“Come on, Uli! Let’s get ’em! We’re coming for you, Mom!” Isaac warned as we played kayak tag. His voice being the only sound in this serene estuary other than our paddles gliding through the flat water and the birds wondering who we were.
Here I sit in a frigid arena at the commencement of winter sports struggling to believe that a mere 4 weeks ago we were 2000 km away, gently kayaking through a protected estuary and chowing down on decadent lobster roll and seafood caesar salad on the white sandy shore at Kejimkujik (Ke-jim-koo-jik) National Park Seaside in Port Joli, Nova Scotia. Keji Seaside for short.
We were thisclose to backing out of this trip because it would mean arriving back home to Ontario with just sixteen hours before the bell rings on the first day of school. I’m so grateful that we followed through.
We met Matt DeLong, owner of Candlebox Kayaking based in Shelburne, NS, along with his team, Uli and Rob in the parking lot of Keji Seaside. We were outfitted with life jackets and water shoes. They hoisted dry bags full to the top with supplies onto their backs and we all struck out down the trail. It’s a picturesque, 3 km hike on a well-maintained trail. Along the way we saw lots of seals and sea birds. We have been on several designated “seal hikes” with zero luck. We saw more seals in 5 minutes here, than we have on any other excursion. We crossed by wetlands and spied several species of birds. We learned much from our guides about cormorants and other wildlife in park.
Fun Fact: Have you ever seen a cormorant standing atop a rock with his wings spread out? I’d always thought it was some intimidation tactic, to make them look bigger. Wrong! They don’t have enough oil in their feathers to repel water while they dive for their dinner. They become saturated with water and could drown because they are so heavy. So, there they stand, wings spread, just drying out.
We made it to the cabin to learn all about the invasive and wildly destructive green crabs. Gabrielle from Parks Canada was the perfect interpreter for kids. She let Isaac help pull up a trap, carry it to the dock and inspect the crabs. Gabrielle patiently answered each of his questions in language he could understand. The green crabs were first discovered in the 1950’s in the Bay of Fundy. They, along with so many other invasive species over the years, traveled here from Europe in the ballast waters of ships. By the 90’s they’d made their way to Nova Scotia’s South Shore including here at Keji Seaside. At first, researchers couldn’t figure out what was crushing the clams and breaking off the ecologically important eel grass at the base. Local fisherman were the ones with the answers. They said that those signs were the calling card of the green crabs. Researchers started to set traps and were shocked at the numbers. Green crabs are voracious, and not terribly discriminating eaters. They eat anything they can get their claws on, clams being a favourite. Keji Seaside has 2 estuaries. Both were chock full of green crabs. Their appetite left the estuaries as a “moonscape”, meaning there is essentially no life. The researchers and Parks Canada decided to try and find a solution. They left one estuary as a control and started trapping in the other. They catch up to 1000 crabs per day in traps specially designed by fisherman Russell Nickerson. Over 2.2 MILLION crabs have been trapped since 2010! For the first time since embarking on this ambitious project, they are finding other creatures in the traps such as small lobster and fish making this the first successful ocean restoration. Isaac pointed out an odd looking crab in the trap. Gabrielle carefully pulled the crab up to discover that it was in the middle of molting. We were able to witness the completion of the molting process. The crabs new shell was as soft as skin and would within 24 hours. Restaurants are trying out different recipes with the softshell green crab which apparently are comparable to a sweet scallop. There’s even an entire green crab cookbook. I’ll be searching out a restaurant with that on the menu next year.
This already incredible day was about to get better. We zipped up our life jackets, jumped in our kayaks and started paddling through the estuary. This is a rarely before paddled spot and knowing that we are some of only a few to witness it added to the experience. The water was clear straight to the bottom. Timing is key because if the tide is going some of the spots will be too shallow to paddle through. Matt has the timing worked out just right. The scenery and tranquility were breathtaking. We paddled to a secluded beach and Isaac and I explored while Matt and his team set up lunch. Oh, my goodness. THE FOOD! Savoury and chocked-full-of-meat lobster roll accompanied by seafood caesar salad complete with scallops, lobster and shrimp. Isaac is not one for lobster so after paying him $1.00 to try a bite, I took one for the team and devoured his, too. It’s a hard ole life. Ha! Then along came crackers with goat cheese and red pepper jelly. I didn’t think we could eat one more bite. I changed my tune, however, when strawberries, biscuits and whipped cream appeared. This was 5-star food with an unmatched view. A sailboat sailed past. It barely felt like reality. We could’ve stayed here all day long, but we did have to work with the tides. The guides packed up the picnic while we wandered along the shore. On our way back we paddled through little coves and spotted lots of wildlife on the one hundred little islands along the way. We even spotted a bald eagle! Isaac was in a kayak with Uli. She was just right for him. Isaac has energy for days and she was so patient, fun and kind and again, answered all of his questions. One of his favourite parts of our day was playing kayak tag. We paddled quickly as we tried to tag the other boats. It’s a blessing that Uli was such a strong paddler because I’m not entirely sure Isaac’s hypersonic, tag-playing strokes were moving them forward. He was, without a doubt having the time of his life. After landing at the cabin, we headed to the beach to jump in the waves while the guys packed up. I’m not sure why we waited this long to explore this park but can guarantee that we’ll be back.
From the hike in and the green crab experience to the tranquil kayaking through a rarely seen estuary and a delectable seafood picnic on the beach, this was certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Isaac wrote and illustrated his own book about the day to remember it by and for my birthday this year he drew green crabs on the front of the card. This memory and everything he learned will stick with him forever and I adored being able to experience it with him. The efforts and attention to detail that Matt has put into this package are evident at every turn. CandleBox Kayaking also offers this package with meals and accommodations at the 5-star Quarterdeck Beachside Villas and Grill which would certainly make a unique and memorable “glamping” getaway with the girls. Matt told Isaac about “kayak surfing” at the beach so Isaac already has big plans to test that out next year.
Catch ya next summer, Nova Scotia!