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Kayaking at Nature Space Eco Resort
 

P.E.I.’s mangroves” is how Jarrod Gunn McQuillan of Nature Space Eco Resort describes the vegetation on the island’s North Shore. Branches arch over us as we paddle our kayaks along a narrow creek. In places, it’s like paddling through a tunnel. Rather than tropical mangroves, the thick vegetation here is alder, a fast-growing small tree in the birch family that thrives in wet habitats such as the banks of this marshy creek. 

We paddle so deep into the alders, I can no longer turn my kayak around. McQuillan tells me to take the lead. I soon discover why. Rounding one sharp bend, I startle a family of ducks. The mother makes a ruckus and the ducklings scatter for cover. Appreciative of the encounter, I back-paddle until I can turn around.

On the return paddle, a kingfisher leaps from the branch of an overhanging tree and glides in a graceful arc, then back up to the branch of another tree. After I navigate twists and turns and a fallen tree limb, the creek widens where it meets the lagoon known as St. Peters Lake. Great blue herons march slowly like marionettes in the shallows. Occasionally, one lowers its head on bent neck, then strikes, plucking a small fish from the water.

We head toward a small island mid-lagoon. Beyond it, silver sand dunes undulate along the horizon. The open Atlantic laps along the beach. We set off at a good pace to take a look, though we won’t venture past the dunes. We’re nearing the end of McQuillan’s two-hour Lake Explorer Tour, a gentle paddle in protected waters. The open ocean awaits more adventurous kayakers on other tours with McQuillan, an expert paddler and instructor.

Through his company, Cloud Nine Adventures, McQuillan trains kayakers from first timer to daredevil. He guides tours to mussel farms where paddlers can see how shellfish aquaculture works. They might even get to try a few oysters fresh from the sea. For the truly fearless, McQuillan leads advanced paddlers to places like the ledges off Brier Island in Nova Scotia, where the Bay of Fundy generates intense ocean currents and rapids.



“It gets pretty jumbled and confused,” he says. “Some of the standing waves can reach three metres.”

Other activities at Nature Space stand in stark contrast to McQuillan’s high-energy outings. His wife and business partner Heather is a yoga and mindfulness instructor with training in conflict resolution. She leads yoga sessions, workshops, and retreats. They built a meditation labyrinth — a sequence of paths to stroll, leading to a quiet centre where there’s a Japanese-style garden with a small fountain and a bench. Trails meander around their property for walking or snowshoeing, and they plan a rink.

“We’re creating spaces for people to connect with nature, connect with themselves,” says McQuillan.

As enticing as this combination of wellness and outdoor activity is, it’s the Mongolian yurts that truly qualify Nature Space as a retreat. Each of the four circular accommodations outfitted with queen beds and private deck with hot tub is known in Mongolia as a ger. Each is handmade and hand painted in that country according to a different colour scheme: red, orange, and two shades of blue. Intricate designs, such as clouds and eternal knots, cover the elaborate entrance and every inch of supporting woodwork. Each is named for an animal frequently seen on this property (snowshoe hare, fox, kingfisher, and blue jay), with warm touches such as cushions and figurines that honour each creature.

McQuillan is proud of the gers and takes care to honour their heritage. He points out the camel sinew and horsehair rope that binds the decorative central columns or bagana and the smaller roof poles or uni. “Not a single nail holds any of this together,” he explains.

He takes seriously the symbolism built into the structure and follows the customs arising from it. “Mongolians are very particular about how you enter a yurt,” he says, pausing in the entrance. “It’s very important not to step on the threshold. You’re supposed to enter through the door with your right foot forward. The door represents the ancestors, and that’s how you honour them.”

For groups and for visitors staying in the gers, there’s a larger yurt for yoga and meditation classes called the Great Blue Heron. A new building called the Hive serves as the central lodge and is equipped with two kitchens, washrooms, showers, meeting space and a spacious patio. Nature Space also has a sauna. 

Back at the lagoon to complete my kayak outing with McQuillan, we paddle across the still waters to the back of the beach to check out a rare sight: the parabolic dune system. Over time, these dunes move. Imagine a time lapse film that could speed up the process — we’d witness these arched hills marching along the shoreline.

We paddle back across the lagoon toward the Nature Space dock and McQuillan’s “mangroves,” enjoying the plentiful birdlife around and above us. Along the way, I reflect that, as travellers, we rarely consider our own back yards as exotic, the way we might a tropical island or a vast desert. But when Mongolian yurts, yoga retreats, extreme paddling, wide lagoons, and rare land formations come together, the word exotic certainly applies. It’s no wonder McQuillan came to see his creek covered in alders as P.E.I.’s mangroves.

 

If whipping up your own meals in the Hive doesn’t fit with your getaway plans, here are some suggestions for dining out.

 

The Seafood Shack: 5 km

Eat in or take out, fresh fish and chips, lobster rolls, paninis, and wraps.

facebook.com/islandseafood1

 

David’s at Rodd Crowbush Golf

and Beach Resort: 10 km

Big, hearty breakfasts like seafood cakes, pancakes, eggs benny, and Buddha bowls.

roddvacations.com/restaurant/rodd
-crowbush-golf-beach-resort-fine-dining

 

Rick’s Fish ‘n’ Chips & Seafood

House: 16 km

Everything seafood, all local: fish and chips, mussels, scallops, lobster, and haddock. ricksfishnchips.com

 

Bao Shack: 18 km

Decidedly eastern with rice bowls, ramen, steamed buns, pot stickers, and spring rolls. baoshack.ca  

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