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Hopping across Hopewell Rocks

The river laced itself through the curving valley far below.  The adjacent hills were smooth and brown without a trace of vegetation. I gazed through my binoculars to get a better view of this strange site, and startled. The landscape was not denuded hills and valleys, but the formations of the mud flats of Demoiselle Beach on the Bay of Fundy.  The river, sometimes referred to as the ‘chocolate river,’ was the flow of water from streams that ebb into the bay – hidden at high tide.  I was visiting the provincial park at Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick, and site of the world’s highest and lowest tides. 

I wanted to be able to walk on the ocean floor, so headed down the steep path towards Flower Pot Rocks, advertised as a 20 – 30 minute walk.  I had envisioned having to inch my way down a ladder to reach the beach.   Instead, the wide path of packed gravel was easy to maneuver, with handrails at particularly steep curves.  The trail wound through lush shrubs and trees where birds were swinging and chirping.  However, I did not have time to stop and search them out, as it was early evening.  The ocean floor is accessible for three hours before, and three hours after, low tide. I only had an hour before the tide rolled back in, making the beach impassable. At the bottom, there was a convenience area with restrooms, a snack bar, boot wash and first aid station.  However, where was the beach?

Flowerpot Rocks

I ambled over to the viewing platform and spotted a gaggle of people walking on the beach – still far below – and sure enough, there were the stairs!  I gulped and headed down the sixty-five steps until I was standing on the rocks of the ocean bottom.  It was an amazing experience to realize that in a few hours, the water would be lapping at the top of the stairs.

It was hard to know where to explore first.  Peek behind the rock formations, peer into the tide pools, study the unique geology or wander the pebble tide flats.

The surface of the ocean floor at this location was primarily rock.  Some of the beach explorers had not heeded the brochure’s advice to ‘wear appropriate footwear.’ Shod in flip-flops and platform sandals, they were having difficulty maneuvering the muddy rocks. 

I felt dwarfed as I walked between tall mushroom-shaped rock formations – the Flowerpot Rocks. Melting glaciers carved the bowl-shaped tidal basin and the action of the ocean over millions of years gradually ate away the rock, leaving sandstone pinnacles.  The evergreens thriving on their top notches, give the impression of potted plants. 

I rounded the rock formations and found myself at North Beach.  Tidal action continues to nibble away at the edges of the cliffs. Cabled off areas and numerous signs warned of the potential danger of falling rock.  North Beach, however, was more open and gravely than the area around the Flowerpot Rocks.  By the end of July, the first wave of the two to three million Semi-palmated Sandpipers, and other shorebirds, would begin arriving from their arctic nesting grounds.  North Beach is their ‘staging area’ – where they feast on mud shrimp at low tide and add weight before flying 4,000 miles non-stop to their tropical wintering grounds in South America. 

From the end of North Beach, there are only 20 steps to the road above.  From there I could walk up the road to the convenience area, where I opted to ride the shuttle to the Interpretive Center – a $1.50 well spent!

The Interpretive Center has a multi-media exhibit where I learned about the unique tidal patterns in the Bay of Fundy. The geography, as well as the timing of the tides, creates the tidal extremes.  The bay is funnel-shaped. It is widest between Maine and the tip of Nova Scotia, and narrows and becomes shallower over the approximately 180 miles in length, culminating just north of Hopewell Cape. The length of time it takes for the tide to reach the entire stretch of the bay is the same amount of time it takes for the tide initially to come in from the Gulf of Maine, moving about six to eight vertical feet per hour. This creates a condition similar to a child sloshing water in a bathtub.  In fact, the Bay of Fundy’s nickname is ‘the world’s largest bathtub’ – one that contains 100 billion tons of water!  At high tide, the depth of the water is equivalent to a four-story building.  

Demoiselle Beach mud flats

At the Tidal Treasures Gift Shop, I browsed through a delightful variety of Canadian-made products.  The High Tide Café offers seafood and other light meals in a self-service format.  Alternatively, you can visit the Low Tide Café for refreshments or a light snack. Visitors can enjoy their meal on the deck overlooking the Bay of Fundy.  There are numerous tables sprinkled throughout the park for visitors who bring their own picnic.

The literature suggests visiting the park at both high and low tides, and the entrance fee is valid for 24 hours.  Baymount Outdoor Adventures offers kayaking tours during high tide from June to September. No previous experience is necessary and basic instruction is included as part of the 1 ½ – 2 hour adventure. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy this opportunity.

My memories of this oceanic wonder made a lasting impression.


GETTING THERE: From Moncton, take the Riverview Causeway and follow the “Fundy” signs south on Route # 114 to Hopewell Cape, or take the Gunningsville Bridge to Riverview, turn left on Route #114 to Hopewell Cape. (Trailers and RVs cannot drive across the Gunningsville Bridge.) Distance/Time: 47 km/29 mi; approximately 35 minutes. From Saint John, take Highway #1 past Sussex to Exit #211, then Route #114 through Fundy National Park to Hopewell Cape. Distance/Time: 189 km/117 mi; approximately 2 hours. 

PARK INFORMATION:  The park is open from mid May through early October.  Check the website for hours of operation, rates and tide tables. 

LODGING AND MEALS: There are several motels nearby.  I stayed at the Hopewell Rocks Motel and Country Inn, where a hot breakfast their restaurant is included with the night’s lodging. The restaurant, serving country-style food is the only dining establishment in the area. There are four bed and breakfast inns, and the Ponderosa Pines Park Family Campground offer tenting and trailer sites.

NEARBY ATTRACTIONS:  Ten minutes south of Hopewell Rocks are two points of interest: Mary’s Point Shorebird Preserve and Cape Enrage. Turn onto Route 915 at Riverside Albert and follow the signs. Fundy National Park is 30 minutes south of Hopewell Rocks and offers a variety of beach and forest hiking trails and campgrounds.

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