Canada: Coast to Coast – The Bay of Fundy

“Wear something you don’t care if it ever gets clean again.” – Louise, Nova Scotia Visitor Centre

While still in the Maritimes, the Bay of Fundy deserves its own nod.  The body of water that divides New Brunswick and Nova Scotia covers about 16000 km² and has the highest tides on earth, up to 16 meters (or 53 feet), moving more water in a cycle than all the rivers in the world.   The funnel shape forces the tide higher as the land encroaches on the sea, creating a tidal bore that can be rafted, kayaked or surfed.

My visit begins with torrential rain through New Brunswick to Frederickton,  the twin grooves in the highway from heavy trucks pooling water and causing drivers to hydroplane through the low spots.  The weather changes drastically as I reach the Bay of Fundy National Park, the ravenous mosquitos awakened by the heat after days of rain.  This will be my home base for two days while I explore this natural wonder and Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Fishing Boats Sitting “Hard”

I set up my tent and take a walk down to the small village of Alma where the boats are sitting hard on the ocean floor.  With such drastic ebbs and flows, the lobster and scallop fishermen are hostage to the tides, only able to leave and return at certain times of day.  They do manage to provide, though, and I pick up some fresh scallops at one of the two local shops and head back to camp, keeping my eyes peeled for the hummingbirds that frequent the area.

It’s still early so I head south a short drive to the village of St. Martin’s.  With the tide still out, I’m able to hike across the rock-laden shore and through a rushing stream to the caves carved into the soft limestone by tides that rise up to 38 feet.   I can’t stay long, though.  In the short time it’s taken to walk out to the first cave, the tide has turned and is already licking at the point.

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The Caves at St. Martin’s taken two hours apart

A few kilometres up the road is the start of the Fundy Trail Parkway that travels 19 km along the coast line.  Established to protect the ecology within the longest undeveloped coast-line in New Brunswick, the Fundy Trail boast 20 lookouts, four beaches, waterfalls, an 84 metre suspension bridge, and an interpretive centre that displays the region’s forestry and fishing industries.  It’s also one of the more accessible parks for those with mobility issues, with many of the trails being wheelchair accessible.

The Fundy Trail includes a portion of the Fundy Footpath, a 41 km wilderness trail that runs from the Fundy Trail Visitor Centre to the edge of Fundy National Park.  The 3-4 day hike crosses a dozen ravines and requires back-country experience and a good understanding of tide tables.   I don’t have time for a multi-day hike, so settle for a few shorter hikes that are part of the Fundy Circuit.  The Circuit links seven of the National Park trails to create a 48 km, 3-5 day through hike that explores the Park’s rivers, lakes and acadian forest.  I add both my bucket list, along with Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail, noticing that my list is quickly becoming a string of long-distance treks and little else.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Hopewell Rocks

In the morning it’s off to Hopewell Rocks, arriving right at low tide and before the tourist busses arrive.  The flowerpot rocks along the 2 km stretch of beach are the most visited destination in New Brunswick, drawing guests from all over the world to explore the sandstone formations, the constant erosion from the salt water creating a continually changing masterpiece.

A shuttle will take you to the stairs to the beach but I choose the trail instead, chatting with another couple from BC and stopping at the lookouts along the way.  The area offers six lookouts to view the formations from above, as well as two beaches where you can relax and watch the tide come and go.

Hopewell Rocks

To really appreciate the enormity of the formations and the depths of the tides, you have to get close and I descend the metal staircase to the sea floor.  The lower portions of the flowerpots are covered in slick rockweed that extends far beyond my 5’4″ frame.  The monoliths tower above me, some so eroded as to defy the gravity that threatens the trees perched atop their spindly frames.  Areas have been cordoned off where formations have recently succumbed to their fate, crumbling into pebbled piles the tides will dismantle until they’re only just a memory.

At high tide, the best way to view the rocks is by kayak, weaving around what then become islands.  At low tide, sturdy sandals are highly recommended, the difference between the red rock and the red mud often indistinguishable until your foot sinks into the gooey slime and you have to hose off at the top of the stairs.

Waaay Below the Tide Line

It’s not long before the beach gets busy with visitors and tour groups vying for space beneath “Lover’s Arch”.  I head back up the stairs and wait in line to hose off before travelling back to Fundy National Park for lunch and a little hiking.

Rafting The Tidal Bore

One of these days, I’ll have to invest in a go-pro camera.

My second day I make my way to the Shubenacadie River to join a group of adventurers for what will be the wettest and wildest ride of my life so far.  There are a number of tour groups and I’ve chosen to go with Fundy Tidal Bore Adventures for no other reason than my friend at the Visitor Centre had recommended them.  I also liked that you can choose your time to experience medium, high or extreme waves that range anywhere from 4 to 18 feet.  I’ve chosen “extreme” because . . . why not?

Having been forewarned I’ll get filthy, I decide to leave the camera behind for this particular adventure, the decision a good one as I return drenched and covered in silty mud.

We meet the raft at the Goose Bridge and slide ungainly down the embankment, the wet clay slick as oil, and climb into our waiting raft.  Life jackets donned and safety orientation completed, we head downriver to greet the incoming tide.  The guide points out the unique geography, geology, and wildlife of the region as we motor over relatively calm water.

Rolling waves turn to whitewater rapids as the river and ocean meet, like sumo wrestlers pushing against each other for control, and my stomach drops along with the raft into swells almost 8 feet deep.  I cling to the rope, the only thing holding me in as we power through the crest of another wave, the sea flooding the raft and drenching our clothes amid screams and laughter.  One particularly deep plunge bounces me onto the floor and into a pool of cold water where I remain until a moment of calm allows me to slide back up onto my perch near the front of the boat.

The trip back to the launch is calmer and the warm sun is welcome on our faces.  There’s one last bit of fun before we end the day – a stop along the river’s bank to take advantage of the natural mud slides, ensuring that we will, in fact, never get our clothes clean again.

If you’re not interested in getting wet, you can watch the tidal bore from the launch site or any of the other hundreds of spots along the bay, including the overlook at Reversing Rapids in St. John.

Ebbing Tide at Reversing Rapids

Joggins Fossil Cliffs

Having already walked in the footsteps of dinosaurs in Tumbler Ridge  and searched for bones in the Alberta Badlands,  a visit to Joggin’s Fossil Cliffs on the Bay of Fundy was needed to round out my prehistoric trifecta.

The exposed coastline was once a tropical forest along the equator and now contains the most extensive collection of evolutionary examples from the coal age, including species found nowhere else on earth.  Researchers and scientists have been drawn to the site for more than a century, including Sir Charles Lyell, Sir William Dawson, and Charles Darwin, who references Joggins in “Origin of the Species“.

The “Grande Exposure”

After a visit through the small museum that explains the geology of the region with examples of what I might find, I head down to the beach for a short exploration, the incoming tide limiting how long I’ll be able to comb the 15 km “grande exposure”.  I don’t need to wander far when I discover my first fossil lying on the beach, the imprint of root in rock.  A couple of meters further down I find another, what they call “grass clippings”, small petrified pieces of organic materials.  Within ten minutes,  I’ve discovered so many fossils, the skeptic in me wonders if it hasn’t been salted for the daily tours.  It hasn’t.  The tide’s comings and goings are constantly eroding the rock face and exposing new discoveries, creating a living and ever changing museum.

Fossil on the Beach

Further down the road at Parsboro is the Fundy Geological Museum where the region’s geological and paleontological history is depicted in interactive rock, mineral and fossil displays.  I’ve unfortunately run out of time and head back to camp on the opposite side of the bay.  In the morning, I’ll head east again to visit with family and take in the Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa, but not without first picking up a couple of lobster to go.


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