This Nova Scotia couple has spent the pandemic exploring Cape Breton
Travel bloggers Dave Anderson and Skylar MacDonald document their adventures on Instagram
For many Atlantic Canadians, 2020 was the year of the staycation.
Following the advice to stay close to home during the COVID-19 pandemic was pretty easy for David Anderson and Skylar MacDonald — a couple that has made a business out of exploring Cape Breton.
The travel bloggers, also known as Davey and Sky, document their adventures in Cape Breton and beyond on Instagram for their company, Davey and Sky Media.
They share images of the Cape Breton Highlands, beaches, quaint cabins in the woods, experiences like sailing in Bras d'Or Lake — and of course their two dogs — with nearly 20,000 followers on the social media platform.
"We know the healthy benefits from being outdoors and we know the healthy benefits of exploring our own backyard and supporting your local businesses, so everything that we were doing just got amplified," said MacDonald.
When local travel restrictions loosened in July, they started getting messages from people who had never explored the island before.
"There were people from the mainland that had never been [to Cape Breton] that messaged us and were like, 'This is our first time ever, I can't believe we've never done this,'" said MacDonald.
The pandemic hasn't stopped the pair from trying new things and exploring parts of the island even they have rarely visited, like Isle Madame.
"We go to the Highlands so often to hike these big mountains, but little did we know, just right at the bottom of the island lies this kayaking beach paradise," she said.
Many of the couple's excursions have been spontaneous weekend trips. By September and October, however, Anderson and MacDonald realized they needed to plan ahead because accommodations were quickly being booked — which was good news for tourism operators.
Still, many saw a large decrease in bookings, particularly on weekdays. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which encompasses much of the Cabot Trail, saw just 40,000 visitors this summer. The park normally welcomes 100,000 visitors in the summer months. That drop led to many operators closing up early.
Although many seasonal businesses are closed, MacDonald said people shouldn't be discouraged from getting outside and taking part in winter activities.
"Pretty much any trail that's around Cape Breton you see promoted in the summer months are usually quite accessible in the winter," she said.
MacDonald encourages visitors to call businesses ahead of time to see what is open. She and Anderson keep a lot of their gear, like snowshoes, in their car so they can get out and explore any time.
She also suggests travellers keep emergency supplies in their vehicles and check 511 for road conditions. The Highlands can be a challenge and one part of the Cabot Trail near Big Intervale, sometimes closes during inclement weather.