The Highlands Park and Cabot Trail – by Karin (the Mom)

The Highlands Park of Cape Breton is a wildlife area that takes up most of the Northern Tip of the Island. There is really just one drivable road that runs along the outside of the Park. It is very scenic and is a natural extension of the well known Cabot trail. The views of the Atlantic Ocean are astounding. It is possible to see so far out to sea and it looks so scary, that we question our own sanity for venturing out on the ocean.

We initially thought that we could do the Highlands Park in only one day, but it soon became apparent that (for our family at least), this would be impossible. We wanted to stop more and see more than the time would allow us.

On our first day out to the Highlands, we stopped at a very interesting little roadside shop. It had a load of real Cape Breton memorabilia.



Frans bought a “Lobster Sandwich”. This was going to be our chance to taste the local lobster, as they are a bit pricey for our budget. The yellow slogan on the black T-shirt to Sophia’s right, reads as follows:








Thanks for supporting the Local Paramedics”


RIGHT: Marike is doing her best Moose impersonation next to the Moose Antlers outside the shop. It started out as a cloudy, misty, rainy day and Frans nearly aborted the trip.







But, as we entered the Park, the sun came out to meet us and everything brightened up immediately.

There are many places for hiking from the road into the forest. We hiked up a constructed stairway to a viewpoint overlooking the visitor’s centre and Park entrance. As one enters the walk, there is a billboard with warnings against Moose and Coyote and Bear. It gives all kinds of instructions on what to do if you encounter these…




Sophia was our” Safety Officer”. She kept on warning everybody and reading from her safety pamphlet as well. She was petrified that we would run into a dangerous animal and not know how to react.

Sadly, we never once saw any of these animals – no matter how hard we tried. It was a real let down for Sophia , I think.

RIGHT: Marike, Franci and Sophia at the top.





LEFT: Frans and the two Karin’s with the view over the lakes.






Our next stop on our drive, was Green Cove. Here, we found a lot of Pink Gneiss rock that jut out to sea and make for some really great views.

dsc_0139RIGHT: Franci and I – resting.










LEFT: This is a nice family photo taken by Franci’s camera on a timed shot. Marike did her best to set up this photo by merging with the rocks as you can see below.

















RIGHT: Franci, cuddling against the cold wind that sweeps across the rocks. Even in Summer. All the plants in the area are quite stunted in their growth and the little trees are known as “krummholz”.







Our next stop was a famous Chowder restaurant next to the Lighthouse at Neil’s Harbour. This was located just outside the Park at New Haven.

We were ravenous and the food smelled and looked delicious. Unfortunately, it was filled to the brim with customers and we had to wait about one and a half hours to sample the fair! Not possible in our busy schedule. 🙁





So, just to tide us over, we shared Frans’ lobster sandwich. At least we could enjoy the view.

I don’t know what we expected of the sandwich, but it was a bit of a disappointment in terms of flavour. Just maybe, it was due to the smells coming from the little restaurant.







From here the road curves away from the Park through the little town of Dingwall.

Dingwall’s boast to fame is a really neat lighthouse and museum.

This  iron-cast lighthouse was dismantled at its original home on the Island of St. Paul and transported here to Dingwall. In this way, many more people (including us) can hear the story of this brave little lighthouse and its courageous keepers during its storm riddled lifetime.



The little museum was very informative and the Curator super friendly. She told us all the local stories and unlocked the lighthouse for us especially, so that we could climb up the tower.

From the outside the lighthouse looks very solid, but on the inside it is possible to see all the separate panels of which it was assembled.

RIGHT: Sophia and Franci with the Curator as she shows us the rare Fresenel lamp.







Well, by this time the lobster sandwich was long forgotten, so we bought some pizza and headed back to the Park to find a picnic spot in which to enjoy it..







RIGHT: A bear-proof dustbin as seen from above.

The mechanism to open the bin requires the operator to insert their fingers into a thin slot.

The paw of a bear will not be able to slide into the crevice to open it.




Our last hiking stop for the day was the Lone Shieling situated in the oldest Maple Forest in Cape Breton in the Grand Anse Valley. This area holds Maple trees of at least 350 years old.

The Shieling is a replica of an old Scottish crofters hut.dscn4905








Most of the greenery at the bottom are little trees that are waiting for their place in the sun. As soon as an old tree dies and opens up some sunshine, the little saplings will start to grow.dsc_0196







This notice board gave a very good description of the types of trees that we could expect and how to identify them by looking at their leaves






The trees were absolutely magnificent and we could have spent hours under this restful canopy.

This was a great way to end our first day in the Highlands Park.







For day number two, we were much better prepared in terms of provisions.dsc_0378


The local McNeill family assured us that the Dancing Goat is the best restaurant that we will find anywhere in the world. So…. we just had to buy some “padkos” from them.





This day would be dedicated to the famous Skyline trail. A much publicized feature of the Highlands Park.

Here we are at the entrance to the walk. For the others to see what route we should take – and for me…. to see if it doesn’t look too hard and if maybe I should be playing sick?





The 7km trail was not hard at all. At first it is quite a wide concrete path, but on the less traveled back part it becomes a little dirt trail. We completely expected to see some Moose. We know of others who saw them and we could also find some Moose prints in muddy places





When we asked some hikers passing whether they’ve seen any Moose, the lady said “No! And I’m sooo glad! I am terrified of seeing one.” We decided that she must just be naturally squeamish and resumed our active searching of the woods.


The most frequented part of the trail runs along the skyline with a magnificent view of the ocean beyond.


There are signs everywhere to warn people not to stray from the wooden walkway as this can damage the plants.

Nowhere do they warn you about the wind!!

There are many places on the way down where we needed to hunch down so that we would not be blown away.


In the picture on the right Marike is leaning into the wind.


When we got to the bottom-most part, we literally hid from the wind. There were seats right at the edge of the platform to sit on and enjoy the view, but that day there were no takers.








As we exited the park, Franci took a picture of the only Moose we managed to see in Canada. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing. For since then we have had at least two narrations in which people described their own personal encounters with Moose.

Moose are very aggressive and will even head-butt your motor vehicle. Causing considerable damage and fright.



We made it back to the car just in time to miss the rainstorm that broke out over the mountains. dsc_0433

This meant that we actually ate our “padkos” in the car. It certainly was delicious.

When we have completed our circumnavigation, we will let you know whether the McNeill family was right. The verdict is still out on this one





dsc_0231Once the sun came back out, we could stop at some magnificent viewpoints on our way back. On the signposts these are called “Look offs”. At least they are not naming them “Fall offs”.dsc_0246

Some roadside fun to end off our visit.











    • Cathy Norrie on December 2, 2016 at 5:45 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you, Karin, for another interesting blog entry. Yes, moose are very shy. i have lived all my 63 years in Canada and have only seen moose in the wild three times. It was thrilling to see them each time (close enough to see many details but sufficiently far enough away that there was no need to be frightened).

    • Susan Wiese on December 23, 2016 at 6:46 am
    • Reply

    Hi Van Zyl familie. Kan nie glo dis al 2 jaar later. So lekker om te sien dat julle reis voorspoedig is. Ons het julle nogal gemis met ons kuiers in Mozambique. Volgende jaar gaan ons ons 21 ste trip na Mozambique mis, maar met goeie rede.Ek en Abe gaan uiteindelik oupa en ouma word van n dogtertjie. Haar naam sal Gabriella wees.Hoop julle kry nog baie duike gedoen op julle avontuur. Liefde uit die Paarl.

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