouched by humans, preserving a unique coastal environment of boreal rainforest, bogs, sheltered bays and rugged headlands.
This little piece of paradise in Nova Scotia is an ideal kayaking destination, particularly because it is only a very short drive from Halifax. Read on for our own trip experience plus a guide to help you plan your own 100 Wild Islands kayaking adventure.
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Paddling into the 100 Wild Islands
Kayaking into the 100 Wild Islands was as picture perfect as things can get in the Maritimes. A handful of fishing boats chugging past tiny rock islands topped with windswept trees, a few colourful houses lining the shore. Our destination was Borgles Island, said to have the prettiest sand bar beach around.
Just past Long Island, JR took our his fishing rod. I was content to float and enjoy the views. At least, I was, until I was surprised by a large creature surfacing a couple of metres to my right.
It happened so quickly that I barely had time to register the dorsal fin appearing above the water and the distinctive sound of a blow hole opening. At first, I thought it was a shark (yes, I’m paranoid), mistaking my kayak for a seal.
Well that’s it, I thought. This will be my last kayaking trip ever. I was infinitely relieved when the dorsal fin appeared again, this time about fifteen metres away. We both watched as the porpoise (JR’s guess) swam away, thankful for gracing us with its presence. Even if I was terrified at first.
Borgles Sand Bar
Cruising past Tucker’s Cove on Borgles Island, we started to feel the swells of the Atlantic. With no breaking waves, it was a bit like riding a rollercoaster. Though I never felt in danger, the swells made me feel more than a little nauseous. But we didn’t have far to go.
Turning in towards Rob’s Rock, we could see the bright shine of the sandbar ahead of us. The water almost immediately calmed and became beautifully transparent with a blue-green hue. We could see shoals of fish swimming below us as well as forests of kelp. The ocean floor was surprisingly sandy.
At the end of the lagoon, the sandbar was waiting to welcome us. This stretch of golden sand between Borgles and Middle Islands almost didn’t look real. We landed and wandered the shore, marvelling at the immaculate sand and crystal clear waters beyond.
Middle Island, 100 Wild Islands
There is an established campsite just above the sandbar on the Middle Island side, but two other kayakers had just beaten us to it. We investigated around the beach for another suitable spot, eventually conceding defeat and retreating to explore around Middle Island instead.
Another established site was just around the corner, fronted by another wide, sandy beach and protected by rocky outcrops. The sheltered beach was perfect. So perfect that I think our first evening here was my favourite on any kayaking trip we have been on.
After setting up camp, JR went snorkelling (and found a lobster!) and we both fished for dinner. The sun went down behind Borgles Island, creating a fiery ending to an eventful and beautiful day in the 100 Wild Islands.
Into the Atlantic fog
While we had big plans for our 100 Wild Islands kayaking trip, nature had other ideas. We woke to rain on our first morning. At least, that’s what I thought it was. As soon as we left the tent, however, it was clear that this was no regular rain. The dripping on our tent was heavy condensation from the surrounding trees.
Out on the beach, the mist was lessened and replaced by thick fog. The light grey colour of the sky and the ocean blended as one; it was like being in a cloud. Unable to see further than about five metres, we suddenly felt quite isolated from the world. Our little island paradise had just got that bit smaller!
Our plans for island hopping, hikes and lake swims disappeared. Instead, we found ourselves playing a lot of card games, reading, napping and eating grand banquets of freshly caught fish. The fog limited us to staying fairly close to our beach base camp, but the local fishing was fabulous!
Life in the Clouds
Sometimes nature knows you need to slow down and relax. Living in a cloud was just what we needed at the time. I read three books and planned the next two months of blog posts. JR snorkelled close to shore, looking for his elusive lobster friend again. He also won many of the card games.
After three days of fog, we packed up and paddled slowly back to the mainland. Just past the tip of Borgles Island we began to see the outline of other islands. The fog was lifting and revealing the full beauty of the 100 Wild Islands again. A pod of seals followed us as we wound in and out of islets to reach our initial launching point.
Despite never being more than about four kilometres from the mainland, arriving at the launch was like rejoining the world. I guess it kind of was, seeing as we had been up in the clouds of the 100 Wild Islands. Our trip didn’t quite go as planned, but I’m still glad I got to experience this idyllic corner of the world.
A Guide to Kayaking the 100 Wild Islands
Planning a kayaking trip to the 100 Wild Islands region? Here’s what you should know before setting out.
The 100 Wild Islands is located on the eastern coast of Nova Scotia, encompassing many of the islands between Clam Harbour and just beyond Taylor Head Provincial Park. This grouping is part of the larger Eastern Shore Islands.
Understanding the Ownership of the 100 Wild Islands
With the 100 Wild Islands region currently experiencing something of a transition, there is not a huge amount of information available regarding the regulation of recreational (i.e. kayaking, camping) pursuits in the area. The Eastern Shore islands include a mix of properties that are owned by the Province of Nova Scotia (crown land), the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and private individuals.
Prior to our own kayak trip to the 100 Wild Islands, I reached out to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and Nova Scotia Deptment of Environment for clarification on the ownership borders in the area.
- All of the islands under provincial Crown land ownership from Clam Harbour to Liscomb are designated as the Eastern Shore Islands Wilderness Area.
- The subset of Crown islands east of Taylor Head Provincial Park are also designated as the Eastern Shore Islands Wildlife Management Area, under the authority of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources (NSDNR).
- The Nova Scotia Nature Trust (NSNT) now owns or has conservation easements on many privately owned island properties between Owls Head and Taylor Head, around 85% of the ‘100 Wild Islands’ area.
How to Get to the 100 Wild Islands
The 100 Wild Islands belong to Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore region. The southern border is near Clam Harbour, a small community about an hour’s drive from Halifax. The northern boundary of the 100 Wild Islands (Taylors Head) is another twenty minutes along Highway 7.
With the 100 Wild Islands being so close to Halifax, the city is a great place to visit before or after your kayaking trip.
Looking to book a stay in Halifax?
Commons Inn – Good value
The Halliburton – Awesome location
Still Waters Bed and Breakfast – Best rated on Booking.com
Be sure to also explore the small fishing villages and communities on the Eastern Shore – we particularly enjoyed exploring the Memory Lane Heritage Village in Lake Charlotte. Created and almost entirely run by volunteers, Memory Lane is a living history museum presenting coastal life in Nova Scotia as it was during the 1940’s.
Where to Launch Kayaks in the 100 Wild Islands
With Nova Scotia’s Highway 7 snaking its way along closely along the Eastern Shore, there are quite a few potential launching points for kayaking wishing to explore the 100 Wild Islands.
Two of the most popular launch sites are Tangier and Murphy Cove. The latter is surrounded by a scattering of small islands, providing good shelter from the open ocean. Our choice to launch at Murphy Cove was also based on the presence of a busy on-site campground; an ideal place to park our van securely during our kayaking trip. We paid $5 a night for vehicle storage at Murphy’s on the Ocean.
100 Wild Islands Kayak Camping
The 100 Wild Islands region has no formally organised campsites. If you plan on camping in this area, you must be self sufficient and adhere to leave-no-trace principles.
From Taylor Head west to Clam Bay, ‘wilderness camping is allowed on Wilderness Area islands subject to wildlife conservation provisions made under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act and other potentially applicable Acts‘ as per the NSDNR.
Camping is not allowed in the Eastern Shore Islands Wildlife Management Area during the colonial waterbird breeding season from April to August.
The NSNT allows camping as long as users maintain the conservation values of the land. They are currently developing a formal management strategy for the 100 Wild Islands which will include camping guidance.
With all this in mind, my advice for kayak camping in the 100 Wild Islands region is as follows:
- Avoid camping on or approaching islands with bird colonies on them unless a distance of 400 m can be maintained
- Look for established campsites and use these as a preference to creating new campsites. This limits ecological impact on the surrounding area
- The best idea is to head for one of the larger islands which generally have better camping opportunities and less chance to disturb wildlife and damage delicate ecosystems
- For the best chance of finding a spot, head to Harbour Island, Long Island, Borgles Island, Shelter Cove, Porters Island, Baltee Island, Phoenix Island, Tangier Island and the western side of Wolfes Island. Those mentioned are all either crown land or owned by the NSNT
Boat and Kayak Tours
There are a few local companies offering guided boat and kayak tours of the 100 Wild Islands. These trips are ideal if you do not have your own boat or kayaking experience.
Murphy’s Camping on the Ocean in Murphy Cove offers a couple of cost effective options for exploring the 100 Wild Islands for non-kayakers. There are 1.5 hour long scenic boat tours plus an island drop-off service. It is also possible to order and be dropped off with a local seafood supper (including lobster and mussels).
100 Wild Islands Safety
Kayakers planning to explore the 100 Wild Islands should have previous paddling experience, appropriate clothing and safety equipment. The Atlantic coastline can be unforgiving and as such, the paddling experience is unpredictable.
As evidenced by our own experience, heavy fog can come in reasonably quickly and stick around for a long time. It is very difficult to navigate with ocean fog like this. It should also be noted that the Atlantic water temperature is freezing!
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