Hopping onto the massive Grand Manan Ferry from Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick – it’s hard not to anticipate what lies on the the largest island in the Bay of Fundy. A light fog had settled over the water, limiting visibility. We overheard from some locals that it would open up by the time we got to Grand Manan Island. As the engines roared to life and our boat pushed off from the jetty, we watched as “Land, ho!” became “Land, No Mo!” – our hour and a half journey to the island officially began. Standing atop of the upper deck, seabirds bid us farewell as we left the mainland of New Brunswick.
Blacks Harbour to Grand Manan
The hour and a half ride flew by thanks to the luxury ride by Grand Manan Ferry Service. With flat screens located all over the passenger deck, a cafeteria, a superb viewing deck, and some of the comfiest seats you’ll find on a ship, it made getting off the boat seem like a chore. Climbing up to the upper deck, we took in our last bit of open sea air. As predicted by the locals, the fog opened up just as the Ferry approached the island – making for a unique vista of wet rocks, sharp cliffs, lush trees, and warm glowing fog.
The Marathon Inn
As the ferry unloaded its passengers and cargo, I drove our rental car two minutes from the island jetty to the Marathon Inn. Accommodations are pretty limited on this little island in the middle of the Bay of Fundy; but you’ll find all the comforts of home in this old manor. Located just up the road from the Post Office and the delightfully decadano Island Arts Cafe. Speaking to Jim, the owner of the Marathon Inn, it’s clear to see he’s passionate about life on the island. A tour through the Marathon Inn allows you to explore every creak in the wood floors and take in the Grand Manan decor of this old cozy house.
Hike The Island Trails
A visit to Grand Manan Island wouldn’t be complete without a few hikes. I was craving some outdoor experiences, which eventually ended with an evening hike up to the Swallowtail lightstation. This lighthouse is great for photos and provides a superb view of the large expanse of the Bay of Fundy. If the cliffside winds of the lighthouse hike scare you off, hang tight until the morning for a drive to Anchorage Provincial Park. There’s a few light hiking trails with hidden viewing cabins, which have been setup for bird watchers and wildlife fanatics. The trails to the station are pretty tame in comparison to some of the more experienced trails, such as those at Hole in the Wall campgrounds – they have a large network of hiking trails, perfect for getting your heart going and even better for snapping photos!
Sea Kayaking in the Bay of Fundy
Being surrounded with the largest tides in the world, some of the most picturesque scenery, and an ongoing amount of whales visiting the island, there’s no reason not to get out on the open water in a sea kayak. The fine folks at Adventure High on Grand Manan Island, located on Route 776, a short 2 minute drive from the Marathon Inn, warmly welcomed us to the island. Our guide for the day was Elliott, a local who’s spent the majority of his life on Grand Manan Island. His knowledge of the history of the island was superb, and his patience and advice he provided Riley, a first timer to the world of kayaking, was second to none.
We paddled towards the Swallowtail lighthouse to take in the view from below. An old lighthouse that proudly looks over the shores of the island. Remnants of the history of the lighthouse could be found all around, including lifts that would supply the lighthouse keeper with goods that kept him alive during the entire year. We paddled through massive wooden spikes that had been hammered into the ground, my prairie upbringing forced me to ask “What’s with the wood?” – Elliott explained that Grand Manan is home to countless Fishing Weirs. Fish are trapped with the large tidal bores and these massive netted fences, then hauled from the waters once they’re full. My flatlander mind was officially blown. Sea Kayaking around Grand Manan Island is a must-do activity! It really lets you appreciate the size of the island.
The North Head Bakery
Grand Manan Island is also home to a cute little bakery, serving some of the freshest goods you can find on the island. Walking into this little shop, the smell of fresh baked bread and coffee flood your senses, practically forcing you to whip out your wallet and scream “Please, I’ll take anything! It all smells so good!“. The friendly staff welcomes each visitor as if they’re a local, smiling and happily explaining what baked goods you’re staring at longingly for. Be sure to stop by around lunch for their home made pizza. During my lunch time stop they were serving Oregano Parmesan Pizza – after finishing my giant slice it was hard not to jump over the front counter and hug the staff for baking that magical slice. A visit to Grand Manan Island requires at least one visit to this shop of tasty dreams come true.
Driving back to North Head from Anchorage Provincial Park, be sure to make a quick stop into Castalia Marsh, a serene topography change that covers a good chunk of the island. A small boardwalk and a few paths allow you to walk through the marsh without getting stuck. The flat surface of the marsh gives you a great appreciation for the elevation changes on the island. If you’re big into bird watching, be sure to check out the Castalia Marsh Retreat, where you can stay in some beautiful little cabins that overlook North Head, Swallowtail lightstation, and the Bay of Fundy.
Hole in the Wall
Whether you’re looking for a unique camping experience, or to see an incredibly old geological formation, a quick jaunt north of North Head will bring you to Hole in the Wall Campgrounds. The grounds are open to hikers and campers (camping will cost you a bit, hiking is free). If you’ve never had the luxury of camping on a cliff side overlooking the Bay of Fundy – this is hands down the best place to do it. Hike the 15 – 20 minute trail to Hole in the Wall and find one of Grand Manan’s most photographed formations. The stone arch leaps out of the water connecting to the sharp edges of Grand Manan Island.
I hate using the cliche words like ‘Hidden Gem’, ‘Quaint’, ‘Unique and mystifying’, but there’s no better words in the english language to describe Grand Manan Island. From the friendly locals, to the scenic drives, to the rugged beauty, to the interesting history of the island, it’s no wonder that visitors from all over the world will somehow or another find a way to this little island in the Bay of Fundy. If you’re going to stop at all in New Brunswick, a side trip to Grand Manan Island is well worth the effort!