Story by Jacqueline Swartz
BAY OF FUNDY, NEW BRUNSWICK — Driving on the clear, nearly empty highway between Fredericton and Moncton, I heard a song on the radio by David Myles that went something like this: The highways are new but don’t just drive through, stay and see the sights.
The song struck two chords. First, New Brunswick has often been in the shadows of other Maritime destinations. And second, that there is indeed a lot to see.
It made perfect sense that the first sight mentioned in “Don’t Drive Through” was the Hopewell Rocks. Gigantic, prehistoric-looking rock formations scattered along a pebbly beach you can explore and marvel at.
The rocks formed millions of years ago as a mountain range. Slowly they eroded and were sculpted by rain and ice into various formations. Some collapsed into caves, while others still have green vegetation growing out of their tops. Still others have whimsical names like flowerpots or elephant or ET, for one that looks like a particularly bulbous head.
And the tides. … When they come in they are stupendous, running as high as 46 feet (14 metres), the highest in the world (most tides average about three feet or less). Then the waves recede again, allowing strollers to walk the ocean floor. Seeing Hopewell Rocks during high and low tide are two different experiences.
I was there to see the Bay of Fundy, formed 13,000 years ago, when a dry valley filled with water from melted glaciers. The bay should perhaps be called bays, plural, for it’s large enough to wash up against the coasts of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and a bit of Maine. Indeed, 4,487 square kilometres of the area are designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, covering towns, a provincial park, sandy beaches, tree-covered valleys, waterfalls, and rugged cliffs.
Hopewell Rocks is a good place to begin your visit. The signature sight is so well known in these parts that a guide shows me his health card with a photo of the rocks. Besides walking and checking out the caves, you can kayak. Baymount Adventures offers Kayak the Rock Coastal Tours starting at $59 for 90 minutes. All tours are supervised because if you don’t know what you’re doing you could get caught in the high tides.
Bay of Fundy Isn’t All About the Water
But not all the exhilarating experiences of New Brunswick have to do with the water. Twenty-one kilometres (13 miles) past the entrance to Hopewell Rocks, on a tree-lined country road, I discovered Broadleaf Guest Ranch, which offers exceptional horseback riding. Most trail rides I have been on are on narrow paths with annoying overhanging branches. Here the paths are open and wide, and the horses are well cared for, with ranch hands putting them out to pastures just beyond the trails and property. Prices are reasonable — a half hour costs $20, an hour $30, and there are half-day excursions, some including canoeing. This is, after all, Bay of Fundy territory.
It was tempting to stay the night. The Ranch has accommodations and a restaurant. But I headed back to my base in Moncton, the province’s transportation hub (Porter and Air Canada both fly into the city of 70,000 people). I wanted check out The Pump House, a well-known Moncton pub and microbrewery that ranked 14th on the Vacay.ca Top 24 Brewpubs in Canada list for 2012. It’s a cavernous place with several different rooms and what claims to be the only wood-fired brick pizza oven in Moncton. The thin-crust pizza ($10.25) was delicate and tasty, with spinach, feta cheese, sweet red peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. Pizza also comes with a gluten-free option. The famed Blueberry Cream Ale ($5.25 for 16 ounces) turned out to be a pale ale served with wild blueberries in the bottom of the glass. Delicious. A beer sample tray ($9.95) allows a two-ounce taste of other in-house beers — Burns Scotch Ale, Cadian Cream Ale, Muddy River Stout.
The next day, on the Bay of Fundy’s Coastal Drive, I headed for a must-see sight. Cape Enrage is named for the sometimes turbulent water, partly caused by a reef. At the top of the 43-metre cliffs is the oldest lighthouse in New Brunswick, built in 1847. The fog that morning made visibility minimal, but I recalled photos of a gorgeous blue bay beneath the cliffs.
“There is no such thing as bad weather,” announced a guide at the interpretive centre. “It’s just different.”
The fog certainly didn’t deter the distant figures who seemed like lizards plastered on the fog-shrouded cliffs. Climbing down the metal stairs I saw that they were rappelling ($90 for a two-hour guided session including all equipment). Others were zip lining (three runs for $45). Not much visibility in what is considered by some travel experts to be one of the best views in Canada. Still, the cliffs in the fog felt primeval.
At the hilltop restaurant called the Cape House, I expected the usual mediocre food so often found at public sites. Not here. The Cape House, which has an inside restaurant with a spectacular outside deck, is directed by chef Jeremy Wilbur, a local boy who returned home after training and working in the Canadian Rockies, Australia, and the United States. He uses local ingredients to create raging chowder ($10), which combines local seafood and vegetables. The lobster roll ($16) is a high-quality version, using a peppered bun with dill mayonnaise.
Continuing on the coastal trail toward the Fundy National Park, you come to the village of Alma. Picturesque boats and restaurants dot the harbour and Collins Lobster Fisherman’s Market gives just one hint of this lobster-based place. Alma, it turns out, is a great place to embark on a kayak trip. Fresh Air Adventure offers tours for $64 per person, including snacks. You’re on the water for four hours and on the beach for one hour while you are told about the sea caves and tides and listen to the shorebirds.
There is so much to see in the Bay of Fundy, how do you choose? One solution is the Fundy Trail Parkway, 16 kilometres (10 miles) of previously inaccessible coastline. This bite-sized Bay of Fundy has rugged cliffs, forested paths, beaches, and estuaries. It claims to be one of the last remaining coastal wilderness areas between Florida and Labrador. There are slow roads made for cars, lots of lookout stops, and paths designed for walkers, hikers, and cyclists.
Everywhere you turn, it seems, there is something interesting. Fuller Falls is a waterfall you access by climbing down a rope staircase. Melvin Beach is a dreamy place only one kilometre from the road. The interpretive centre has a deck that looks over Big Salmon River. And speaking of salmon, the Hearst Lodge, several cabins that used to be William Randolph Hearst’s fishing retreat, serves salmon dinners plus breakfast and sleeping accommodations for $99 per night.
Phase II of the Parkway, now in the works, will extend the route and link it to Cape Engrage and Hopewell Rocks. With our longing for unspoiled nature, more of New Brunswick, with its many coastal attractions, could become a must-see destination — not just a place to drive through.