Words by Jonathan Maister, a Markham (Canada) based writer and adventurer.
Photos courtesy of Tourism New Brunswick.
Few doubt that among the earth’s visual bounty, some of the finest vistas are offered by the ocean. The tidal pulse riding the continental coasts and shimmering up the shores has, as long as history has been recorded, held a place in our hearts and often in our livelihood. Across generations and geography it has seduced the imagination of travellers and guided the invasions of admirals.
Surely in the Bay of Fundy nestled between the southern shores of Canada’s eastern provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the tide must be deemed its most dramatic.
For the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world!
The earth’s average tidal change is 1 metre. The Bay of Fundy’s tide, depending on where you are, varies from 3½ metres to an astounding 16 metres! The coastline undergoes metamorphosis-like change. To uninformed disembarking visitors, they would scarcely believe that they were indeed at the same point of departure after a day’s boat-ride. Gangplanks, steep at embarkation are now virtually horizontal, and where there was beach is now blue ocean. Homes nestled high above the ocean are now at water’s edge. If you chance upon a river mouth, you will view the phenomenon of a tidal bore – the river’s waters are shunted upstream by the mighty power of the incoming tide.
Behold the Bay of Fundy!
The mind-boggling surge of 100 billion watery tons that spill into the bay during a typical tidal flow, causes an upsurge of fertile fodder for fish of all sizes and types. The plankton-rich waters make the Bay of Fundy a veritable Mecca for marine mammals. In fact, the Bay of Fundy is one of the world’s finest areas to view the Great Whales, including the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.
Virtually anywhere along the coast is ideal to view this dramatic change. Saint John, in New Brunswick, is a town with many a scenic shoreline. While enjoying Canadian Maritime hospitality at its finest, you can view how the shore’s gentle slope makes for a huge horizontal shift in the water’s edge, some 50 metres as the tide creeps in. Dry-shod fishing boats tethered to the towering dock above, rise up from the sandy bottom to ride the gentle current as the mooring area transforms from dry, to damp to deep in the 6 hour cycle; then slowly they drop down again to meet the ocean floor.
Saint John, in New Brunswick, is one of Canada’s lesser known towns, but it is a coastal gem well worth the stay. For the incredible sites offered up by the ocean, it is reason enough to visit. In addition, you will enjoy the food, the favourite Maritime brew, and the friendliest folks around. This unique seaside town makes for an unforgettable visit. It is also a perfect launch point for the finest in whale watching as a number of excellent whale watching outfits leave from nearby communities.
Venture north along the coast and you will access Fundy National Park. With over 100 km of trails within 206 square kilometres, you will see forests, waterfalls, river valleys and freshwater lakes. Whether it’s a scenic drive, camping, kayaking, hiking, or biking, this is a perfect accessible family destination. Shoreline activities share the tapestry of Fundy’s tides.
Some 150 km north of Saint John is the town of Moncton. Moncton itself, boasting a number of great attractions, is the gateway to the famous Hopewell Rocks which lie some 30 minutes’ easy drive south. These “flowerpot formations”, as they are known, are towers of rock, sculpted by the churning artistry of Fundy’s waters. Hewn from the rock-face by the surging tide, they tower above the ocean floor at low tide affording visitors a chance to do just that – walk the ocean floor. Return seven hours later, and you will need kayaks to round those same towers, now transformed into islands by the 12 metre change in height.
Without a doubt unrecognizable, yet also unforgettable.
Dramatic though the change may be, time it well and you will have ample opportunity to explore the ocean bottom. Evidence of ocean fauna and other sea-life may be visible. Rest assured, on either end of the beach, Hopewell Rocks staff monitor the tourist traffic. As the waters beckon ever closer narrowing the beachhead, you are politely ushered back to the access stairs before the ocean covers your tracks. Expect no rolling waves for there are none; nothing but the persistent lapping of the waters edging forever forward, then eventually back. Their gentle motion belies the power that relentlessly urges them on, sculpting the topography yet etching themselves into the visitor’s memory.
Be sure to wear your “wellies” or another set of puddle-friendly shoe ware. Bring your camera and be certain to check with the tourist resources to time your visit perfectly. In the Hopewell Rocks complex above, there’s an outstanding museum with an information centre near the access stairs. As you bide your time waiting for the tide to rise or fall, it’s a great place to learn about the region and how nature has forged the topography.
The water may be too cold for all but the hardiest swimmers, but the drama that unfolds as land is layered by liquid blue, cannot be disputed. Whether it’s the incredible shifts back and forth of the water’s edge along the beach’s gentle slope, or the dramatic drop and rise of the water surface hoisting and lowering boats of all descriptions, the Fundy tides are nature’s gem of awesome power and breathtaking beauty