The fourth leg of our road trip to the Canadian Maritimes may have been my favorite for the outdoor wonder it provided (although it’s difficult to pick a favorite with Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island and Nova Scotia in the mix!) We departed Digby, Nova Scotia on an early morning car ferry. The three hour voyage took us directly across the Bay of Fundy which hosts abundant sea life, offering a great option for whale watching. As we departed we spotted some porpoises off the boat and whales had been spotted earlier in the day.
We spent the trip on the top deck sitting by the rail watching for whales. It was a bluebird day with pleasant temperatures and a slight breeze. The car ferries run by Northumberland Ferries are huge (180 cars/vehicles and 600 passengers) with several floors of vehicle storage as well as multiple decks with indoor lounges, cafes, Starbuck’s coffee, entertainment and an outdoor deck. Since all passengers have to leave their cars, if desiring to sit outdoors I suggest making haste to secure a chair or table as they are limited.
A docent educated us about the history of the bay as well as the marine mammals, passing around things like a whale baleen (what krill eaters strain the krill through). We also had the chance to taste dulce, a local dried seaweed. It has a strong flavor of the sea and is an acquired taste!
We landed in St. John, New Brunswick, and headed directly to Alma, a small town on the bay which we selected for its immediate access to the Fundy National Park. The Bay of Fundy is best known for the most variable tides in the entire world and has been designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The tides can vary up to 50 vertical feet every 6 hours. It is truly a sight to behold. The view looks normal at hour 1, with boats floating next to the pier and water lapping at the beach. Six hours later the boats are sitting on the dry ocean floor (on brackets made specifically to protect and keep them upright) and one can walk extensive distances on the bay floor.
The reason for the dramatic tidal changes in this particular area has to do both with the normal tidal action coupled with an effect of a ‘seiche’. Think of it like the action of water sloshing back and forth in a bathtub; the water in the bay does the same due to rock formations underwater at the bay mouth, providing a physical effect of a solid form. The water comes in and out with the tides but the tidal impact is much more pronounced due to the seiche effect. I was happy we’d made plans to spend two nights in Alma allowing the full visual experience of 24 hours of tides as well as the chance to walk way out into the bay floor, something one would never imagine possible if only seeing the high tide!
This short four minute video is a wonderful view into the eco system and natural wonder of the Bay of Fundy at Alma. It shows time-elapsed video of the bay, looking the opposite direction from the photos shared in this post. The Parkland Village Inn (where we stayed) may be seen during one of the first time elapsed scenes; it’s the white hotel to the right of the pier. The estuary, seen in another time elapsed sequence is where we ended our kayaking trip at high tide!
Alma is a small town with a few inns, restaurants and shops. Often as small towns will have it, we found some treasures along the way! We got the last room at the Parkland Village Inn which sits three stories high directly on the bay. The staff welcomes guests as family and the inn houses the Tides Restaurant, offering local seafood (the area is mainly known for lobster and scallops) that was delicious and well-presented. I enjoyed the Fresh Atlantic Salmon with Cranberry Maple Sauce, which I loved for the simple but flavorful sauce and my husband had the local Bay of Fundy Lobster. As with many seasonal tourist towns the dining prices were a bit high but we loved the food quality and convenience for our first dinner.
The following day my husband had ventured out into the national park at dawn to try some fishing at a lake which was a bust fish wise, but still a wonderful time listening to the family of loons that shared the lake. A license is required to fish in the park and they are issued usually on the day of intended fishing. He was able to secure one the night before by visiting the information center in Fundy National Park. As always the information centers are great stopping places for maps, guidance from the rangers and to buy maps or souvenirs.
We took a stroll through Alma after breakfast and as things will sometimes go on vacation we went from having an open morning to racing off for some local sightseeing thanks to a chat with the Jane Chrysostom, proprietor of Cleveland Place, a bed and breakfast, book shop and artisan’s shop on Alma’s main street. We had a half day kayaking trip planned though Jane pulled out a map and marked up some other ‘must see’ spots a short drive along the coast that in hindsight I wish we’d known about before. The book shop and artisan’s shop are definitely fun stops. The artisan shop in particular is a carefully curated collection of local artisans of good quality (leaving us wishing we’d had more time to poke around).
With a few hours before our kayaking excursion we sped up the coast toward Cape Enrage Lighthouse. Once spotting Waterside Beach en route we had to get out to explore. The tide was almost out and the red rippled floor of the bay beckoned for a barefoot walk to the water. The sand was exposed as far as the eye could see which didn’t mean much until later in the evening when we drove back to find the high tide had covered everything! A spectacular example of the tides of Fundy.
For me Cape Enrage Lighthouse area was ‘the one that got away’. It took a bit longer to get there than we thought and with a deadline of the organized kayaking we barreled through a walk up to the still-active 140 year old lighthouse and a peek into the restaurant. The restaurant was charming with a fantastic menu boasting many gluten-free options, sitting in a red and white weathered building overlooking the water. Touted as ‘globally inspired and locally grown’ dishes which caught my eye included Pickled PEI mussels and green beans, Fiddleheads served with thyme, sundried tomatoes, feta & white balsamic, Fresh lobster, pickled lemon, tobiko, baby greens & avocado aioli served with fresh yukon potatoes, Tender duck, local cheese curds, peppercorn sauce & Piri Piri, Hand rolled pasta with scallops, shrimp, lobster, mussels, leeks, shaved parmesan & dill cream sauce and if I share anymore I will start to cry! You can see why we were dying to eat there. Without time enough for lunch and due to an unforseen early closing for dinner that night, it wasn’t in the cards for us. The setting atop the cliff, isolated out of town felt like such a find. There is also an artisan shop, ziplining and more to explore.
Our drive back to Alma left us barely enough to change and grab a bite at the Wharfside Patio and Take-Out offering basic grilled and fried foods and we looped back for local ice cream after our kayak tour!
Fresh Air Adventure is the local kayaking excursion group offering several different outings. We booked a half day tour which left in the afternoon following an extensive safety briefing. We were driven into Fundy National Park and put in (double kayaks) very near a heated salt water pool open to the public during the summer months. On shore practice and a further briefing on our gear set us up for a great exploration of the coastline including a bald eagle sighting. During a mid-paddle break on a desolate rocky coastal beach the guides shared more of the local area lore, an explanation of the tides as well as great local snacks including locally famous cinnamon rolls from Kelly’s Bake Shop, which sadly were not gluten-free. The tours are artfully organized around the tidal flow as the return ends in the estuary across the street from the Fresh Air Adventure offices. It was a fantastic way to see the bay and no prior experience is necessary. Multiple guides accompany the tours and keep close watch on the paddlers.
Valuing our smart phones we kayaked device free so can’t share any pics but the following video advertising Fresh Air Adventure offers some scenes and a fantastic view of the tidal impact on the area. It’s a short watch but worth it to experience the vast tidal change in time elapsed form.
Drenched after the kayaking we zipped back to our room, did a quick change and drove out toward Cape Enrage to Mary’s Point Shorebird Reserve. The reserve is a temporary migratory home to almost 300,000 Semipalmated Sandpipers traveling from subarctic Canada to South America in the fall (mid-July to mid-August). The sandpipers rest and bulk up on mud shrimp and other crustaceans often almost doubling their weight during their short time at Mary’s Point. I read one article saying some become so fattened up they have trouble flying afterwards! We hustled out during the waning light of day only to find a roped off area so as to not disturb the birds and another family who said the sandpipers apparently could not be viewed because ducks had scared them off. There is a small information center at the reserve.
Questing for some authentic off-the-beaten path food for dinner I located the Octopus’s Garden, a restaurant on the far edge of Alma (to put that into context Alma is really only about 8 blocks long) serving up homemade pastas including homemade gluten-free pasta. They closed later than most restaurants in Alma (being a working fishing town hours are often geared for the working locals) and kindly held a table for us as we drove like maniacs along the gravel roads from the Mary’s Point outing. This Saturday night there was a band playing and we nestled up in their loft dining area with local wine and beer, beautiful handmade pastas as well as nabbed some homemade treats for our drive to Quebec City the following morning. Like Cape Enrage, I wish I would have located the Octopus’s Garden before arriving in Alma. Their breakfasts looked incredible and they easily accommodated gluten-free diners.
A location that is very famous near Alma are the Hopewell Rocks. Huge prehistoric looking rock formations are revealed at low tide, complete with trees growing on top of them. It’s a breathtaking sight to behold as one walks along the ocean floor. Due to the low tide timing and being high tourism season we did not visit but it’s something to consider if in the area.
Unlike many of the other spots along our trip Alma is a year round destination with winter activities available as well as those of summer. More details may be found on the website for the Village of Alma.