Inscribed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of North America – rubbing shoulders with perennial favourites such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone – Canada’s Bay of Fundy is truly one of the most remarkable places on Earth.
Twice a day, a raging torrent of over 100 billion tonnes of Atlantic seawater – equivalent to the combined flow of all the world’s lakes and rivers – funnels into the bay. Crashing into the narrowing channel that separates the shores of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick this creates the most extreme tides in the world.
Framed by a jagged, often pristine coastline of windblown headlands, mist-bound forests and hidden caves, the bay is an area of wild, primal beauty. It also shelters a rich marine life that gorge on the nutrients churned up by the pounding tides. Come in the summer and whale sightings are all but guaranteed.
From snorkelling with salmon to enjoying Canada's most unique culinary adventures, we reveal seven unusual ways to experience the Bay of Fundy.
For a dramatic illustration of the scale and power of Fundy’s tides, head to New Brunswick’s Hopewell Rocks. Here a series of lofty, tree-topped sandstone pinnacles – whittled from the cliffs by melting glaciers over millennia into curious shapes – is scattered along the shore.
At low tide, you can descend on foot to the rust-coloured ocean bed and clamber from cove to cove, navigating mounds of bladderwrack to admire the sensuously patterned striations on these steepling “flowerpot” rocks.
Within just a few hours, as the tides rise – reaching as high as 15m – the rocks are transformed into fir-capped little islands, the narrow channels and arches between them navigable only by sea kayak. It’s a great way to see the sea birds on the rocks, which congregate here in their millions during summer.
In recent years, Canada’s national parks have increasingly gained a reputation for an innovative approach to accommodation. These contraptions have ranged from a cocooned tree bed in Cape Breton to Waterton Lakes’ “tiny home on wheels”; not all of which have made it beyond the pilot phase. One that has is the ingenious Goutte d’Ô at Fundy National Park.
Shaped like a giant water drop and suspended on a hook from a sturdy tree, the cute pod’s proportions are cosy but, with a sofa bed on its main level and a hammock loft, can accommodate an entire family.
It’s an ideal launchpad from which to explore the park’s forested trails or kayak along its rugged shoreline. At night gaze out at the stars from one of the Adirondack chairs – the park is a Dark Sky Preserve – before swaying gently to sleep in the pine-scented forest canopy.
Twice a day, as the incoming tide funnels into the upper bay’s rivers it forms a tidal wave that roars back upstream, temporarily reversing the flow. This bizarre phenomenon is well known to expert surfers, for whom riding the bore during supermoons – when the wave can reach up to 2m – is a technical challenge. In 2013 a pair of Californian pros broke records on the Petitcodiac River, riding the bore for an incredible 29km.
Bore Park in Moncton, New Brunswick, is an ideal vantage point to view this hypnotic spectacle, where the wall of water can fill the banks of the chocolate-brown Petitcodiac in little over an hour.
However, for the biggest thrills, head to Truro in Nova Scotia, where operators run bore rafting tours out to the Shubenacadie River. Crashing through the rapids at ferocious force, you’ll get drenched but it’s an adrenaline kick that’s hard to beat.
Following one of the longest stretches of unbroken coastal wilderness between Florida and Labrador, the Fundy Footpath is one of Canada’s most spectacular hikes.
At 41km it may not seem long but with immense sea cliffs and steep ravines to negotiate, the path gnarly and at times only axe-handle wide, it’s a brutal challenge. It's a trial that’s given an added twist by the complexities of the Bay of Fundy. Here streams turn into rivers with the vicissitudes of the tide, and you’ll find yourself wading chest-deep through crystal-clear pools, which remain chilly even in the height of summer.
Camping wild, with fellow hikers a rarity – you’ll see more vultures than people – it’s as much a test of character as of physical fitness. But completing the route through this epic landscape of primal forest and rocks a quarter of a billion years old is a buzz few other hikes can match.
Across the bay in Nova Scotia, the ochre sands of Burncoat Head Park provide the venue for one of Canada’s most unusual culinary experiences. Over half a dozen auspicious dates each summer, restaurateur Chris Velden decamps from his award-winning restaurant in nearby Summerville to a sheltered cove beneath the cliffs to host a unique gastro adventure: Dining on the Ocean Floor.
With time and tide dictating when diners need to vacate their tables, this is no mean challenge for Velden and his team of expert chefs. As they set up burners and tables, guests take a lesson in foraging, combing rock pools for natural edibles.
As the tide begins to turn, the feast begins: organic cheese and charcuterie, followed by pasture-raised beef with juicy lobster tails, are washed down with peaty local Scotch ale and crisp, floral Tidal Bay wine. Ninety-five percent of ingredients come from within twenty miles of the bay – this is Nova Scotian cooking at its best.
Dessert is served as the sun sets and the tide starts sweeping in at speed; by coffee, it’s time to retreat to the safety of the cliffs. And within an hour, all trace you were here has disappeared.
Close encounters with the world’s most endangered animals are a rare opportunity indeed. But for just a few days each September, you can go eyeball to eyeball with the Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon. Just don a dry suit, mask and snorkel, and glide downstream in the fast-flowing shallows of the Upper Salmon River, one of the bay’s icy tributaries.
Its population dropping from 40,000 in the 1980s to less than 200 by the late 2000s, the salmon has been saved from certain extinction in recent years by an innovative recovery programme. The young salmon (smolts) spend their first couple of years in local streams, and are then collected and released at a pioneering wild salmon conservation site on the island of Grand Manan. Here they hone their wild instincts – essential for future survival – before being released back to their Fundy breeding grounds.
The salmon snorkelling adventure replicates the park scientists’ “swim throughs”, on which they count the fish as they get ready to spawn.
While there may be green shoots of recovery for the Fundy salmon, the plight of the sturgeon – almost extinct in the traditional caviar-producing countries on the Black and Caspian seas – is a tragedy. But not so in the Bay of Fundy, where populations of Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon are thriving in the Saint John River.
The brainchild of biologist Cornell Ceapa, Acadian Sturgeon is an ambitious aquaculture project to farm these remarkable fish ethically and sustainably. At his small fishery at Carter’s Point, New Brunswick, wild and farmed sturgeon coexist side by side and, on reaching maturity, are selectively harvested from strictly controlled quotas. The project is so successful that for over a decade Ceapa has shipped live sturgeon to boost stocks in the Baltic Sea.
Tastings – a nose-to-tail extravaganza (sturgeon tripe, anyone?) running to as many as ten courses – are run year-round at the farm. In July you can even take part in a sturgeon safari, beginning with a 6am boat ride out to check the nets.
The caviar of course is a highlight: savoured from a mother-of-pearl spoon and accompanied – à la mode traditionnelle – by Acadien vodka. Mild and buttery, the farmed varieties are superb but nothing quite matches the eye-popping intensity and richness of the jet-black Acadian Wild as it explodes onto your palate. The only (legal) wild caviar in the world, it’s a uniquely glamorous taste of a more rarefied age.