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By Andrew Fleming
New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy was named by visiting fishermen way back in the 16th century, most likely after the Portuguese word “profondo,” meaning deep. However, with the currency exchange rate as low as it is today, you won’t necessarily need deep pockets to enjoy the many attractions of this unique region in Atlantic Canada, which offers something for all ages, interests, and fitness levels.
Have a whale of a time
Twice each day, roughly 160 billion tons of seawater flow in and out of this elongated inlet separating the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—more than the combined flow of all the rivers on the planet. The Mi’kmaq, a First Nations people indigenous to the Atlantic Provinces, believed the huge tidal changes were caused by a giant whale splashing its tail. In summer, the Bay of Fundy churns up a nutrient-rich array of fifteen different species of whales, including humpbacks, finbacks, minkes, and even the rare North Atlantic right whale. The odds are very good you’ll see one, according to Joanne Carney, co-owner of Jolly Breeze Whale Adventures that’s been operating out of the aptly named St. Andrews by-the-Sea for the past 15 years.
“We had a really good season last year,” says Carney, whose company offers tours of Passamaquoddy Bay—an inlet of the Bay of Fundy—from a classic tall ship, giving passengers the chance to spot seals sunning on rocks (if the tide is low) or swimming (if the water is high), until the vessel reaches the playground of the whales. “One hundred percent of trips in July and August saw whales, and 95 percent did overall. But it’s not just whales to see: There are seals, porpoises, eagles, nesting seabirds, and lighthouses too.”
After the tour boat docks, explore the historic town of St. Andrews—Canada’s first summertime resort—on foot to see the renowned Kingsbrae Garden and the grand Fairmont Algonquin Hotel, a towering mock Tudor building said to have inspired Stephen King’s haunted Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
Go island hopping
Unless you have your own boat, there are only two ways to get to the sparsely inhabited Fundy Isles. Although travelers can take a ferry from the mainland directly to the largest and busiest island—the quaint and highly picturesque Grand Manan—the only fixed link to this Canadian archipelago located at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy is via the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge from Lubec, Maine. The bridge’s name is no coincidence, as idyllic Campobello Island was the 32nd president’s summer home, which is now part of an international park and home to one of the most Instagrammed lighthouses in the world.
The sleepy Fundy Isles are especially popular with birdwatchers, with more than 300 species—including puffins and Arctic terns—living here or flying by at some point each year.
See forces of nature collide
The bustling port city of Saint John is the only stop on the Bay of Fundy for cruise ships plying the eastern seaboard. While there’s no shortage of things to do in Canada’s oldest incorporated city (founded in 1785 by Loyalists who fled north after the American Revolution), one of the most iconic sights is the Reversing Falls. No actual laws of gravity are defied, but the watery phenomenon is caused by the never-ending battle between the tides and outflow of the mighty Saint John River, which creates huge rapids when the tide is out and then new ones heading upstream when it’s headed back in.
For an unmatched view of the rapids, visitors can take in the splendor of the tides at the Skywalk experience, an aerial vantage point perfect for appreciating the wonders of nature created by the tides. If you’re looking for a fun activity to kill time while you wait for the tides to change course, head out for a hike in the nearby Irving Nature Park at Taylor’s Island, which boasts more than 600 acres of beaches and wooded trails.
Travel the Fundy Trail
Tucked well away from major highways is one of the area’s true hidden gems and the largest tourism project in the province’s history: the Fundy Trail Parkway. Located along the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline north of Florida, the popular route—a 19-mile paved road for motorists adjacent to a longer network of hiking and cycling trails—offers spectacular views of the ocean, sea caves, red sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, and secluded beaches.
The trail begins in St. Martins, a tiny fishing village 30 miles east of Saint John, home to a collection of small shops, B&Bs, and a handful of restaurants serving the catch of the day. For the truly adventurous, there’s also the Fundy Footpath, a 25-mile (41km) wilderness trail that continues after the pavement ends at Big Salmon River on to the boundaries of family-friendly Fundy National Park. It takes around three to four days to complete, which may seem like a lot for such a relatively short distance, but the rugged route is along the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains and features plenty of steep hills, rivers to ford (a current tide chart is crucial), and fog that can be so thick you half expect to bump into a White Walker. But it’s a lot easier if someone else carries your gear for you.
“We do fully supported tours,” says Jordan Jamison, operations manager of Red Rock Adventure. Go from having to carry 60 to 80 pounds of gear to carrying a maximum of 15 because the porter team carries all the water, food, and tents. “Last year, we had a 75-year-old on the trail, as well as a two-month-old.”
A lighter pack isn’t the only benefit of hiring professional guides. In addition to lightening loads, tour guides also handle all the cooking, providing hikers with plank salmon, grilled chicken, fresh veggies, hot coffee, and more, all prepared in the open air.
“We have all the gear they need, so hikers can enjoy the trail a lot more—with good food.”
Those who complete the challenging trek can reward themselves with a dip in the park’s heated saltwater swimming pool or a visit to Kelly’s Bake Shop in the tiny town of Alma to sample their famous sticky buns.
Hit the Flowerpot Rocks
One of Canada’s top natural wonders are The Hopewell Rocks, also known as the Flowerpot Rocks, a collection of unique, top-heavy spires carved by the tides with trees perched precariously atop that earned them their nickname by Robert Ripley, of Believe it or Not fame. Located about 30 minutes from the city of Moncton near the head of the bay, the “rocks” are all individual islands when the tide is high and can be explored through a guided experience using sea kayaks available from Baymount Outdoor Adventures. When the tide is out, however, visitors can spend hours walking on the ocean floor and/or checking out these one-of-a-kind formations on foot while searching for the perfect photo.
For a region that quite literally sounds like a “fun day,” Bay of Fundy lives up to its name with all the natural wonders and outdoor activities it has to offer visitors. Next time you’re looking for a getaway that takes you off the well-worn path and into a land of whales, trails, and well-earned sights, consider New Brunswick’s gem along the coast.
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