Joanna Booth discovers marine magic on the coast of New Brunswick
Among the 70ft pillars of sandstone that make up the Hopewell Rocks, there’s a cuckoo in the nest.
A rather utilitarian grey concrete platform is lodged in one corner, a seemingly out-of-place reminder of man in the midst of an area of almost strident natural beauty.
It’s there for a very good reason, however. This is the Bay of Fundy, where tides rise so fast – and so high – that an emergency platform is a necessity, in case anyone is daft enough to ignore the clear warning signs and become stranded on the beach, cut off from the steps by rushing waters. The tides here, rising over 50ft, are the highest in the world, with more than 100 billion tons of water flowing in and out of the bay in one tidal cycle.
The numbers are incomprehensibly large, which is why a visit is a must. Somehow it’s easier for the brain to accept sights than statistics, and Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick in eastern Canada has stacks of both.
With the time between low and high tide only just over six hours, it’s possible to experience both in one day, though entrance tickets are valid for two consecutive days to ensure guests get to view both.
At low tide, as well as a huge expanse of sand, the famous ‘flower pot’ rocks are on show, the power of water clearly illustrated in their eroded curves. At high tide, with the rocks submerged and the sands transformed to seabed, visitors can kayak over the area they walked just a few hours earlier.
In addition to seeing the awesome power of the sea unveiled, and spotting local wildlife – I caught a glimpse of a peregrine falcon – visitors also love to seek out amusingly-shaped rocks. I cheated by taking interpretive services manager Paul Gaudet with me. In addition to stunning me with encyclopaedic knowledge of the site, he’s got a sharp eye for identifying the dinosaur, ET, and the mother-in-law, among other formations.
Paul and his team keep the site well maintained, with a visitors’ centre, walking trails, picnic areas, lookout points and guided kayaking excursions. The park facilities close from mid-October to mid-May, but off-season visitors can still access the beach.
New Brunswick is prime fly-drive territory, and its beautiful coast is an easy meander that ties well into a wider Atlantic Canada itinerary – it’s often combined with Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Heading south from Hopewell Rocks, clients will find a jutting promontory of land that hosts one of Canada’s most scenic viewpoints, crowned by the white pepperpot of Cape Enrage lighthouse.
Visit on a day when the sun sparkles off the waves and clients may be hard pushed to understand the name, but drive up to the lookout point during high winds and the roiling waters will give a clue. If merely enjoying the view isn’t enough, those with adrenaline to spare can rappel, kayak, hang from a zip-line or ride a horse, but I’d recommend making for the restaurant.
Wide windows mean clients can enjoy the view while feasting on the fruits of the local area. I chose a lobster roll with a warm salad of fiddlehead ferns – delicate curved fronds that taste like a spinach/asparagus hybrid. It’s worth trying to schedule a visit to coincide with lunch – clients will find delicious and creative cuisine.
To walk off lunch, hit the Fundy Trail. Stretching along the scenic coast and occasionally winding inland through forest, well-tended roads and walking trails give travellers of any mobility level the chance to enjoy beaches, cliffs, waterfalls and forest.
The Interpretive Centre at Big Salmon River is a must, with a short but informative video that fills in the history of the area, once home to fishing, logging and shipbuilding industries. It can also recommend routes and activities. Guided excursions are available from June to September and can be reserved online 24 hours in advance.
An hour south from the Fundy Trail is Saint John, the province’s largest city and a great spot to stop for the night.
The Hilton Saint John may not be much to look at architecturally from the outside, but its position right on the waterfront, large, modern rooms, extensive buffet breakfast, and friendly staff make it a good choice all the same.
Saint John is home to the reversing falls, a phenomenon caused by the Bay of Fundy’s high tide rushing into the bay and being concentrated in a narrow gorge, creating rapids and whirlpools. Clients can observe from a lookout point in Fallsview Park, or get soaked on a jetboat ride at high or low tide.
The New Brunswick Museum is worth a visit too, particularly the hall of whales, packed with life-size models, skeletons and fascinating facts about these ocean giants – a great way for clients to whet their appetite before going on a whale-watching tour, often one of the highlights of any trip to the Canadian Maritimes.
A WHALE OF A TIME
An hour and a half’s drive south from Saint John is Saint Andrews, a pretty seaside town that is New Brunswick’s hotspot for whale watching tours.
Boats venture out daily during the season – May to October -– searching for finbacks, rights, humpbacks and minke whales, and passengers may spot porpoises, seals and dolphins too.
And it’s not merely your common-or-garden boats that visitors can venture out on – they can choose from catamarans, tall ships and, with Fundy Tide Runners, small but solid Zodiacs, giving incredible proximity to the whales.
A downpour of biblical proportions rained off my whale-spotting Zodiac trip – a disappointment that underlines the need to give your clients time for more than one attempt.
Fundy Tide Runners operates four trips a day, and if one is cancelled another attempt is free of charge. I’d suggest having at the minimum one afternoon and the next morning in town so clients aren’t disappointed.
There’s plenty to keep clients occupied in Saint Andrews in the meantime. At the Fundy Discovery Aquarium, visitors can see harbour seals and many smaller sea creatures, while Kingsbrae Garden is a lovely estate stocked with more than 2,500 varieties of trees and plants, plus a sculpture garden, its own herd of llamas, and a lovely cafe.
When it comes to food, some of the very best in the province is on offer at Rossmount Inn, on the outskirts of the town. It ticks all the organic/local/foraged boxes and, more importantly, it tastes and looks amazing. The inn has 18 rooms, so your clients can have a few glasses of wine and roll up to bed without needing to drive.
For more about New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada, visit atlanticcanadaholiday.co.uk
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