When a road appears passable on google maps only half of the day, and is "subject to extreme tidal conditions," meaning underwater, you have to drop everything and head to this road!
So Mia and I headed straight for the road to Minister’s Island, in Saint Andrews by the Sea, New Brunswick. She was far less excited than I was by driving out into the Bay of Fundy, but by this point had gotten into the spirit of the trip fully. As 90’s baby in an 80’s Mercedes came on the radio, we rumbled out across the cobbles of the “road” and enjoyed the otherworldly aspect of a road which is underwater and then not.
There is so much about the Bay of Fundy that feels a bit magical, a bit other, I would find. The place was magical with impossible tides, and we had given over to the road completely, so we brought our own magic as well.
We were staying in Saint Andrew’s by the Sea after realizing that there was a lot to explore between Lubec and the Fundy National Park, and as John Steinbeck foresaw in Travel’s with Charlie, people can miss seeing everything worthwhile on highways. So we stuck to winding back roads, and losing time, not committing to any schedule. Thank goodness for late season campsites and flexible dates. If anyone has a secret to camping in the summer with the same flexibility (and a dog) please let me know.
The campsite was literally on the water, and in town, but actually was a brilliant way to see the quaint town with ties to Europe and Colonial Maine.
Saint Andrews has a uniquely European Colonial history, a mix of French Colonial Loyalist, Scottish and Irish heritage. Many of the houses in town are originally from Castine, Maine which in the 17th and 18th century was a part of the French Colonial Region of Acadia reaching far up into what we now know as Canadian New Brunswick, and even briefly the capital. At the end of the Revolutionary war when the outcome was clear many of the Loyalist families dismantled their homes and floated them up on barges to Canada and founded Saint Andrews; an unimaginable feat in those times, but the town is proud of its clear New England look.
A mournful celtic cross overlooking the Passamaquoddy Bay remembers the hundreds of Irish Famine refugees, seeking asylum in Canada and the America’s, but who made it no further than the quarantine station and are buried there with this as their only marker.
The Algonquin Resort St. Andrews By-The-Sea, reminds me much of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington hotel, a rare time capsule of a bygone holiday making era, and had I been in a different head space, I would have stayed in town and taken some of the day cruises around the outer Bay of Fundy and checked out the surprisingly affordable hotel. But we were for the road, so after briefly giving up solitude for the great company at the town coffee shop we were off again.
Further up the coast we reached the Village of Saint Martins. The few buildings that essentially are downtown St Martins, once a key industrial ship building town and now reduced to few inhabitants living off tourism, this is the story of so many towns in New Brunswick. Key but unsustainable industries like logging destroyed other critical industries such as fishing, and so in spite of once having had a boom period, commerce and the population slumped in the 20th century. Skeletal evidence of piers on beaches once bustling with shipbuilding, apple orchards amid silent woods, beaches and rivers with names like Herring Cove and Salmon run are all that remain of this era.
Saint Martin is now the entrance to Fundy Trail Parkway and the Saint Martin’s Sea Caves, but be sure to give the drive at least half a day, as you will want to stop and explore along the beautiful drive. Sadly I didn't know the road closed at 5, and so we were going 40 mph, instead of 40 km, to see it all before they closed (I know, super responsible, when getting locked in there to camp actually would have been rather ideal really.) It's an out and back road also, which is sort of odd, as the Fundy National Park is not too far beyond the end of the trail. There has been talk of connecting them but no action, I was told in town.
The beaches, cliffs, and views were all stunning and poor timing on this section is the only regret of my trip. There was one beach straight out of Goonies which we could have spent an entire afternoon, but that is why I always plan on going back to places. There is a through hike on the Fundy Trail, 50 km, but considered challenging because of isolation and constant up and down trails, which is definitely also on the return list!
The Sea Caves in Saint Martin are a part of The UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve are worth a visit, as with keep an eye on the tide, for the caves aim for low tide. For scale, the tiny red dots on the left are people.
Visiting the caves, and the stacks of Hopewell Rocks (at the top of the Back of Fundy) brought to mind a story from when I was little, of a town, drowned beneath the sea. All the inhabitants slept, and in storms, main landers could hear the church bell ring - that is not a bell buoy you hear at night, but church bells in the turret, ringing in the waves. And at the fullest moon, low tide the town would be uncovered, the people would wake up and go about life as if nothing usual had occurred. Until the tide came in and they slept again til the next great tide.
The story stuck with me, clearly, and at the Bay of Fundy where the tides are 4 stories tall, and on the upper cape the tides pulls in and out across miles of clay flats daily, the old story seems entirely plausible.
Such a mind-bending place - I love when nature is even better than the imagination.
From Saint Martin we headed to Alma and the Bay of Fundy National Park a few hours north, although geographically quite close, along rural New Brunswick roads in fading autumn light. It was the opening of the lobster season in Fundy and Mia and I sat in camp listening to music from the Harbor below in Alma as they prepare for the blessing of the fleet in the morning. It was striking how the threads, the core even, of the music connected so clearly to Celtic traditions, and also American country. We are all so connected, more than we remember in our worse moments. Traveling on this trip, around the American election time, with so much hate and divisiveness, and seeing so many reminders of our collective immigrant history and our global cultures was an important reminder, even for me, who has lived around the world and feels informed.
In rural Alma, I had flashbacks to the scenes in the Proposal, upon seeing the billing for Thursday nights local entertainment in the town Alma; it said “Part time comedian, full time cardiac surgeon.” In a town this small everyone pitches in and wears many hats. It went on to explain that the local surgeon was also a natural as a comedian, and almost like the real thing, and really had to be seen to be believed. I love this aspect of traveling, the human unique stories which you simply need to see to believe and remind everyone's story is of value and has great texture.
Mia and I spent a full day exploring the sights of the Fundy National Park, but stuck mostly to the coast, always keeping an eye on the tides. Poor Mia was feeling a bit creaky from the cold nights of camping in spite of wearing my old Marmot jacket so we took it easy on hikes through apple orchards that spoke of former logging camps and enjoyed sunny naps on the beaches.
I am completely smitten by the Salt Water ranches on the Cape of New Brunswick, south of Hopewell Rocks, and north of the Fundy National Park. It is so extraordinary to see the sea pull miles away daily, and cattle and horses grazing out on the salt fields. Just another world, and a mixing of ranch life and sea craft. I can only imagine how hard it is to make a living, but it looks so wild and unique I sat on the hillsides taking it all in - photo cannot do justice to the view.
All in all, I was ready to point the car North or West, or East to the Islands, and just keep on going and become a part of the #vanlife movement, or in our case #volvolife. The trip reminded me how easy it is to drive away from ones house and into adventures, any direction and a bit of advanced planning will do. I will be hitting the road again soon, just have to let Mia thaw out a bit first.