© Darcy Rhyno
Our finest bay
Frolics along Fundy’s famous fringe
I’m going to fall. I’ve never done this before and I’m going to die. This is what I want to shout down from my precarious perch to Alex Reid, the experienced rock climber and guide with Maritime DayTripping (daytrippingnb.com) in Saint John, New Brunswick. Instead, I muster a little dignity and yell, “I can’t go any further. What do I do?”
“There’s a foothold just to your left,” Alex calmly calls back. My fingertips grip a harelip of rock exactly an arm’s length over my head. The edge of my right foot has just enough purchase on a tiny ledge in the 554-million-year-old exposed lava rock face beneath me here in Rockwood Park as I swing my left foot wildly in an attempt to catch a sizeable and safe shelf of stone that seems hopelessly out of reach.
All week, I’ve been adventuring along the shores of the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This place is like a playground for adults. At the start of the Fundy loop on Digby Neck, Nova Scotia — a thin peninsula and islands that runs parallel with the Fundy — and at the end in the old resort town of St. Andrews by-the-Sea in New Brunswick near the border with Maine, the whale watching is world class. As is the seafood. Digby is the self-proclaimed scallop capital of the world and Saint Andrews boasts far more than the usual mix of excellent restaurants for a small town, including the classy Algonquin Resort (algonquinresort.com) and the highly creative Rossmount Inn (rossmountinn.com). The latter is where chef Chris Aerni prepared a deliciously moist cut of halibut, which he served on a bed of goose grass he foraged himself from the Fundy shore.
Audubon slept here
The Saint Andrews area is also the jumping off point for various Fundy island adventures south of Saint John. After a spin around the Deer Island, Campobello Island loop via a couple of tiny car ferries, I hopped onto a larger ship for an overnight stay on Grand Manan Island. There, I poked around historic Swallowtail Lighthouse near the ferry terminal and explored the coastline along cliff edge walking trails. The bird life in the bay is plentiful and varied, attracting the likes of J.J. Audubon himself in 1831.
To the north, between Saint John and the Nova Scotia border, no less than four internationally significant coastal features caught my fancy. Less than an hour from the port city, the nearly unknown and unique Fundy Trail Parkway (fundytrailparkway.com) offers hiking and biking trails that parallel 11 kilometres of low-speed paved road showing off wild coves, isolated beaches and dramatic cliffs. Another hour north, there are endless hiking opportunities in Fundy National Park (pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nb/fundy/index.aspx), including the multi-day 48-kilometre Fundy Circuit. If rugged isn’t your idea of a vacation, the park has a heated saltwater pool, and Headquarters Campground is within walking distance of the sweet, little town of Alma where fishing boats rest on the seabed at low tide.
But for me, two other natural wonders outshine even this magnificent national park. At Cape Enrage (capeenrage.ca) the lighthouse is perched at the edge of a rocky promontory past which the Fundy tides rip. There’s a zipline and rock climbing here for bird’s eye views of the bay, but it’s the surprising creature comforts that I’ll remember just as much. The lobster tacos at Cape House Restaurant (capeenrage.ca/en/plan-your-trip/cape-house-restaurant-at-cape-enrage) come three to a plate and topped with caviar and candied lemon peel.
The star of New Brunswick’s Fundy coast, the red stone pinnacles at Hopewell Rocks were carved by the tides into shapes that resemble flowerpots — narrow necks hold heavy heads topped with trees and plants. At high tide, kayakers paddle among them. At low tide, I walked this natural sculpture garden, marveling at the power of the Fundy. The tides in the bay rise as much as 16 metres over a 12-hour period twice a day.
Let the good times roll
On the other side of the bay in Nova Scotia, I revisited a favourite site: Port Royal (pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/portroyal/index.aspx), the replica of Samuel de Champlain’s 1605 settlement and a National Historic Site. Champlain and company spent two years here until the King of France, Henry IV, revoked the colony’s monopoly on the fur trade and the colonists were forced to return home. In their last winter there, Champlain established the now famous Order of Good Cheer (l’Ordre du Bon Temps) to boost morale with frequent feasts, copious wine and theatrical entertainment. Champlain stayed behind and in 1608 went on to establish the settlement at Quebec City and took the idea of the Order with him.
While I was in the area I also visited the Historic Gardens (historicgardens.com) — named Canada’s Garden of the Year in 2015 — in the nearby town of Annapolis to admire its collection of some 2000 rosebushes and walk the shady garden trails along the Fundy salt marsh.
Further north, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites tell very different stories of the Fundy, one cultural and one natural. At Grand-Pré (pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/ns/grandpre/index.aspx), I strolled the lawns and visited the interpretation centre to learn about the French-speaking Acadians who claimed rich farm land from the bay with an ingenious system of dykes still in place today and about their violent deportation by the British in 1755. Today, this is wine country, home to the East Coast’s only appellation, the crisp, fruity Tidal Bay, named for the Fundy, which many vineyards overlook.
In Joggins, near the New Brunswick border, I walked the eroded shoreline to view huge fossils of tree trunks and 200 other species dating back some 300 million years. At the Joggins Fossil Centre (jogginsfossilcliffs.net) I learned that the fossil record here is so important, Charles Darwin described it in his book On the Origin of Species.
A rock and a hard place
From Joggins, it’s a short hop onto the Trans Canada Highway to fly out of Halifax or drive west, or to the US border at Calais, Maine. Whatever starting point you choose to explore the 275-kilometre coastline around the Bay of Fundy, the loop includes a crossing of the bay between Saint John and Digby via the MV Fundy Rose (ferries.ca/fundyrose), a 774-person car ferry from which to view fishing boats, seabirds and sometimes whales and dolphins.
The ferry terminal in Saint John is where I’m heading to return home to Nova Scotia — that is, right after I get down from this cliff in Rockwood Park (rockwoodpark.ca). It’s one of Canada’s largest municipal parks at 890 hectares and one of 60 smaller geo-sites inside the much larger, 2500- square-kilometre Stonehammer Geopark in southern New Brunswick. Stonehammer — this continent’s first UNESCO geopark — is where the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Fundy began as the earth’s tectonic plates shifted.
Instead of rock climbing, I could have chosen another of the many challenging Stonehammer activities like ziplining over the famous reversing rapids where the Saint John River meets the mighty tides of the bay causing the water flow to reverse twice daily. There’s also fossil hunting through a billion years of relatively continuous geologic history, bird and whale watching tours on the bay, geocaching, walking the ocean floor at low tide and kayaking in sea caves.
“Now, plant your feet nice and wide,” Alex Reid calls from the bottom of the rock face as evenly as a parent might talk his two-year-old down a playground slide for the first time. “You gotta take some deep breaths right now. You’re nearly there. I’ve got you nice and tight down here.”
And he does. A heavy rope runs from my harness to the top of the cliff back over my head down to Alex, my anchor. I take a breath and with a leap of faith reach that impossibly distant ledge. From there, it’s a quick scramble to the top. I feel elated with my accomplishment… until I remember I have to repel back down. For more info on travel to the region, visit Bay of Fundy Tourism (bayoffundytourism.com) and Tourism New Brunswick (tourismnewbrunswick.ca).
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.