Looking out from the coastal viewpoint you can see small treed islands bathing in a sea of calm water. Imagine, just a few hours later, the water is gone and you are able to walk on the sea floor beneath those same islands that are now tall pinnacles. This amazing landscape change is the result of the Bay of Fundy’s World’s Highest Tides.
The Bay of Fundy is a long narrow bay in the Atlantic Ocean. Its borders are New Brunswick in the west and Nova Scotia in the East. The shape and depth of the bay as well as the rocking motion of the water that is timed with the tides results in huge differences in water levels between high and low tides. The difference in water levels can be as much as a remarkable 16.3 m (53.6 ft). These are the largest tidal ranges in the world. In comparison the average tidal range in the world is about 1 m (3 ft) or less.
Anyone in Canada who has taken a sailing course has probably read about the tides in the Bay of Fundy. As part of Our Great Canadian Road Trip we visited a few sites in the Bay of Fundy to see for ourselves the amazing phenomena caused by the world’s highest tides.
Early in the morning we set off to see the tidal bore at Bore Park in downtown Moncton, New Brunswick. The wide Petitcodiac River was almost devoid of water, exposing its muddy bottom.
We weren’t sure what to expect or where to look so we followed the lead of others at the park and waited on a platform near the river. Almost on schedule a 1 metre high wave was making its way up the Petitcodiac River. The long wave extended the entire width of the river and continued to come toward us. As it got closer, we saw a surfer riding the wave. He was able to surf on this continuous wave for almost a kilometer! This was our first introduction to the fascinating world’s highest tides.
A perfect tidal bore happens here because the Petitcodiac River is a flat river with a gentle downstream slope making it higher than the level of the lowest tide on the coast. The river is almost empty of water at low tide. When the tide comes in, water from the bay travels into river and a wave is created as the tidal water travels against the current. The wave in Moncton ranges from 0.5 to 1 m high. Another tidal bore is located in Truro, NS but we weren’t able to get to see it during the tidal bore. We only saw the muddy river at low tide.
A 45 minute drive away from Moncton is Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park. We arrived at the viewpoint at full tide and saw what we thought was a number of small islands with trees and grass on their tops. Kayakers were in the water, paddling between these small islands. The rocks are called flower pots which will make more sense when you see them at low tide.
Three and a half hours later the area looked completely different. What we previously saw as islands in the ocean, were now tall rocks above a muddy seafloor. These rocky sea stacks are huge, ranging from 12 – 21 m (40-70 ft) tall.
It was stunning to see the difference from the same viewpoint we were at only a few hours ago. The difference in water level from high to low tide is between 10 to 14 metres (32 to 46 feet). That is roughly as high as a 5 story building. Imagine that much water coming in and out of the bay, twice a day.
The pictures below are arranged to show the difference in water height at high and low tides. Each pair was taken from the same location.
We walked along the seafloor, jumping over tide pools, walking around mounds of sea grass and avoiding muddy sections below these giant pinnacles. Now we could see why they’re called Flower Pots. The ebb and flow of the tides have eroded the sandstone pinnacles into different shapes. Many resemble flower pots and the greenery on top completes the look. We walked almost 2 km up and down the beach seeing many interesting sea stacks in each cove. In some we saw faces and one even reminded us of a sculpted rock from Phra Phubat Historic Park in Thailand.
Further up the bay, also in the park, is Demoiselles Beach. We visited the beach at full tide when it appears to be a normal beach with muddy sand and a gentle surf. It was fairly cold when we were there so we weren’t tempted to swim. When we returned to Demoiselles Beach during low tide, the water was at least 1 km out from shore and left behind a convoluted beach with sand bars, streams and mud.
A similar site is located in Nova Scotia on the other side the bay. Although not as spectacular as Hopewell Rocks, Burntcoat Head Park actually has the highest tides of them all. The range in water levels at this part of the Bay of Fundy averages 14.5 m (47.5 ft) and can be as much as 16.3 m (53.6 ft). We only visited it during low tide, but after seeing Hopewell Rocks, we could more easily imagine how the area would look full of water.
Just north of Moncton is a cute town that seems more prepared for tourists than Moncton. Shediac is a resort town with a quaint downtown where you can find plenty of hotels and restaurants. Pointe-du-Chene Wharf is a popular spot for swimming and windsurfing. Although it would be 20 minutes further to drive, you may want to think of staying in Shediac instead of Moncton.
Tips for visiting The Bay of Fundy
- It is not possible to visit all of these sites in one day, but you could see both of the New Brunswick or both of the Nova Scotia sites in the same day. There are many more sites along the bay, but we believe these are the most spectacular.
- Make sure to check the tide charts available on the cities and parks’ web sites before your visit. Entry tickets to Hopewell Rocks are valid for 2 consecutive days so you can visit high and low tides on different days. There is usually a time span of 3 – 4 hours when you can visit the sea floor. There is no fee to visit Burnthead Coat Park.
- If you walk on the seafloor your shoes will get very muddy. There are shoe washing stations at both Hopewell Rocks and Burntcoat Head. We wore flip-flops and found them much easier to clean.
- There are a few hotels in Moncton, but the prices seemed quite high for what they offer. Instead look at staying in one of the small towns between Moncton and Hopewell Rocks. Another alternative is to stay in the cute seaside town of Shediac. It would be a longer drive, but a more enjoyable stay.
- New Brunswick is bilingual (French and English). We found are quite a few English speaking people, especially at tourist sites. English is the official language in Nova Scotia and the rest of The Maritimes.
- There is HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. An additional 15% will be added on to most purchase prices.
- Getting to Moncton is easy as it has an international airport and is located along the Trans-Canada Highway. Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park is a 30 minute drive south of Moncton.
- Getting to Truro, Nova Scotia takes a bit more effort but it’s still not difficult. The nearest airport is in Halifax, 90 km away. Truro is located on the Trans-Canada Highway near the border with New Brunswick. Burntcoat Head Provincial Park is 60 km south. You will need your own car or join a tour group to see these sites.
Coming Next – Charming Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island
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