Story by Joanne Elves
HOPEWELL CAPE, NEW BRUNSWICK — The tourism photos from New Brunswick always lead with the Hopewell Rocks at low tide and a stop to walk on the ocean floor is a must. But it was the right whale slipping silently under the nose of our tour boat that stole my heart. “This,” I shouted to everyone within earshot. “This does NOT happen on the prairies!”
As we all twisted to see where he was headed, the whale flicked his fluke and continued on his way. For once, my camera was in the right place and the result was a series of epic images I’ll have forever.
Of course, you have to visit the Hopewell Rocks — magnificent structures that stand up to 20 metres (70 feet) — but make it part of a journey that includes hiking, sightseeing, eating lobster and, yes, squealing when a whale goes by.
Tidal Bore Thrills in Moncton
Start your tour with an amazing surf in Moncton. That great big Bay of Fundy that is hemmed by both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia has some of the largest tide fluctuations in the world. So when the tide comes in, which happens twice per day, a giant wave or tidal bore — sometimes 60 centimetres (two feet) in height — rushes up the Petitcodiac River through Moncton.
The Moncton Information Centre has a clock to let you know when to head to the boardwalk along the river. Watch for surfers who dare to ride the muddy wave as it rolls through the city.
Walk or Paddle Around the Hopewell Rocks
The tide rules at Hopewell Rocks, so pay close attention to the schedule when you enter this provincial park and the water lapping at your toes. The water rises to 15 metres (50 feet) twice a day. If you go when the tide is out, take the steps down to the ocean floor and walk around the rock formations. If the tide is coming in, consider a kayak tour to float through the rocks, which have been formed naturally through erosion, to witness first-hand how fast the water rises.
Cape Enrage Gets You Enthused
Stop at Cape Enrage to see the oldest lighthouse on the New Brunswick mainland. The brilliant white buildings topped with red shingles is a tourist attraction now but back in 1838 when the first lighthouse was built it was a life-saver. The Chignecto Bay has a partially exposed reef that at half tide creates tumultuous waters, destroying any wooden hull that tries to pass over. Warnings to sailors kept many boats afloat and lives intact.
With the automation of lighthouse beacons, the last lighthouse keeper left in 1988, and the area was vacant for a while. In the last few years, however, repairs to the facilities and the addition of a restaurant, and excursions including zip lines and the chance to rappel off the sea cliff have brought activity back to the lonely cape.
Satiate Your Hunger in Alma
Depending on the season, the boats in the harbour at Alma are loaded with lobster traps or readied for the scallop harvest. In and out with the tide, the crews repeat the process of bringing in the catch. At low tide, however, the bright yellow, red and blue boats sit on the ocean floor some 5 metres (15 feet) below the dock to which they are tethered. It’s an intriguing sight that has probably graced many puzzles over the years.
There is no better place to enjoy fresh lobster than the restaurants in Alma. If you are new to donning a bib and eating whole lobster a local will gladly show you how its done. Prepare to have butter, lemon and lobster juice dripping off your chin.
Pack a famous sticky bun from Kelley’s Bake Shop in your backpack and head for Fundy National Park, it’s just across the Little Salmon River.
Waterfalls, Ocean Floors and Swimming with Salmon
Fundy National Park has 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) of dramatic shorelines, at least 100 kilometres (65 miles) of trails for hiking and biking, thundering waterfalls, trickling brooks, covered bridges, and more of that sea floor to explore during low tide. Look into the chance to join the park biologist on snorkelling expeditions in the Upper Salmon River. You’ll be able to learn about the habitat and the life cycle of the Atlantic Salmon while face down in the river. How cool is that!
Tours with a Splash of Fun
Sometimes letting someone else do the driving is the best way to see a region and learn about it too. Roads to Sea, based in Moncton, offers tours along the Bay of Fundy. They can’t guarantee that you will walk on the ocean floor because of the timing of the tides but they can guarantee a really great time.
Ah, yes, the whale tour. I live in the wrong place. There is nothing like jumping into a full-body floatation suit, waddling down the dock to push everyone aside to sit in the front row of a 24-foot Zodiac heading out to the bay in search of whales. The warm wind carries the sea salt and bouncing across the waves brings the salty splashes. You just can’t find that in the land-locked provinces and states of North America.
Nor can you find whales.
But Fundy Tide Runners in St. Andrews can. As soon as we left the West Isles we saw bald eagles, harbour porpoises, and minke whales. Then the waters went silent for a little while. Our captain suddenly pointed and said, “Look, over there. A whale footprint.”
I thought he was joking. Even I know whales don’t have feet.
We followed a series of calm circles of water left behind as a whale flicks its tail under the waves. And that’s when we saw the North Atlantic right whale — one of the most endangered in the world. We watched it for at least 30 minutes as it snorted water, huffed, and flicked that tail.
Click. Click. Click. My journey to New Brunswick was complete.
MORE ABOUT NEW BRUNSWICK
Tourism New Brunswick Website https://www.tourismnewbrunswick.ca/