Hailed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of North America – rubbing shoulders with celebrated spectacles like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Niagara Falls and Yosemite, Canada’s Bay of Fundy is one of the most remarkable places on Earth, famed for its phenomenal tides – the highest in the world, no less. If that’s piqued your interest, read on to discover what makes the area so special, and what marvels await when you visit Bay of Fundy.
Bay of Fundy overview
Bay of Fundy in Canada, also known as Fundy Bay, is located within the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with a small area connected to the state of Maine. Framed by a jagged coastline of windblown headlands, mist-bound forests and hidden caves, the bay is an area of primal beauty.
As for what makes the Bay of Fundy so special, that’s mostly down to its funky tides (it’s also known for its fossils and marine life – more on those later). The reason the tide rises so high (to the equivalent of a five-storey building) is due to the natural resonance and shape of the bay. Twice a day, a raging torrent of over 100 billion tonnes of Atlantic seawater – equivalent to the combined flow of all the world’s lakes and rivers – funnels into it. Crashing into the narrowing channel that separates the shores of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, this creates the most extreme tides in the world – picture the motion of water in a bathtub, but on a whopping scale.
With strong currents and super-cold temperatures, you won’t want to swim in the Bay of Fundy, but you will want to experience the area’s wild and quirky allure – read on to discover eleven ways to do just that.
1. Walk the ocean bed
For a dramatic illustration of the scale and power of Fundy’s tides, head to New Brunswick’s Hopewell Rocks. Here lofty, tree-topped sandstone pinnacles – whittled from the cliffs by melting glaciers over millennia – are scattered along the shore. At low tide, you can descend on foot to the rust-hued ocean bed and clamber from cove to cove, navigating mounds of bladderwrack to admire the intricately patterned striations on these steepling flowerpot-like rocks.
As the tides rise, within a few hours the rocks are transformed into tiny fir-capped islands, the narrow channels between them navigable only by kayak. This is also the perfect time to spot sea birds on the rocks – they congregate here in their millions during summer. If you fancy staying close to this one-of-a-kind location, Hopewell Rocks Motel and Country Inn is a mere 500 metres away.
2. Ride the tidal bore
Twice a day, as the incoming tide funnels into the upper bay’s rivers, it forms a tidal wave that roars back upstream, temporarily reversing the flow. This bizarre phenomenon is well known to expert surfers, for whom riding the bore during supermoons – when the wave can reach up to 2 metres – is a technical challenge like no other. Fascinating fact: in 2013 a pair of Californian pros broke records on the Petitcodiac River when they rode the bore for an incredible 29km.
Bore Park in Moncton, New Brunswick, is an ideal vantage point from which to view this hypnotic spectacle, where the wall of water can fill the banks of the chocolate-brown Petitcodiac in little over an hour.
However, for the biggest thrills, head to Truro in Nova Scotia, where operators run bore rafting tours out to the Shubenacadie River. Crashing through the rapids at ferocious force, you’ll get drenched, but it’s an adrenaline kick that’s hard to beat.
3. Hike the formidable Fundy Footpath
The Fundy Footpath is one of Canada’s most spectacular hikes and what it lacks in length (it’s a little under 50km) is more than compensated for by the sheer scale of its challenges. The brave souls who tackle the path must negotiate immense sea cliffs and steep ravines, with a gnarly path that is, at times, only axe-handle wide. It’s a brutal challenge, to say the least, with an added twist coming courtesy of the complexities of the Bay of Fundy. Streams are transformed into rivers with the fluctuations of the tide, and you’ll find yourself wading chest-deep through crystal-clear pools, which remain chilly even in the height of summer.
Most people take four days to tackle the footpath and wild camp along the way (Seely Beach is a great spot). With fellow hikers a rarity (you’ll almost certainly see more vultures than people), it’s as much a test of character as it is of physical fitness. But completing the route through this landscape of primal forest and ancient rocks (a quarter of a billion years old, no less) is a buzz few other hikes can match. Be sure to register before setting off, though, with expert local guidance on planning your adventure available here. And for information about other epic world-class walks, you might want to read this.
4. Watch world-class wildlife
Located at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, Grand Manan Island is a rugged and remarkably undeveloped wildlife hot-spot, with imposing sea cliffs, island-wide hiking trails, and outstanding opportunities to watch birds and whales.
Celebrated naturalist and painter James John Audubon first documented Grand Manan’s puffins, gannets, guillemots, stormy petrels and kittiwakes during his 1831 visit. To experience the island’s avians Audubon style, visit during the spring migratory period (early April to early June), summer nesting season, or during autumn migration (late August to September). And for puffins, Sea Watch Tours run trips to Machias Seal Island from late June to July. Located 18km south of Grand Manan, it’s the region’s best site for these pelagic pretties.
Alongside attracting a huge number of birds, Grand Manon Island is a draw for a multitude of whale species, among them finback, humpback, minke, and rare North Atlantic right whales, along with harbour porpoises, white-sided and white beaked dolphins, and harbour and grey seals. Basking sharks have been known to put in an appearance too. The Whale and Seabird Research Station and quaint Gaskin Museum of Marine Life are well worth a visit, but you’ll most likely want to board a boat to see whales in the wild. To do just that, book a trip with Sea Watch Tours. They run July through to September, with whale-sightings guaranteed – or the tour is free.
Hikers will want to head to the rocky coast of the island’s northern end, with trails leading to Fish Head and the Hole in the Wall rock formation. For an adventurous alternative way of seeing this geological marvel, take a sea-kayak tour. While day-trips are satisfying, devoted wildlife-watchers might want to consider staying on the island for a few nights. North Head Campground and Park provides stunning cliff-top pitches, while Compass Rose Heritage Inn offers cute and cosy accommodation (and top breakfasts).
5. Find 300-million-year-old fossils
Perhaps hard to believe, but the Bay of Fundy’s tidal (and wildlife) wonders are matched by its phenomenal fossils, thanks to Joggins Fossil Cliffs. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the world’s most compete fossil record of life as it was some 300 million years ago. With almost 15km of sea cliffs, low bluffs, rock platforms and beach, and the remains of three ecosystems (estuarine bay, floodplain rainforest, and forested alluvial plain), it’s clear why Joggins is esteemed as one of the world’s top geological gems.
To view these fossilised forests and the remains and tracks of early animals (we’re talking pre-dinosaur early), take a walking tour along the rocky shoreline with an expert guide from the Parrsboro-based Fundy Geological Museum. The museum itself is well worth a visit too, with exhibits of the world’s first reptiles and some of the planet’s first dinosaurs, along with stunning minerals. Staff also offer guided horseback trails along the coastline, and trips to see active digs, with overnight options available. Talking of overnighting, Parrsboro’s Fox Point Inn is a charming base from which fossil-fans can explore the area. It’s near a beach, and two master suites have access to a deck that offers views of the extraordinary tides – now that’s what we call rooms with a view.
But a word of warning – finders definitely aren’t keepers at Joggins Fossil Cliffs. By law, you can only collect fossils if you have a Heritage Research Permit from the government of Nova Scotia – no permit, no picking. If you do find something, though, be sure to take a photo and show museum staff. You never know – you might have made a mammoth discovery.
6. Snorkel with salmon
Close encounters with the world’s most endangered animals are a rare opportunity indeed. But for a few days each September, you can go eye-to-eye with the Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon. Just don a dry suit, mask and snorkel, and glide downstream in the fast-flowing shallows of the Upper Salmon River, one of the bay’s icy tributaries.
With its population dropping from 40,000 in the 1980s to less than 200 by the late 2000s, the salmon was saved from certain extinction by an innovative recovery programme. The young salmon (smolts) spend their first few years in local streams, before being collected and released at a pioneering wild salmon conservation site on Grand Manan Island. Here they hone their wild instincts – essential for future survival – before being released back to their Fundy breeding grounds.
To snorkel with salmon and experience this extraordinary sight, contact Fundy National Park through their site for seasonal details.
7. Embrace adventure at Cape Enrage
Jutting into the uppermost area of the Bay of Fundy, the rocky headland of Cape Enrage offers one of the most epic views of the tides. It’s also home to the area’s best opportunities for epic adventuring. Namely, zip-lining, abseiling and scaling tough obstacle courses.
If you fancy exercising your brain cells as well as your body, you could try your hand (and head) at the Cape Enrage Adventures Initiative Games. High-energy, group-based, and best enjoyed as an add-on to the other offerings, these mix-and-match games are designed to build team spirit and confidence, with tasks suitable for all levels of fitness and endurance. All of which means, for adrenaline junkies, Cape Enrage offers another top reason to visit Bay of Fundy.
But if that’s not enough, Cape Enrage is another key site for fossils (with tours available), along with wilderness beaches and shipwrecks. Today the original 1848 lighthouse teeters on a shank of rock above the sea, with the lightkeeper’s house now hosting a pleasant restaurant and information centre.
8. Stay in a tree-suspended pod
In recent years, Canada’s national parks have increasingly gained a reputation for their innovative approach to accommodation, and that’s certainly the case at Fundy National Park. For a selection of quirky (yet comfortable) camping options, head to Point Wolfe Campground. Among its inventive offerings is the in-demand Goutte d’Ô. Shaped like a giant water droplet and suspended on a hook from a sturdy tree, the cute pod’s proportions might be cosy but, with a sofa bed on its main level and a hammock loft, it can fit a family. What’s more, it’s the ideal launchpad from which to explore the park’s forested trails, or to kayak along its rugged shoreline. Come nightfall, you can gaze at the stars from one of the Adirondack chairs – the park is a Dark Sky Preserve – before swaying to sleep in the pine-scented forest canopy.
If you don’t fancy camping, just visiting the park comes highly recommended, and this small-group tour is a fantastic 3-in-1 option – book it to explore Fundy National Park, Hopewell Rocks, and Cape Enrage Nature Preserve in the company of an expert guide.
9. Soak up Saint John’s Reversing Falls Rapids
The seaport of Saint John is New Brunswick’s biggest city, and better known for industry (Moosehead beer, and a booming oil and gas sector) than tourist attractions. That said, it’s home to some splendid Victorian architecture and – the big draw – it’s a launchpad from which to see the Reversing Falls Rapids, a unique phenomenon caused by the bay’s tides colliding with the Saint John River.
To explain what (and why) the Reversing Falls Rapids are, here’s the science – the Rapids experience two tidal cycles each day, resulting in two low tides and two high tides. Between these extremes of the cycle comes a twenty-minute period of calm known as “slack tide”. At this time, beneath the water you can see rocky ledges pretty close to the surface. Running from Saint John’s pulp mill to Reversing Falls bridge, these ledges create the rapids. Just after the bridge, the river bed plunges 60 metres into a huge pool – creating an underwater waterfall.
A great way to see the Rapids – and the rest of Saint John – is to book a place on this small-group tour. After seeing a few sights (including the British-built Carleton Martello Tower) and marvelling at the Reversing Falls Rapids from the Skywalk observation platform, you’ll enjoy a three-course meal at Reversing Falls Restaurant.
10. Dine on the ocean floor
The ochre sands of Burncoat Head Park provide the venue for one of Canada’s most unusual culinary experiences. Over half a dozen auspicious dates each summer, restaurateur Chris Velden decamps from his award-winning restaurant in nearby Summerville to a sheltered cove beneath the cliffs to host a unique gastro adventure: Dining on the Ocean Floor.
With time and tide dictating when diners need to vacate their tables, this is no easy challenge for Velden and his team of expert chefs. As they set up burners and tables, guests take a lesson in foraging, combing rock pools for natural edibles.
As the tide begins to turn, the feast begins: organic cheese and charcuterie, followed by pasture-raised beef with juicy lobster tails, are washed down with peaty local Scotch ale and crisp, floral Tidal Bay wine. Ninety-five percent of ingredients come from within twenty miles of the bay – this is Nova Scotian cooking at its best. Dessert is served as the sun sets, before the tide starts sweeping in at speed. Come coffee, it’s time to retreat to the safety of the cliffs. Within the hour, all trace you were here will have vanished.
11. Go on a caviar safari
While there may be green shoots of recovery for the Fundy salmon, the plight of the sturgeon – almost extinct in the traditional caviar-producing countries on the Black and Caspian seas – is a tragedy. But not so in the Bay of Fundy – here populations of Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon thrive in the Saint John River.
The brainchild of biologist Cornell Ceapa, Acadian Sturgeon is an ambitious aquaculture project to farm these remarkable fish ethically and sustainably. At his small fishery at Carter’s Point, New Brunswick, wild and farmed sturgeon coexist side by side and, on reaching maturity, are selectively harvested from strictly controlled quotas. The project is so successful that for over a decade Ceapa has shipped live sturgeon to boost stocks in the Baltic Sea.
Tastings – a nose-to-tail extravaganza running to as many as ten courses – are run year-round at the farm. In July you can even take part in a sturgeon safari, beginning with a 6am boat ride out to check the nets.
The caviar is, of course, a highlight: savoured from a mother-of-pearl spoon and accompanied – à la mode traditionnelle – by Acadien vodka. Mild and buttery, the farmed varieties are superb, but nothing quite matches the intensity and richness of the jet-black Acadian Wild as it explodes onto your palate. The only (legal) wild caviar in the world, it’s a uniquely glamorous taste of a more rarefied age.
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