By John and Sandra Nowlan
Photos by John & Sandra Nowlan

Cape Bear LighthouseThe visitor from Ontario was smitten. "PEI is a wonderful place to visit," said Sue Fisher of London as she joined us to admire the historic Cape Bear Lighthouse near Murray Harbour. "But I really like this eastern end more than the higher profile central part of the Island. It's a little more rugged, the scenic route takes you much nearer the coast, the beaches are wonderful and I find the people to be exceptionally friendly."

She's not alone. Many visitors to the Island are discovering the unique charms of the southeast corner of Canada's smallest province. A one or two day tour of the area between Wood Islands and Murray Harbour North is a rewarding 75 kilometre experience for anyone seeking a laid-back, relaxing PEI vacation in an area of startling natural beauty, dramatic sandstone cliffs, numerous red and white sand beaches and a rural lifestyle that emphasizes friendliness and hospitality.

{A map at the bottom of this page pinpoints the points of interest mentioned by John & Sandra. You may link through from the map to the specific attraction.}

Rum RunningBev Stewart is supervisor at the Wood Islands Lighthouse, a first stop for many arriving from Nova Scotia at the nearby Ferry Terminal . "This is a very special part of the Island," she told us. "It's extremely pretty and picturesque..more of the authentic Island that people are looking for." She laughed and added, "We think we have more Island charm down this way."

Charming is also one way to describe the 54 foot high lighthouse, built in 1876 on the southernmost tip of PEI as a beacon for fishing boats and other marine traffic. Bev Stewart and her colleagues are delighted to show you the 11 themed rooms in the award winning Heritage Museum.

They include the Rum-Running Room, outlining the danger and excitement of PEI's lengthy Prohibition era (1901-1948), a Phantom Ship Room documenting with video the 200 year old mystery of the burning three-masted schooner often sighted just offshore plus the lighthouse keeper's kitchen dating from the 1950s. At the summit, the Lantern Room offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the Northumberland Strait, the ferry terminal and the surrounding pastoral countryside.

Northumberland BeachAfter a taste of delicious Island seafood at Crabby's, directly on the Wood Island ferry pier, visitors can get local information at the Wood Islands Welcome Centre (Visitor Information Centre), Internet access, Liquor Store), then head east along the Points East Coastal Drive (well marked with a colourful blue and orange starfish sign). Our first stop was at Northumberland Provincial Park and Beach, one of many in eastern PEI that are sheltered, safe and quite uncrowded. Lifeguard Paige Hart told us that if 100 people use the kilometre of sand, it's "very crowded". Normally, visitors have the beach almost to themselves.

Rossignol WineryNext on our "must stop" list was the Rossignol Estate Winery at Little Sands where a tradition of outstanding fruit wines (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry) has been enhanced with the addition of award-winning red and white wines. We tried their L'Acadie Blanc, which Assistant Winemaker Adam White said had beaten vintages from Ontario and British Columbia in a recent Canadian wine competition. A sample convinced us of the judges' wisdom and we bought a couple of bottles.

We continued along the Coastal Drive following those frequent starfish signs to the south-east corner of PEI and the Cape Bear lighthouse, built in 1881 on one of the many jagged inlets that make this region so unique and picturesque. The lighthouse, with its small museum, is well worth a visit but this site was also the location of the Marconi Wireless Station that was the first Canadian operator to hear and pass on the distress signals from the foundering Titanic on that fateful night in 1912.

The Ontario tourist, Sue Fisher, told us at Cape Bear that, "it's amazing, you can get anywhere on the Island really fast." (Charlottetown is just an hour away). However, we wanted to stay on the east coast for an extra day and booked at one of the region's excellent B and Bs, Country Charm  in Murray Harbour. With its own pond (rowboats available) and expansive lawns in a quiet, secluded woodland setting, the home of Innkeepers Joan and Glenn Saunders is an ideal stop on the Points East Coastal Drive. The large rooms are comfortable and beautifully furnished. They even included bathrobes and satellite TV. The "no lunch" breakfasts ("we want you to be full")Murray Harbour, PEI are very imaginative. We enjoyed their Eggs Cavendish, the Saunders' take on Eggs Benedict made with a base of potato patties.

Glenn Saunders believes the eastern end of PEI is the ideal place for vacations. "This area is basically undiscovered," he told us. "We don't get the promotion of places like Cavendish but we don't have the touristy, hustle and bustle feeling either. For visitors who want a more down-home, relaxed atmosphere with quaint villages, small harbours, good food, great hiking and tons of natural, safe beaches, I can't think of a better location."

On day two, we came upon an artist painting a tranquil scene at Murray Harbour  who agreed with Glenn Saunders. Bill Rogers of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, said he loves the boats and gentle harbour settings that he puts on canvas. "This area is not at all commercial so it's ideal for the kind of scenes I like to paint. I come here regularly."

Brehaut's RestaurantKings Castle Prov. ParkLeaving Murray Harbour (and passing Brehaut's Restaurant, famous among locals for its milkshakes and seafood chowder) we stopped at Kings Castle Provincial Park and Beach , an ideal spot for families with children. In addition to an excellent riverside beach, the park features an array of imaginative playground equipment and large, colourful storybook characters scattered in the woods - Dorothy and her friends from The Wizard of Oz, The Three Little Pigs and, of course, The Big Bad Wolf.

More great fun for kids and their parents can be found a few kilometres inland at Ben's Lake (M), on Route 24 near Caledonia.

Ben's LakeThe owners have two large ponds stocked with trout, one for fly fishing (catch and release) and one where you keep the fish you catch (pay by the pound). While we were there a seven year old from Nova Scotia had the time of his life hauling in a beautiful three pound trout.

The tranquil seaside village of Murray River , less than 10 kilometres from Murray Harbour, Home to the Hockey player Brad RIchards, is a delightful stopover on the Points East Coastal Drive. It has fascinating shops. The small community boasts a cafe, one of the best gift shops on the Island Magik Dragon and Old General Store, a seasonal coffee shop and restaurants.

We completed our loop around the waters of Murray Harbour and the Murray River by visiting Poverty Beach , a long, narrow stretch of sand guarding the northern mouth of the harbour. This secluded beach gets few visitors but is ideal for beachcombing or bird watching.

As we reluctantly left this beautiful and under appreciated part of PEI to board the ferry, (Northumberland Ferry) back to Nova Scotia we met Leon and Irene Falkovic of Toronto. They had just toured the whole Island but, like many others, were very impressed with the Eastern section. "We try to stay away from commercial tourism," they told us. "But this area is just perfect for us. It 's pristine, very picturesque with nice places to stay and the people are so friendly and helpful. Our vacation was just ideal. Maybe we should move here!"

John and Sandra Nowlan are freelance travel and food writers based in Halifax. Their articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines across Canada and the United States. Photos credited to the Nowlans.

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