Fun Along New Brunswick's Fundy Coastal Drive
by Catherine M. Senecal
"It's best to go head first," said Richard as he shone his head lamp at the small triangular hole between the rocks at our feet. "Your shoulders are the biggest part of your body and if you get stuck you want to have the leverage to launch yourself back out with your hands and arms." Uh-huh.
Failing that, my cave mates could resort to the backup, and most likely, option of yanking me out by my legs. I was starting to feel uncomfortable about exactly where this cave adventure was taking me but, by this point, I would have followed Richard anywhere because of what he said about my shoulders being the biggest part of my body.
Caving is just one of many adventures available along New Brunswick's Fundy Coastal Drive, most of which do not involve crawling on your belly through damp and musty places. Biking to see the birds at Marys Point, hiking at Fundy National Park and kayaking among the massive Hopewell Rocks are other adventures active travelers can sample along a 100-mile stretch of the Fundy Coastal Drive between St. Martins and Moncton. American vacationers who make their way here via Calais, at the southeast tip of Maine, are pleasantly surprised by the backroads-beauty and down-home friendliness of this part of New Brunswick in eastern Canada.
The Bay of Fundy tides are the greatest on earth. Twice a day, 100 billion tons of sea water roll in and out of the Bay. In an area famous for the rise and fall of the ocean, it's impossible not to pay attention to the shoreline and the moon.
In St. Martins, an historic shipbuilding village filled with Georgian homes and Gothic styling, I arrived at low tide when all the weathered fishing boats leaned precariously over on their hulls. Later that coolish, chiaroscuro night, the lighthouse on the southern cape flashed the scallop traps with great washes of brightness. The beachcombers had long disappeared, and searching the skies with my eyes, I saw that the moon had vanished also.
Without question, the ideal way to experience the tides and the difference between them is to kayak among the conglomerate pot-shaped rocks at Hopewell Cape, near the easternmost end of the Bay. Here, the water can rise up to 48 feet at high tide, approximately the height of a four-story building.
Baymount Outdoor Adventures takes kayakers out as the tide is coming in, then brings them back when the tide is at its highest. If you love being on the water, kayaking is remarkably fun and no experience is necessary. We paddled through sunlit archways and darkened tunnels among the sea-sculpted 90-foot rocks that hikers can only gawk up at as they stroll the flats at low tide.
Although there are a couple of organized biking companies in the area, I found it best to rent a bike whenever the urge to cycle struck, usually early in the morning for an hour or so. Many of the inns where I stayed had bikes for rent, so I would get a bike there.
From St. Martins Country Inn, cyclists can turn left at the end of the drive and head to the harbor. This is the only place in the world to capture a photograph of two covered bridges in the same frame. A great view of the sandstone cliffs is visible around the bend on the other side of the first bridge.
From Florentine Manor in Harvey, it's best to cycle out early in the morning and watch the white scrim of Fundy fog burn off the fields. Cycle past gingerbready homes and barking dogs for a couple of miles to Marys Point Shorebird Reserve. During peak migration season (late July to early August), tens of thousands of semipalmated sandpipers cruise the flats here like reversible sheets blowing in the wind: now black, now white. In two weeks, the birds double their weight eating mud shrimp but still manage to make it to South America.
For some of the best hiking in eastern Canada, head to Fundy National Park, located along the Bay between Alma and St. Martins. More than 60 miles of trails traverse bogs, coves, steep cliffs, tidal flats and coastal forest.
On the Dickson Falls Trail, an easy to moderate one-mile loop, plenty of stairs lead to a cool, sprinkly waterfall surrounded in layers of verdant moss. For a fine morning hike, stroll the Shiphaven and Beach Trail at Point Wolfe to a high viewpoint where you can see the Point Wolfe River empty into the Bay. From there, you descend some 150 steps to the river and sandbar which used to be a shipping yard. Hikers will want to try the four-day 30-mile Fundy Circuit.
Another great hiking trail--this one south of the park itself--runs up the coast from near Alma. Once completed, this trail will be 25 miles long with five sites designated for tent camping.
The wide trail plunges up and down through a lush forest of fir, black spruce, wild ferns and flowers, such as pink trillium and wood sorrel. Beamed bridges cross streamed gorges; at sunlit outcrops, the trail opens up for wholesale views across the Bay to Nova Scotia and down along the beaches of the coast. Here visitors may comb for shells and periwinkle, but, in the words of one local, "Swimming in the Bay of Fundy is like banging your head against a cement sidewalk--it feels so good when you stop." Translation: refreshing, but your feet may turn blue.
In between all this active stuff, a body has to eat. What better dish to try, I thought, than the local lobster--a first-ever novelty for me since I dwell in the beautiful but very landlocked reaches of Manitoba.
Fortunately, I had Darrell, an experienced local, around to provide instructions. After the waitress gave me a bib the size of my preschooler's painting apron and placed a lobster in front of me, instruction #1 came: pull the claws out.
Sure, the lobster tasted great, but so does garlic chicken breast and instructions aren't required. Instead, I'll order chowder or scallops from the docks. I will somehow have to live without the experience of spewing people I don't even know with morsels of flying lobster flesh.
For more information about the Bay of Fundy, contact New Brunswick Tourism at 1-800-561-0123. Baymount Outdoor Adventures offers kayaking and caving tours; phone: (506) 734-2660. Recommended accommodations include Florentine Manor, (800) 665-2271; and St. Martins Country Inn (800) 565-5257.
For information about additional programs and tour operators, see the Geographical Index under "New Brunswick."