Female road trips are on the rise. Channelling your inner Thelma and Louise (although hopefully without the cliff jump) offers up a sense of freedom and empowerment – not to mention some serious bonding time with your soon-to-be bestie. So when my photographer friend Kim and I decided to road trip through two Canadian provinces together, the fact that we didn’t know each other too well yet didn’t really bother me. What better way to solidify a new friendship than by spending two weeks in a car together?
Armed with a Polaroid camera and the perfect Spotify singalong playlist, we rented a car in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and began driving along the South Shore. This sunny stretch of coast is famous for its lighthouses at Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay and all the way to Lunenburg. We quickly racked up a lighthouse count, taking turns to scare each other with the deafening fog horns inside their, pretty red and white towers.
Driving to Peggy's Cove Photo credit: Kim Leuenberger
Our road trip lifestyle fell easily into a pattern. Each morning we tumbled sleepily into our car, checking Google maps for the nearest cute coffee shop serving espresso. Once we’d grabbed two iced lattes we drove through gorgeous scenery, laughing at what had happened in the days before – like when Kim managed to lose her trainers to the ocean while kayaking at Blue Rocks, or how we’d both rolled down our windows to spit when we saw a single crow on the empty road ahead, thanks to learning a local superstition in Lunenburg. Each evening we’d park in a new town, heave our luggage up the stairs at adorable guesthouses, and share a local bottle of red wine alongside lobster mac and cheese (an immediate favourite!) while chatting to our fellow diners.
The beautiful view at Lunenburg Photo credit: Kim Leuenberger
Every day Kim and I discovered another thing we had in common: a mutual need for seasickness tablets while jigging for cod on a fishing boat in Quidi Vidi; a realisation we both loved maple syrup poured on our scrambled eggs; a shared desire to have long, in-depth chats with total strangers. And appropriately enough, Canada’s friendly reputation is totally true. We seemed to make new friends everywhere we went – from the group of beer drinkers on our first night in Halifax to the lobster fishermen in Hall’s Harbour, everyone was eager to give us tips on what to do and where to travel next.
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The pretty harbour at Halifax Photo credit: Kim Leuenberger
Thanks to their suggestions we decided to fly to St John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador, immediately being invited to the province’s most bizarre tradition – the ‘screech-in’. It involves kissing a frozen codfish and downing shots of local rum while a fisherman slaps a paddle and shouts poetry at 2am in a bar on the infamous George Street. The experience was totally hilarious, entirely Canadian, and we absolutely loved it.
The pretty houses at St John's Photo credit: Kim Leuenberger
When we set out for the open road, we quickly realised what was different about the temperamental Newfoundland and Labrador coastline. Our first stop at Cape Spear lighthouse revealed cliff edges which were rugged and raw, almost like the landscapes of Ireland – and as the day unfolded, our car windscreen featured squalls of soft rain, dark clouds, sudden banks of rolling fog and bright yellow signs warning us about the potential of moose (I really wanted to see one, and Kim really didn’t!). We slowly moved across the province, passing roadsigns for places like Black River, Come By Chance, Lower Shoal Highway and Little Heart’s Ease which gave us the feeling that we’d stumbled into a fairytale.
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Eventually, we reached a quiet, unsuspecting town called Fortune where a lovely local man named Brian took us foraging for cloudberries, drove us to an empty stone-strewn beach and brewed us cups of tea by a campfire, accompanied by the fresh scones his mum had baked that morning. As the sun set over the water, neither Kim nor I could contain our excitement at such a perfect moment.
Mallard's Cottage Brunch Photo credit: Kim Leuenberger
Driving through the rest of Newfoundland and Labrador was just as magical. In a tiny vegan cafe with misted up windows we munched on salted caramel brownies and plotted our driving route towards New Bonaventure, where a gruff fisherman awaited us outside a tiny wooden shack named ‘Joe’s Bar’ decorated with Christmas lights. Onboard his simple fishing boat, the fast-talking, calm-natured Bruce sailed us in and out of deserted inlets at Kerley’s Harbour and Ireland’s Eye while explaining the history of Newfoundland’s controversial resettlement era. Before the 1950s these places were filled with bustling communities which made their present-day emptiness feel really haunting. Our road trip had segued into more serious stuff – but both of us were fascinated nonetheless. As we sat in Bruce’s cabin sipping cups of tea, I felt so grateful to be learning Canada’s history through the eyes of a local.
Checking out the view at Elliston Photo credit: Kim Leuenberger
The next day, a spontaneous stop at a souvenir store to check out their selection of Labradorite jewellery (our newest shopping obsession) quickly turned into a puffin-finding adventure when the owner mentioned a nesting ground nearby: "Turn left at the yellow house, drive three kilometres, walk for six minutes and you’ll see it!" We jumped in the car and sped towards the rainy cliffs of Elliston, dancing in excitement when we spotted the huge crowd of puffins swooping and diving from their rocky outcrop home towards the seawater below. And on our final morning in Canada, after a fortnight of vowing to wake up early but quite never managing it, we finally found ourselves on the Skerwink Trail at 6am for a stunning sunrise above the Atlantic Ocean.
After two weeks on the road, Kim and I could have hated the sight of each other – but instead, we’ve got enough shared memories and in-jokes to last us a lifetime. Or until our next road trip together, at least.