Our main objective on this first real day of biking were the cliffs at the southwest tip of the island. However, because it was early and still foggy, we decided to detour off the highway to the Anchorage Provincial Park, located along the seashore, in order to give the fog more time to burn off.
We found this to be a very well-organized and clean looking site. There were quite a few campers there in campervans and some in tents - many from different parts of USA. This looks like a great spot to camp if you ever get the chance (no hook-ups though).
A narrow spit of land separates Big Pond and Long Pond from the waves of the Bay of Fundy. We took a short ride along the road that leads to these two ponds before heading back to the main part of the Park. There we met a photographer from Ontario who was carrying two huge cameras. We stopped to ask him if he had made any good sightings (one camera had a 500-mm lens with a 2x converter connected to a digital body for further magnifications!). He said that he had seen bald eagles briefly and a few warblers but was off to other parts of the Park for further viewing.
Rather than head back out to the main highway, we opted to continue along the coast on a footpath that the receptionist at Sea-Land Adventures (now called Castalia Marsh Retreat) had mentioned to us.
Moving forward to my 2004 biking trip, once the rain had let up on the first afternoon of this most recent trip to the island, my buddy and I cycled a short distance out to the walkways and picnic sites at the Castalia Marsh. Although it was still a bit foggy, we had a fairly good view of the bird population in the area, mostly wild ducks, Canada Geese, cormorants and sea-gulls on this day. As we sat beside the wild-rose bushes sipping on beers and snacking on cheese and crackers, we were amazed to see the antics of the sea-gulls. They would repeatedly fly up off the rocks along the beach with the tide out, carrying what looked like huge clams in their beaks and then they would drop them onto the rocks below. As smart as Chimpanzees?? PS - Russell had the bright idea of using plastic bags over his dry socks to protect them from his soaking sneakers!
This island has peaceful hiking trails all around its perimeter with multiple access points for a long or short hike. Beyond each corner is a different vista of the ocean from just forty feet or so to several hundred above the sea's surface. During the hike it is possible to see whales and seals, or many kinds of seabirds and warblers and land birds. The sound of the fog horns sometimes creates an eery sense of being in an untouched world from many years ago.
We chose Whales-n-Sails Adventures for our midday whale watch in the Bay of Fundy. Weather-permitting, the Elsie Minota sailboat makes two trips a day (at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.), using wind power so as to cause the least disturbance to the whales, seabirds, sharks, and seals. The sailboat's capacity is 46 passengers, and the crew is knowledgeable and friendly. The ticket price (Adult $60, Child $40) includes free hot fish chowder and unlimited hot cocoa, tea, and coffee. Remember to dress warmly. Regardless of how hot it is onshore, it tends to get chilly out on the open ocean. You won't be disappointed!
The western side of Grand Manan is composed of high basalt cliffs, rising between 200-350 feet above the sea. At Southwest Head, where one of the island's lighthouses is located, the 200-ft cliffs are made up of strange-looking octagonal basaltic rock columns. There are fractures everywhere and the columns look like they could give way at any moment to the batterings of wind, water or ice.
It was here in February, 1963 that a dramatic rescue took place when Billy and Floyd Jones, two middle-aged brothers from Maine USA, out collecting periwinkles (a snail-like shellfish) were caught in a sudden winter storm that swept them 15 miles across the freezing open waters to Grand Manan after the engine in their small boat had failed. Finally fetching up at the foot of these cliffs, they clung to the rocky shore in biting cold winds. Realizing that they were going to die, the 42-year old eldest brother began to scale the cliffs toward the lighthouse that he could see flashing its signal above. Somehow, 3 hours later, he made it to the top through the 50 mph winds and blowing snow, managing to reach the lighthouse keeper to rouse him for help. The word went out to the fishermen at nearby Seal Cove and they quickly converged on the dark scene. One of them, an average 46-year old former fisherman, Vern Bagley volunteered to go down tied to a rope to see what he could do.
It was a perilous journey as he zig-zagged across the cliff face before finally reaching the now unconsious survivor. Tieing him to his body, Vern pulled the rope to signal that he was ready for the ascent. Fighting tree stumps, rocks and boulders on the way up with his cargo, the fisherman made his way to within 25 feet of the cliff top before exhaustion and cold stopped him. He stuffed his passenger behind a boulder and went on alone to enable someone else to come down and complete the rescue 90 minutes after he had begun his descent.
Both brothers survived without major problems and Vern Bagley was awarded the (US) Carnegie Silver Medal for heroism.
At the end of our 3-day trip, with only 2 hours before the ferry left for the mainland, we left on a short 6 km road to the most northerly part of the island - Long Eddy Point.
This road proved to be the most hill-challenged of them all, it had one really long but not too steep hill as well as a couple of shorter but steeper ones near the Point. As I coasted down toward sea level, I rounded a sharp turn and saw the Long Eddy Point Lighthouse before me. I had been braking for the turn but began to brake even more as I saw that we had suddenly come upon the lighthouse. There was a rough gravel parking spot beside the road here with a couple of cars and a van parked in it. Before I even realized what was happening, my front wheel slid sideways on gravel that been thrown up onto the pavement by various vehicles using this spot, and the bike slid out from under me while I was still moving at a good clip! It must have been my old sports activities kicking in, somehow I came clear of the bike, landing on my feet running while trying to stay upright on the gravel. Then I saw the cars and vans rapidly approaching so I applied my leg brakes to manage a controlled stop without either losing my footing on the gravel or smashing into the side of one of the vehicles. I was letting out a great whoop as I went on this roller-coaster ride!! Russell, who was following me, said that he wished he had a video camera on-hand for this one!
The bonus was that a large group of American tourists from Pennsylvania were sitting on a whale watching platform. After they recovered from my antics, they shouted that they had seen whales off the coast. Sure enough, after some careful watching just beyond the lighthouse in the photo, we spotted Minke whales surfacing and diving! Our first sighting for this trip! Their presence must have been due to the huge currents or eddies stirred up as the waters passed this tip of land. From shore you could actually see the ripples on the surface as the huge tides moved tons of sea water past the point.
On our final morning on the Island, we biked back to North Head to do some shorter biking trips at the north end of the Island. While there, we took the time to check out the whale watching schooner that is owned and operated by the Sea-Land Adventure owner (in whose accommodations we had been staying!).
We spotted the vessel down on the wharf very close to the ferry dock, from whence it sails for its usual 10 AM - 5 PM voyages. On this day, they were fully booked so we just had to watch them head out with a full load. 'D'Sonoqua' (pronounced 'TunaKwah') is a French Canadian derivative of the Pacific Northwest Indian word for 'wild woman of the woods'. Built in 1970 of ferro-cement with British Columbia sitka spruce masts, this vessel is also used for whale research on its cruises. In addition to the usual whale watching activities, passengers are treated to the underwater sounds that the whales make as well as an on-board lunch. The price of a trip is C$78 (US$60) and reservations are recommended.
The photo was taken from the ferry wharf as the 'D'Sonoqua' sailed out of the harbour on its daily trip.
On the western side of the island is a small bay called Dark Harbour. It is nearly sealed off from the ocean by a sandbar between the two headlands. Dark Harbour is famous for its 'dulse', an edible seaweed that can be picked from the rocks at low tide and then sun-dried before eating. Because the harbour and the shoreline dulse rocks are shaded by the surrounding cliffs, this dulse is reputed to be the best in the world (for more info on dulse see my Fredericton page 'Local Customs' tips). In the photo, my wife's sister is on the coastal walking trail above the harbour with the coastline of Maine visible on the horizon 9 miles distant. It was along this stretch that we stopped at one of the strategically placed picnic tables and enjoyed our packed lunch in the sunshine!
Grand Manan is known for its excellent whale watching excursions! Within 2 hours of arriving on the island, we had booked ourselves a 4-hour afternoon trip on 'Against the Wind', a 40 x 16 foot fibreglass boat owned and operated by Island Coast Boat Tours. The craft is powered by a 350 HP Volvo engine, cruises at 10 knots, has a washroom on-board and can seat 25 passengers in the awning-covered rear on central bench seats. This is a small family-run business with the husband also working as a fisherman in the off-season while his wife looks after the reservations and paperwork! Whale sightings are guaranteed or you will get your money back! The company has been awarded the New Brunswick Tourism 'Savvy Traveller' award for six straight years since 1997. (Update from my 2004 trip - the owners were not able to find a buyer for their business as they reached retirement age, so this particular boat is no longer available for tours. However, there are still other options if you read on!).
The first thing that you will see as you approach Grand Manan Island on the ferry is Swallowtail Point. Perched on this most scenic of all the Grand Manan points are both the Swallowtail lighthouse and the Swallowtail Inn, formerly the lighthouse keeper's cottage. When I was last over in 1994, the Inn was sitting abandoned because the lighthouse had long been automated.
It was nice to walk out to the point of land and know that the old building was once again alive with people. We had a great view of North Head from here as well as the 'Grand Manan V' ferry as it pulled out of the harbour, rounded the point and headed back to the mainland. This spot is practically in North Head and is an easy and beautiful walk from the harbour area if you happen to be on foot.
As we passed through the picturesque village of Seal Cove, we were struck by the quiet beauty of its buildings. Dating from 1870-1930, most of these buildings were part of the smoked herring industry that flourished here, with the finished products being sold to the American states and the West Indies. Indeed, Connors Brothers still has large sardine factories both here and in Black's Harbour, the mainland terminus for the island ferry.
We had an interesting tour of their Sardine Museum (note the large can hanging off its walls) and associated smoking sheds. The building to the right actually had a smoky fire going and we could see the wooden racks high above where the fish were hung out to be suitably smoked for export. The windows and vent along the roof top were used to control the smoking process. There was nobody in the Museum so we left a voluntary donation in their box.
This photo of Deep Cove Beach actually looks more foggy than it really was. When we saw these people headed for the water, we were tempted to call a temporary halt to the biking and join them! However, we decided that we still had things to see and do so we continued onward on our return journey to our starting point.
As we biked back from Southwest Head on the hilly roads, we immediately left the coastal fog and emerged into comfortable sunshine. We had not gone very far before we had this great view of Deep Cove, with a fog bank still lingering on the point.
One of the great things about biking is that you can smell and feel things that you would completely miss in a car. It was amazing to be biking along the coastal roads in the cool ocean airs and suddenly pass through a brief burst of warm air as it descended from the sunlit highlands. On a couple of occasions my glasses immediately steamed up from the sudden temperature change.
It was 11:15 AM when we finally reached the cliffs of Southwest Head - almost 4 hours after we had started out on our leisurely trip that morning. This was the high point of our trip, and although the fog was still fairly thick when we arrived, it cleared quite well during the hour that we spent here enjoying the views and having a snack.
We had a great time exploring the many views from the trail along the top of these crumbly cliffs and even threw a few of the loose rocks down onto the beach to listen to the sharp sounds as they ricocheted and broke into pieces. There were even some tasty wild strawberries growing along the edge of the cliff - had to sample those! They are much smaller but pack a lot more taste than their larger commercial relatives.
As we continued along the coastal path, we emerged at Red Point about a half-hour after we had crossed the boardwalk. It is here that an interesting geological 'contact point' can be observed. This is where the older reddish sedimentary rock (on the right side of the photo) makes visible contact with the younger western greyish volcanic rock. The sand along the beach here is so metallic in content that a magnet can attract particles of it. It was fun walking out on the sharp point of land here, looking down into the shallow waters on either side!