By Courtney Edgar
After carefully planning a road trip along New Brunswick’s Fundy Coast, Courtney and her husband quickly realize they failed to account for the fickle demands of their invisible travel companions: waves and weather.
AT HIGH TIDE IN FUNDY BAY, you peer down from the cliff and notice what appears to be a tiny island crowned with conifers. When you return at low tide, now it is you who is tiny, standing amid the red sand like a speck of sea glass beneath the enormous rock arch that once looked inconceivably small. You feel like Alice in Wonderland, shrunken from sipping a bottle labeled “Drink Me.”
This isn't magic or an optical illusion, yet New Brunswick's dramatic coast has that effect. With the highest tides in the world, the Bay of Fundy is a fickle destination to travel. The ebb and flow of the ocean and a capricious coastal climate dictate what your itinerary is—or more often, what it isn't. I learned this recently when my husband and I took a 48-hour road trip along New Brunswick's Fundy Coastal Drive. We were newcomers to the East Coast, having just relocated from Nunavut, and we hadn't yet realized just how much each attraction, beach, town or village could differ depending on the whims of weather and water.
After careful consideration, we planned to bookend our trip at Hopewell Rocks to admire the famous Flowerpot Rocks during high tide, when the pillars appear to float atop the waves, and during low tide, when they are laid bare on the ocean floor and navigable on foot. A dragging workday and Friday afternoon Moncton traffic delayed our departure; it was a late start that would serve as a harbinger for the entire trip.
We raced time to reach the viewpoint overlooking Flowerpot Rocks. Once there, we explored, snapped pictures of baby squirrels and watched the sun dazzle the water that hugged the rock formations, which were mostly concealed. In the village of Alma, we relaxed into some craft beer cocktails at the local brewery before sleeping it off at a quirky, nautical-themed bed and breakfast.
On Saturday morning, we planned to see the beaches of Cape Enrage. This time, the tides permitted—but the weather did not. We woke to find the countryside cloaked in fog. As our car approached Cape Enrage, visibility was reduced to one metre and the fog veiled a moose tracing the road leading to the site’s entrance, causing us to take immediate pause. Not willing to risk a collision, we abandoned our plans. Besides, a kayaking excursion to St. Martins Sea Caves later that afternoon would afford us a beach walk.
Luck was on our side as we passed through Saint John. Almost immediately, the sun began to peekaboo and shifting grey clouds cleared way for a blue sky. We shimmied from our rainy-day gear into beach clothes, excited to see what treasures the famous sea caves held.
During orientation, our Red Rock Adventure guides walked our group through the basics of paddling, teaching us how to prevent our kayaks from flipping. We pushed off the pier, slicing through the water to skirt the cliffs that line the coast, stopping occasionally for factual tidbits of local history and geology. I strained to paddle through turbulent passages of vicious rapids. Twice our group was pulled past the caves we were supposed to beach at. Given the conditions, the guides deemed it too risky to venture any closer, fearing another attempt to navigate into the cave nooks might send our group of novice paddlers crashing into the rocks. Instead, we made for a nearby beach slung below towering red cliffs for a well-earned snack before returning to the pier.
At this point, my husband and I could no longer deny that a theme was emerging. We had spent weeks planning the details of our trip and yet, unpredictability pervaded it. The curveballs didn't ruin the trip, but they certainly altered our course.
The tides have their own itinerary in New Brunswick.
Still wearing the salty spray of Cape Enrage’s waves, we drove to St. Andrews by-the-Sea to check into the Kennedy Inn. Dating back to 1881, the property was Canada’s first summer hotel. Decorated with antique art and period furniture, it certainly felt the part.
Keeping with the theme of the trip, Sunday morning presented us with one last course correction to negotiate. Our original itinerary included a visit to Minister’s Island, but due to—you guessed it—the tides and ferry schedule, we had to miss it to make our final visit to Hopewell Rocks at low tide.
ON THE WAY HOME, as the highway peeled away from the coast, I reflected on our Fundy road trip. As visitors, we were not the only ones at the whim of the tides. It had been amazing—and humbling—to see how the tides sculpted everything they touched. These majestic souvenirs of nature reminded me how small I am, and how even when we are at the mercy of forces far beyond our control, it is these little islands and teetering, unusual rocks that remind us what beauty truly is. Some of the greatest wonders in our country are born from and found in the processes of upheaval.
WHEN YOU GO…
Can’t-miss gem: Petitcodiac River tidal bore
You’d be hard pressed to find a community of people who better understand the shifting nature of New Brunswick’s tides than the surfers who regularly ride the crest of the Petitcodiac River tidal bore. In 2013, professional surfers rode a one-meter-high swell 29 kilometres up the Petitcodiac River from Belliveau Village to Moncton, breaking a North American record for continuous surfing.
“Surfing the Chocolate River is extremely dangerous. More so than any ocean wave,” says Moncton resident and surfing veteran Michelle Richards. “We don’t want people trying it for safety reasons.”
Locals may not be encouraging of travellers surfing their swell, but visitors are welcome to spectate. According to Jillian Somers, director of events and tourism at the City of Moncton, viewers should find a seat at Bore Park 10 to 15 minutes before it’s expected to start. The bore occurs twice daily; times are listed here.
PS. This article originally appeared in our Summer/Fall 2020 print issue
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