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Explore the seabed during low tide at Hopewell Rocks

The world’s highest tides are just part of this watery marvel

It’s low tide and we’re walking on the ocean floor. Columns of red sandstone tower over us. They’re known as “flowerpots” because of the trees and other greenery growing from their tops. A guide tells the kids walking with my group that an elephant recently fell over here into the muddy waters of the Bay of Fundy. Surely they imagine a chaotic, impossible scene of a trumpeting beast struggling mightily in the sea. Even though I know better, I imagine the same.

The whimsical, Seussian land- and seascape at Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick fires the imagination of kids and those with childlike imaginations. The flowerpot nicknamed Elephant Rock collapsed in March of 2016, a result of the natural erosion that makes this part of the bay so interesting in the first place. Adventuring along the shores of the Bay of Fundy from Maine through New Brunswick and around to Nova Scotia, I find an endless supply of nature’s playground equipment.

Bay of adventures

The fun begins along the border between the US and Canada. It’s here that the Gulf of Maine constricts, forcing unimaginably large volumes of water into the increasingly narrow and shallow Bay of Fundy, creating some of the world’s highest tides, a rich ecosystem and natural phenomena that can be as quirky as they are awe-inspiring.

In Passamaquoddy Bay between the two nations, a series of ferries links many islands, including Campobello, site of the summer home of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, now a park jointly managed by the two nations. Off the southern tip of Deer Island, the small ferry passes the Old Sow, the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. A childlike mind might imagine a giant hand pulling an enormous drain plug from beneath the bay.

Back on the mainland, the port city of Saint John is nicknamed Saint Awesome both for its lively city centre and for the wealth of parks within and just beyond the city limits. Many of these, including the entire city itself, lie within the 2,500-square-kilometre Stonehammer Geopark, this continent’s first UNESCO geopark. Visitors can zipline over reversing rapids, kayak sea caves and walk the ocean floor at Stonehammer’s 60 geo-sites. Stonehammer is where the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Fundy were born as the Earth’s tectonic plates shifted half a billion years ago. At the New Brunswick Museum in Market Square, kids can marvel at the huge tide swings in the bay created by this shift when they stand next to the Fundy Tidal Tower, a 13-metre high cylinder filled with water that drops and rises with the tides outside.

Not much more than an hour north among the lakes, rivers and seashores of Fundy National Park, trails abound, including the king of them all, the multi-day, 48-kilometre Fundy Circuit. If rugged isn’t your idea of a vacation, the park has a heated salt water pool, and the main campground is within walking distance of the little town of Alma where fishing boats rest on the seabed at low tide and seafood restaurants abound.

Just 21 kilometres from Alma is my favourite Fundy perch for dramatic scenery, the aptly-named Cape Enrage. There, a lighthouse is perched on a rocky promontory, past which the Fundy tides rip. A zipline and rock climbing cliff established for training are offered to brave and playful visitors and come with bird’s-eye views of the bay, the lighthouse and the old light keeper’s house, now home to the excellent Cape House Restaurant.

Buoys on a deck on Grand Manan Island

The Nova Scotia bay

On the other side of the bay in Nova Scotia, fossils at Joggins await like storytellers for an imaginative audience. Walk the eroded shoreline of this UNESCO World Heritage Site to see the stumps of trees and the impressions of 200 other species turned to stone. This is the fossil record of a steamy swamp that teemed with life some 300 million year ago—a record so important, Charles Darwin described it in his book On the Origin of Species.

It’s on to the next UNESCO site. At Grand-Pré on the northern edge of the Annapolis Valley, I 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 the settlers’ violent deportation by the British in 1755. From the parking lot at the interpretation centre, my playful friends and I set out on a gorgeous summer day by bicycle to the iron Grand-Pré Deportation Cross and then onto the dykes themselves for a ride through history.

At the other end of the Annapolis Valley at Port Royal, the replica of Samuel de Champlain’s 1604 settlement is a National Historic Site. Around a rough dining table with pewter place settings, a family dressed in period costume pretends they are Champlain and company who spent eight tough years here, surviving in rustic shelters. Outside, others watch interpreters splitting shingles and performing other pioneer chores.

The Bay of Fundy is as much a playground for wildlife as it is for people. Down Digby Neck—a thin peninsula and islands that runs parallel to the bay—the whale watching is aptly world-renowned. Humpbacks breach, slamming the surface of the bay. Dolphins cavort in the wake of the whale watching boats. Back up the peninsula, Digby, the self-proclaimed scallop capital of the world, is the last stop for many who pause for a feed of those famous Bay of Fundy scallops before returning via ferry across the bay to Saint John and on to either the US or the rest of Canada.

Whatever part of the 275-kilometre Bay of Fundy coastline playground visitors choose, the child inside them will be rewarded. Fortunately for all of us with active imaginations, many Hopewell Rock flowerpots other than Elephant Rock stand strong, including Castle Rock, Turtle Rock, E.T. and—subbing for its unfortunate cousin—Dinosaur Rock.

Stops along the way

  1. Grand Manan Island. To experience life far out in the bay, take the ferry to Grand Manan. Take a boat tour from there to see whales and the plentiful birdlife of Machias Seal Island where J.J. Audubon travelled in 1831 to sketch puffins and gulls.
  2. St. Andrews Blockhouse. Visit this National Historic Site built by citizens during the War of 1812 to protect St. Andrews and area against possible attacks from the American enemy. Dress in a period uniform and guard the harbour, or just lounge on the sprawling lawns for the best views in this picturesque bay-side town.
  3. Cape Chignecto Provincial Park. For the most spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy from 180 metre cliffs, hike the park trails from Advocate Harbour, NS.
  4. Lightfoot and Wolfville Winery. Of the many wineries in the Annapolis Valley, this is one that grows grapes within sight of the Bay of Fundy. Visit their recently-opened venue on Route 1 near Wolfville.

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