Revealing roads, wondrous whales and lovely lighthouses
Road Diary update from New Brunswick. Click here to read the previous update from this road trip around Maritime Canada.
We were met with an overcast day, our first so far on this Maritime Canada road trip. We set off for St. Andrews, but along the way we stopped by New River Beach park for a hike. When we arrived with just a few people in sight, all of whom were getting their kayaks prepared for a good paddle. The beach in this area is quite an expansive stretch of sand, I can imagine during a nice day it could get quite crowded.
Chris (my videographer and sidekick for the trip) and I headed toward the Barnaby Head coastal trail. It didn’t take but a moment past the trail-head marker before we were ensconced within a dense canopy of trees and fauna. Both Chris and I remarked that it reminded us of the Pacific Northwest, Chris being from Oregon, and me from Seattle. Inside this forest, the overcast skies did not matter. It was a lovely hike met with bends in the trail, curvy boardwalks and covered bridges.
We had to cut our hike a bit short because our next stop had an expiration. Back on the road we continued our drive toward St. Andrews, but just before reaching this seaside community, we veered left down a road that took us toward Ministers Island. The reason this excursion had an expiration (or time limit) is that the road to access the island is revealed only during low tide. The rest of the time it is covered in many feet of water. Given my experience getting the car stuck in rocks and sand the day before, it was with some trepidation that I considered this crossing. It was not until I saw a car proceed before me that I felt more comfortable driving on a road that just half an hour earlier was covered in water. “How solid could it be?” I thought to myself. Click the following link to read more about Ministers Island and to watch a video we shot.
While we still had some time before the tide would cover the road connecting Ministers Island with the mainland, we did need to move on as we had reservations with a whale watching outfit. After finding a place to park, we walked over to Fundy Tide Runners, which is located near the long pier in town. During the safety and check-in process, we were provided with these arctic-looking full-suit flotation outfits—along with gloves if we wanted them (we both regretfully passed on the gloves). While it was cloudy, it was a pretty pleasant day—being all bundled up quickly became unpleasantly warm. It wasn’t much later before I would long to be that warm again. Once on the water, close to the surface, in a high-speed Zodiac, the temperature quickly dropped. The combination of wind chill and actual temperature being close to the water made me question why I had not worn a coat underneath the flotation suit.
It took a while before we got out of the harbor, around a series of islands and into the open sea, but once we did, it wasn’t long before our captain spotted some whales. In quick order we were pretty close. It was just amazing seeing these massive mammals breach the water. Our actual sightseeing didn’t last that long, maybe 40 minutes or so. Just before the captain started the engines to head back, he spotted a whale coming toward our boat. He quickly pointed and said “Watch, this one is coming right for us.” All of us holding our breaths it seemed, and just before reaching our boat, I mean maybe 20 feet away, the massive whale breached right in front of us and then dove straight under our boat. It was a sensational ending to our whale watching adventure. The ride back however, was chilly once again, but it sure was worth it.
When we got back to the dock and relinquished our whale watching attire, we headed to our hotel for the evening…the Algonquin Resort. As soon as I stepped into this hotel property, I knew it had many stories it could tell. Originally built in 1889 after the completion of the coast-to-coast rail system, the Algonquin has hosted many dignitaries and the affluent. In 1914 the hotel was severely damage by a fire. While this was devastating for all who cherished the Algonquin, it did provide an opportunity to update the hotel with all the modern conveniences of the day, such as electricity and telephones. The reconstructive costs were a staggering $800,000, which forced owners to raise the room rates to an unheard of $4/day. For well over a century the Algonquin has continued to charm its guests with its unique architecture and outstanding service.
After getting settle in our rooms, we headed down to Braxton’s, the fine-dining restaurant located within the main building. It had been a fun, but very long day, so it was nice to finally retire to the comfort of our luxurious rooms.
Day Two to Grand Manan
The next morning I was able to hit the links. It was a beautifully sunny day, picture perfect for a round of golf. The Algonquin golf course has actually been around five years longer than the hotel itself—it opened back in 1894 and features the oldest clubhouse in all of Canada. The course seems to take full advantage of its location, right on the shores of the Passamaquoddy Bay. There are beautiful vistas and breathtaking scenery around each hole. The oceanfront sequence of holes on the back nine is particular special. The course is currently under a major renovation, and once it is complete, I imagine it will be considered one of the nicest course in the world.
Later that afternoon, Chris and I headed to Black’s Harbor to catch a ferry to Grand Manan Island. This was a much shorter crossing than the one we took from Digby, NS to New Brunswick. With the car parked in the queue of the ferry terminal, waiting for the ferry to arrive, Chris and I went off to explore a bit. We noticed the tide was out quite a ways and saw access to a small hill, what would be an island when the tide came in. I ended up noticing a rope with knots in it, which allowed me to climb up the face of the hill and access the top. Once there, a trail through the trees had been beaten to the other side, which revealed a nice view of the water. I just love going off and exploring little things like this.
We soon boarded the ferry and were on our way to Grand Manan. It had clouded up, so Chris and I found a table to whip out our laptops to do a bit of work. A bit more than an hour later we arrived at the shores of Grand Manan. A very short drive from the ferry terminal was our accommodations for the next two nights, the Island Home Bed and Breakfast. As soon as we walked in we found the wonderful scents in the air quite inviting. The front part of the B&B is a gift shop, so the sweet fragrances must have been emanating from candles or potpourri, however it almost smelled like freshly baked cookies. Either way, it was a nice welcome. Once checked in we made our way upstairs to our respective rooms, where we found a common area for reading or just to have a nice conversation. The rooms and the common areas are nicely decorated with a cottage-chic look.
We heard one of the best places on the island for dinner was at the Whale Cove Cottages, another B&B of sorts, but a larger property with a full time restaurant. Thankfully we were not steered wrong as it was a lovely place for dinner. The hilltop views were pretty great too. We had finished dinner early enough to catch a sunset, and the light seemed perfect to capture one. We asked some of the locals where a good spot might be and they suggested the Long Eddy Point Lighthouse. We arrived just in the nick of time to set up cameras for both still and video footage. The sunset was indeed a good one, made more so by the silhouetted lighthouse.
The next day was a really nice and relaxing one. At our leisure we merely explore the island, which is small enough to get lost, without worrying about being lost. One of the highlights of the day was visiting the Swallowtail Lightstation. Visitors must park at a hilltop a ways away and walk to the lighthouse, which is part of the charm. The first inkling of something special was after walking down a steep set of stairs and encountering a small isthmus of sorts, where I could see water on both sides of land that juts out to the sea, sort of like a swallowtail I suppose. The walk toward the lighthouse is a rocky terrain with some grass and a few sparse trees. Nearing the beacon, the trail is exchanged for a wooden boardwalk/bridge that leads right up to one of the most photographed lighthouses in all of New Brunswick. The wonderful panoramic view of coastline, coupled with the historic significance makes Swallowtail Lightstation a coveted setting for photographers, artists and sightseers.
For lunch we stopped by a charming little French bistro near our B&B called Bleu Marie, where Chris and I both had delicious savory crapes. With our appetites satisfied, we headed to Hole-in-the-Wall park for some light hiking to a place where we could see a large hole in the rock. Chris kept trying to get me to fly my drone through it, but given that I had just lost one trying to fly through a similar situation in Los Cabos, Mexico, I decided against it. After our hike we drive along a dirt coastal road within the park where campsites are set up. We found a spot with a picnic table and just sat for a few taking in the extraordinary views. If you’re into camping, this would be an amazing spot to do it.
Tomorrow morning we catch the first ferry of the day and head to Fundy National Park. Click here to read the next Road Diary update from this New Brunswick Maritime Canada road trip.