The amphibious Harbour Hopper tour bus/boat, shown here with the Maasdam cruise ship in the background, will hit Sydney streets and the harbour on Sunday when the new tourism initiative begins a two-month trial run in Cape Breton. The tour’s operator is confident the service will be offered next year from May through October.
©DAVID JALA/CAPE BRETON POST
SYDNEY, N.S. — It’s a boat, it’s a bus — it’s the Harbour Hopper.
At first glance, I am struck by the thought that the strange blue and green vessel with the yellow canopy just may be the platypus of the transportation world. From the front it certainly looks like a boat, but when viewed from the side it more resembles a truck-like bus or maybe a bus-like truck.
Whatever it is, the odd-looking amphibious vehicle has been attracting plenty of attention wherever it goes, whether it’s rolling down a local roadway or cruising the harbour, since its arrival in Sydney in late August. I’ve seen stranger sights in Cape Breton, but I even followed the land-going boat down Victoria Road one day if for no other reason than it was an odd thing to see cruising through Whitney Pier.
“The first day I had the boat on the street in Sydney there were people pulling their cars over in front of me so they could get out and take pictures — everywhere we went people were waving and yelling up at us asking questions,” said Mitch Owen, who has been in Cape Breton for the past month setting up the tour and training operators and tour guides.
The affable Owen, who claims to be a captain when on water and a driver while on land, was sent to Sydney by Atlantic Ambassatours Ltd., the Nova Scotia-based transportation and tour firm that operates the Harbour Hopper tour through a subsidiary company called Murphy’s Sailing Tours.
“We’ve been watching the tourism market here in Sydney and we feel it’s starting to grow with all the visitors, so we figured it would be a good time to bring it here and give it a try,” he said, explaining the corporate decision to test the waters in Cape Breton.
“People are going to get a fantastic, fun-filled amphibious tour of Sydney — the culture the area’s unique identity are very special here, so we’re really excited to get going.”
On Wednesday, Owen and crew welcomed members of the local media aboard the Hopper for a preview of what paying passengers can expect when the tours begin for real on Sunday.
While there were five tour guide trainees on board, it was Doug Ivey who drew the short straw and was thus handed the microphone.
Although he hails from Sydney Mines, Ivey proved to be a fountain of information when it came to recounting Sydney’s rich history and interpreting the area’s unique culture and identity. And he delivered the goods in a fun, interactive manner that included a couple of obligatory groaner jokes, the kind that always seem to draw a few laughs on group tours. His narrative will entertain and educate both visitors to the area and locals, who just might learn a few things they didn’t know. Call it ‘info-tainment’. It works.
But, while Ivey waxed poetic on the city’s history, culture and architecture, the Hopper continued to grab the attention of passersby.
In downtown Sydney, the strange sight of the talking boat making its way down Charlotte Street stopped people in their tracks. Most waved, many took pictures and a few called up asking where they might board the peculiar vessel.
The Harbour Hopper tours start and end on the Sydney Boardwalk at the boat ramp just north of the Holiday Inn.
The hour-long tours, which include 40 minutes on land and about 15 to 20 minutes on water, are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Sunday and will depart every 75 minutes. Pricing has yet to be determined, but according to the company’s website the regular fare for a Harbour Hoppe tour in Halifax is $42.67, with discounted prices for seniors, youths and children.
If this end-of-the-season trial run works out, expect the floating bus to be back in action next May.
And, by the way, if you’re wondering why the amphibious vehicle is adorned with a sou’wester-wearing frog, well, the little green critter is named “Tibbir” (ribbit spelled backwards) and he just happens to be the tour mascot.
David Jala is a Cape Breton Post reporter and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO …
• Tours begin Sunday at 10 a.m.
• Prices yet to be determined, but Halifax tour costs $42.67 for adults, discounts for senior, youth and children
• Tours start and end on Sydney waterfront, by boat launch on boardwalk
• Hour-long tour consists of 40-minutes on land and 15-20 minutes on water
• Operates rain or shine, but high winds may force tour to stay off the water
• Seating capacity of 40 with most seats under a canopy