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The Ins and Outs of Visiting the Hopewell Rocks

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Kayaking through and around the Hopewell Rocks is one of Atlantic Canada’s most iconic experiences. (Hans Lindberg photo for Vacay.ca)

The muddy seabed makes squishing sounds as we walk. Three storeys above our heads, trees at the top of the narrow Hopewell Rocks sea stacks sway in the wind.

Has anyone experienced this New Brunswick natural phenomenon and not had the thought: What happens if the tide comes rushing in? Or is it just me?

We’re safe, of course. The Parks New Brunswick online tide table shows we have more than an hour to enjoy the unique experience of walking on the ocean floor.

Thanks to the churning, record-breaking tides in the Bay of Fundy, the water level is about 12 metres (39 feet) lower than during high tide. When the tide gushes back, the Hopewell Rocks flowerpot stacks will look like islands. Kayakers can circle the rocks far above where we’re standing in what’s known as the highest tidal paddling experience on earth.

At low tide, we climbed 99 metal steps down (and later, 101 up) to the seabed at Lover’s Rock. People were posing for selfies below the towering red-brown rock flowerpots. Kids squealed, delighted at getting dirty in the thick red mud. I enjoyed the weirdly fun sense of being somewhere I don’t belong. It brought back kid memories of playing at being a mermaid, or struggling against buoyancy to sit cross-legged on the bottom of the pool or shallow lake beds for pretend tea parties with my girlfriends.

The famous Fundy tides send 160 billion tonnes of water in and out of the funnel-shaped bay twice daily. The enormity of the phenomenon can bring out the nerd in people, who quote fun facts about the huge volumes of water involved.

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Visitors can get up close to admire the Hopewell Rocks when the park’s iconic tides pull out of the Bay of Fundy. (Hans Lindberg photo for Vacay.ca)

One tide change is equal to the amount of water that goes over Niagara Falls in one year and nine months, says Neil Hodge of Tourism New Brunswick.

“The amount of water coming into the Bay of Fundy and one tide change is enough to fill the Grand Canyon twice. One tide change is equal to all the freshwater rivers in the world,” Hodge says.

Depending on tide times, which change daily, visitors can plan to see low tide, high tide or spend the day and experience both, watching the water rush back a few hours after walking on the ocean floor.

The powerful tides create enough erosion to bring constant changes to the sea stacks. In 2013, Elephant Rock collapsed, leaving Lover’s Arch, Dinosaur Rock, Mother-in-Law Rock and others behind to delight visitors.

In the interpretive centre, you can learn more about the science behind the phenomenon. There’s also a shop and café. Forested paths lead from the visitor centre to the staircase down to the cove and rocks. A stretch golf cart is available for a small fee for people with mobility issues.

A 60-metre (197-foot) ramp was added at North Beach in 2018 to give accessible views of the Hopewell Rocks, although the muddy ocean floor isn’t suitable for most wheelchairs or walkers.

I congratulated myself for deciding to make the three-hour drive from Halifax to have this unique experience, making a detour on our way to spend a couple of days in Canada’s oldest incorporated city, Saint John. If you’re visiting Saint John, it’s about a two-hour trip with a meandering, pretty drive that goes past forests and farmland. It’s a short journey with a fulfilling reward: The chance to wander around a typically hidden world revealed by the power of nature.

MORE ABOUT HOPEWELL ROCKS

Admission: The adult entry cost for Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park is $14; seniors and students pay $12; and kids get in for $5. Admission is good for two consecutive days. The park is open mid-May to mid-October. Check the website for dates and times and the provincial website for tide tables so you get there within the three-hour window around low tide.

Linda Barnard is a British Columbia-based travel writer who covers stories geared to energetic and experience-driven 45-plus travellers for Vacay.ca.