saint john & the bay of fundy

We spent four nights in Saint John, New Brunswick, from which we visited Fundy National Park, the Bay of Fundy, Ministers Island, and St. Andrews by-the-Sea, as well as exploring the city of Saint John.

Thursday, September 29, 2022: I wrote about our drive to Saint John and our visit to Sackville Waterfowl Park here: heading to saint john, new brunswick by way of sackville.

Fundy National Park

Friday, September 30: We got a relatively early start today since we had a longish drive to Fundy National Park. The park preserves unique wilderness on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. It has wilderness areas, as well as beaches, rocky headlands, sea caves and inlets, wildlife and stunning vistas.

This 206-square-km (80 sq. miles) park was New Brunswick’s first national park and serves as a microcosm of New Brunswick’s inland and coastal climates. It has been designated as a Dark Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Among the most scenic of the park’s 100km of biking and hiking trails is Laverty Falls, a 2 1/2 km (1 1/2 mi) trail that descends through hardwood forests to Laverty Waterfall.

We made a quick stop at Wolfe Lake to see what maps we could get from the Visitor Center. The ranger told us she thought the dirt access road to the Laverty Falls Trail was closed due to fallen trees felled by Hurricane Fiona.


Hoping she was wrong, we drove there anywaw to find the crews had cleared all the trees and we were able to drive up the very long road. When we got to the parking lot, we were the only ones there.  It was quite cold, so I was all bundled up in layers, a fuzzy hat and gloves, but because the trail was a descent followed by an ascent, I had taken off most layers by the time we returned to the top.

I prefer to hike with wide open vistas, but the Laverty Falls hike was all in a forest. The forest seemed rather magical, however, with its golden ferns, spaced-out pine trees, moss-covered glades, and dappled light. Likely because of Fiona, there were downed trees and streams flowing down the middle of the path, so it made for some creative rock- and root-hopping. We had the trail almost to ourselves.

We ate bread and cheese on rocks near the beautiful Laverty Waterfall and then made our way back to the top.

After the hike, we drove to the eastern end of Fundy National Park, the bayside, for a viewpoint or two and checked out the small town of Alma where we would stay for one night on our way to Prince Edward Island. To get back to Saint John, we drove through the park again.

We had to stop to see the strange golf course at Fundy that Mike remembered playing as a 12- or 13-year-old when he visited with his parents. The tee for the first hole is at the top of a cliff.

The course, nestled in the Dickson Brook Valley, was designed by course architect Stanley Thompson. It has some tricky greens and some quite taxing elevations, but carts are available.


first tee at the Fundy National Park golf course

The New Brunswick side of the Upper Bay of Fundy was designated by UNESCO in 2007 as a World Biosphere Reserve celebrating the area’s unique ecosystems, landscapes and cultures. Biosphere Reserves aim to improve the relationship between people and their environment by promoting the conservation of biodiversity and fostering sustainable development. Fundy National Park is the heart of this Fundy Biosphere Reserve.

Some interesting facts we learned:

  • Today many agricultural lands are a result of dykes built by the Acadians in the 18th century.
  • Salt marshes form in sheltered areas of tidal mud flats. They are very productive nursery habitats for many species of the Bay and adjacent land.
  • The Acadian Forest is made up of 32 species of trees which form a rich ecosystem that is home to people and a multitude of plant and animal life.
  • Arriving along the Fundy shores in late July from the Canadian Arctic, thousands of shorebirds fatten up on tiny mud shrimp in preparation for a non-stop flight to South America.
  • The Fisherman’s Clock is always changing. Fishing boats can only leave or dock at the wharf when the height of the tide permits. The night time could be morning, noon, or night!
Saint John

After our trip to Fundy National Park, we went out to dinner at Thandi (“East Meets West”) in Saint John. It’s an Asian fusion place but we had Indian food. I enjoyed Korma with shrimp: a mild creamy sauce combined with a mixture of cashews. Mike had Dal Makhani, an Indian lentil delicacy in rich cream sauce with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices.

Mike and I must have been spending too much time together because I got quite annoyed with him after some comments he made about a book I’ve been reading (In the Field by Claire Tacon). I said I couldn’t wait to finish my book. He said, “Why, is it a mystery?” As if a person should only want to find out the ending to a mystery but not any other kind of book. I rarely read mysteries and I’d already told him a lot about this book, which is literary fiction and is set in Nova Scotia. Don’t we want to find out the ending to every genre of book we read? As an English major and an avid reader, I get impatient with his occasional confusion about genres of books and points of view. He said I was being condescending (which I was) and I said he was being condescending (which he was).

On top of that, the waiter kept addressing Mike directly and acting as if I didn’t exist. “Sir, what would you like?” “Sir, can I get you anything else?” It was so patriarchal and annoying. I said, “There are two of us here. And yes, I’m fine, thank you!” I don’t think the guy knew how to speak to women.

Finally, we both relaxed and decided to put it all behind us. We managed to get out of there without strangling each other and the waiter.

We meandered back to our Airbnb, stopping to admire the 1880 Trinity Anglican Church, a Gothic Revival stone church. It was designated a local Historic Place for its architecture and for being the first established congregation in the city.

The port town of Saint John is a much smaller and more industrial city than Halifax.  We saw one of two big cruise ships pulling out of port, a beautiful sunset over the harbor, and some cute shops along the streets.

Back in our Airbnb, we got cozy and watched several more episodes of Virgin River and then cuddled up for the night.

Steps: 19,119; Miles: 8.09.  Drove 176.3 miles.

Saturday, October 1: This morning Mike worked out on the exercise bike on our Airbnb apartment while I had a leisurely morning and a hot bath. Then we went out to explore and learn what we could about the city of Saint John.

Natives of Saint John welcomed explorers Samuel de Champlain and Sieur de Monts when the Frenchmen landed here on St. John the Baptist Day in 1604. It was the first city to be incorporated in Canada in 1785. Nearly two centuries later, residents opened their rocky forested land to 3,000 British Loyalists fleeing the U.S. after the American Revolutionary War, and then an influx of Irish families, thousands who came after the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and then later many thousands more during the Irish potato famine of 1845-1852.

Today cruise ships bring visitors (75 in 2018) that dock at its revitalized waterfront. Now the city has two cruise terminals.

Industry and the salt air combine to give Saint John a weather-beaten quality, but the town also has restored 19th-century wooden and red brick homes as well as modern office buildings, hotels and shops.

Reversing Falls Rapids

We went first thing to see the famous Reversing Falls Rapids in Saint John. The Reversing Falls gorge is the sole drainage outflow for 55,000 square kilometers of land mass in both New Brunswick and the state of Maine.

The strong Fundy tides rise higher than the water level of the Saint John River, so twice each day at the Reversing Falls Rapids, the tide water from the bay pushes the river some 90km (56mi) back upstream and the rapids appear to reverse themselves. We visited first at low tide, around 11:00 a.m. where we saw the rapids of the river flowing toward the bay. At low tide, the full flow of the 724.5km (450mi) Saint John River rolls and swirls through the narrow gorge between Falls View Park and the Irving Pulp & Paper Mill.

We visited again at 4:00 p.m. to see the higher water levels and the rapids going upstream on the river. It is a fascinating phenomenon and we tried many different viewpoints. Sadly, marring the view is that unsightly pulp plant.

Slack tide only lasts for about 20 minutes and happens when the Bay of Fundy waters begin to rise and slow the river’s flow, eventually stopping the flow completely. During the time between these contrary events, the water’s surface rests placidly at slack tide, allowing vessels to come and go through the 150-meter-wide gorge in relative safety. This is the only time that sailboats and pleasure crafts can sail between the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River.

The Reversing Falls Rapids phenomenon is only about 3,000 years old. The phenomenon is blamed on the Bay of Fundy, a dynamic marine ecosystem known for producing the world’s most extreme tides.

Besides viewing the Reversing Falls twice during the day, we wandered around the town, first stopping for coffee at Catapult Coffee (pumpkin spice latte!). One thing we wanted to do today was to visit the New Brunswick Museum, which supposedly covered the history, geology, and culture of New Brunswick. Sadly it was closed because of “the stress on the artifacts due to large numbers of visitors.” They were looking to relocate it to a larger space elsewhere. That left us with not much to do except eat, drink, shop and see the Reversing Rapids.  I did however manage to buy two pairs of earrings and a bookmark at the New Brunswick Museum Gift Shop. 🙂

We wandered through the Saint John City Market (the oldest continuously operating farmer’s market in Canada, dating from 1876),with its offerings of mustards, honey, syrups, produce, boxes of La Croix sparking water, and take-out eateries (but no place to sit).

We ate plenty of greens at Marci’s Salads Reimagined, where I had a La Mixta salad and Mike a Sweet Root salad.

Of course I always manage to sniff out a clothing store. I discovered In Pursuit: The Uptown Boutique, where I tried on lots of clothes. Ever patient Mike rested in a “husband chair” while I perused the shop. I bought a black sweatshirt that says “EAST COAST” and a brown Fair Isle sweater.  I could have bought more if Mike hadn’t been there!

We found some cool murals in our wanderings, one with a giant colorful tortoise and another with an octopus.

Saint John doesn’t have much of a waterfront but plans are underway to re-imagine it. Currently they have a “Container Village” where the cruise ships dock. We wandered through the more than 60 colorful containers but the shops weren’t all that enticing. Calling something a “boutique” when it’s in a container is quite a stretch. Shops open were called Boatique, Beaver Tails, Cannabis NB, The Sugar Spider, and The Vagabond Studios. The village is designed to cater to music events and cruise passengers.

We wandered through the downtown and pretty neighborhoods back to our Airbnb.

We drove over to Reversing Falls Rapids at high tide, around 4:00 p.m. and saw the rapids going up the river.


Reversing Falls at high tide

We stayed in this evening and ate our Thandi leftovers and watched several back-to-back episodes of Virgin River.

Here’s a video of the water in action around the Bay of Fundy.

Steps: 12,025; Miles: 5.09. Drove 14.7 miles.

Sunday, October 2: Today we took a day trip to Ministers Island and St. Andrews by-the-Sea, which I wrote about here: ministers island & st. andrews by-the-sea, new brunswick.

On Monday morning, we would make our way to Alma to see the famous Hopewell Rocks.