Sable Island, Nova Scotia: An exclusive island escape
Sable Island has always been a place we've heard about, with few who visited. With limited travel options and very few people allowed on the island at a time, it always seemed a figment of my imagination and an ‘exotic’ Nova Scotian island where only researchers go. Then, in early 2020 when Covid-19 fully arrived in Canada, all international travels suddenly had to be cancelled. This opened up the possibility of exploring my home province of Nova Scotia and thanks to the Atlantic Canada Bubble this included Sable Island.
Sable Island is exactly as it is named: an island of sand–in French, the word ‘sable’ translates to ‘sand’. The island is situated over 100 km off of the mainland of Nova Scotia and is well known for its abundant shipwrecks and of course, the wild horses that inhabit it! Within its 40 km length x 2 km width, there is a variety of landscapes: incredible sand dunes, Lake Wallace, multiple plants growing around and the single tree growing, yes there is one tree of the whole island.
We were originally set to take a charter flight to the island but as hurricane season was fast approaching, weather was fickle and we were kept up to date a few days prior to our take-off. On the morning of our departure, it was decided we would have to switch to helicopter as the landing strip aka the sandy beach, was covered in water and the helipad was the only option for landing on Sable Island. The vibe in the helicopter was excitement, and slight nerves for some who weren’t use to air travel, but overall it was an exciting time and then, once the island came into shape, voices were quiet and phones went up as we flew over the island. The pilots made a point to circle the length of the island for us allowing us to view its full surface prior to landing near the Parks Canada main station. Even from the air, you could spot many wild horses sprawled across the surface as well as see the seals heads bobbing up and down in the waters.
We were greeted by Zoe Lucas, the President of the Sable Island Institute and with over 40 years of experience on the island, we arrived on a day that she was able to explore the island with us, answering our questions and telling us about life on the island. In 2013, Sable Island became part of Canada National Parks Act giving Parks Canada full administration and legal authority to manage the island and officially becoming an official national Canadian park–Parks Canada is responsible for preserving and maintaining the ecosystem, its habitats and wildlife. After a briefing from other Parks Canada members, we set out to hike Sable Island. During the full day there, I probably said ‘We are on Sable Island’ to my mother about ten or more times...it was just that unbelievable. The main rule with the horses is you stay at least 20ft from them, to avoid any unnecessary accidents, and a big one, leave the island how you found it AKA don't leave your trash anywhere and don't take anything from the island. The horses actually don’t mind people, nor are they really that curious about them. I kept thinking wow, that horse is giving me stink eye (which I titled of one of my images), but in reality, they simply stare for a moment and then continue whatever they were doing as if you weren’t even there.
It’s difficult to explain the magic of the island, how simply sitting among the lake, listening to the wind and sounds of the surf with no human distractions while we ate a snack mid hike was the most calming and soothing moment I have ever experienced outside of meditation. To properly capture the essence of the island, I did what I always do, I took photos to lock the visual in mind and allow it to push the memory of being there again and again whenever I look at them. From the incredible surf to the cluster of seals, the horses sprawled out all over the dunes, the freshest sea air and the greenery spread all around, Sable Island remains, to me, a magical place I feel privileged to have been able to visit.
Learn more about the Sable Island Institute.
Aleyah Solomon travelled to Sable Island with Kattuk Expeditions.
Note: to visit the island, you must go with an approved tour group.