Friday, May 18, 2012

Primal Wilderness Rambling From Fundy Bay

It’s not all that often that I get to watch a force of nature in action, but there's one in particular I’ve seen and relished twice.

The Bay of Fundy is out on the Atlantic Coast, nestled between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It has the greatest tidal range in the world. At times, the difference between low and high tide can be over fifty feet. Twice a day, billions of tonnes of water flow in and out of the bay. The topography of the ocean floor, the shape of the bay, the currents of the ocean, and the gravitational effect of the Moon all influence the extreme tidal range in the bay.

At high tide, rivers emptying into the bay have their flow reversed, most particularly the Saint John River, where a spot called the Reversing Falls becomes a foaming rapid twice each day, offering whitewater kayakers a formidable challenge.

There are good vantage points on both sides of the bay to take in the view, including Fundy National Park, a number of provincial parks, and wildlife preserve areas. The best place to see the effect of the tides is probably at the Hopewell Rocks on the New Brunswick side of the bay. That’s where I’ve spent time during two East Coast trips. The first was with my parents; the second was with friends enroute to a wedding in Cape Breton. Both times, we spent hours watching the spectacle from low to high tide.

The rocks are submerged by water at high tide, up to a point (you can see where the high-water marks are at low tide). How high the water gets depends on the time of year. At low tide, you can go down to the bottom, then walk among the rocks and along the beaches. Just as long as you keep in mind that the tide will be coming back in. Otherwise you may have yourself a rough day.

The first time I visited, my parents and I arrived as low tide was underway. You could see the water out in the bay, but there was plenty of space to stroll about. I descended the stairs from the main viewing platform, then spent time walking around the flowerpot islands and cliff faces. Occasionally, I’d go back up and chat with my parents at the cafe. I had a sketchbook with me on that trip, so for a time I pencilled sketches of the surroundings. I wasn’t the only one doing that. A number of artistically inclined visitors had come down with sketchbooks or canvases to capture the place in their own way.

The beaches are a lovely spot, so there were couples down there walking hand in hand on the warm summer day. If you’re looking for an offbeat-but-nice romantic stroll setting for characters in a book, this is it. Trust me. On my second visit, it was a cooler, overcast day in the fall, so the walk down on the flats had a more sentimental and foreboding feel.

At a certain point, it was time to move closer in by the stairs. I could see the waters of the bay rising up toward the rocks, signaling time to go. On neither visit were the tides at the highest point, but they did reach the staircases. Anyone still down on the beach at high tide would have had a very unpleasant slog back through waist deep or higher water and against a strong current. For those of us who had minded the clock, watching the height of the tide was a reward for staying on site so long.

To this day, I’m surprised that my father never mentioned leaving. He's normally one for getting back on the road during a trip. Spending more than six hours watching the tide didn’t seem like the sort of thing he’d be interested in doing. Still, there wasn’t a word of impatience out of him while we were there. Instead, he found the place just as fascinating as I did. On the second trip, my friends and I stayed to watch the progression from low to high tide. Of the five of us, two had been there before.

I'm confident that those aren’t the only times I’ll spend there. I fully intend to return. The Bay of Fundy is one of those places that draws you back over and over. Seeing such power in a force of nature, you can’t help wanting to experience it again.

William Kendall is a writer, photographer and rock climber from the Ottawa Valley. When he's not working on his world domination scheme (no golfers allowed), he can be found writing the forthcoming Heaven & Hell, plus his personal blog Speak Of The Devil.


  1. Such a beautiful place. I'm putting it on my Bucket List!

  2. It's a jaw dropping gorgeous spot. A real privilege to see.

    Thanks for posting, Lyn!

  3. Thanks for sharing this wonderfully written piece about one of my favorite subjects. Rocks. Maybe someday I'll get to see those Hopewell rocks and those amazing statuesque monolithic rocks too.

  4. Definitely a place I'd like to visit someday.