Tidal Bores, Trains & Tatamagouche: Navigating Nova Scotia

These boats will soon be buoyed by the Bay of Fundy
NovaScotia is linked inexorably to the sea and water defines this easternmost province of Canada. Located east of Maine, Halifax is the capital and is easily accessed by major airlines and the whole of the province is a great vacation idea as they have come into their own with a thriving culinary scene, wineries, micro-breweries, an impressive arts community, and a strong fishing heritage. Halifax is also the resting place for 150 souls who perished on the Titanic, buried in three cemeteries near the city center, including J.F.P. Clarke, the bass player from Titanic’s band.

Water, Water Everywhere
The Bay of Fundy is the most dominate water force that bears down upon Nova Scotia, one inch at a time. It is here where the world’s highest tides have been recorded and where they create a natural daily phenomenon. Given the Bay of Fundy’s location, the gravitational pull of the moon, and the natural order of things, this area claims incoming and outgoing tides of over 25 feet each and every day – boats rest on land inly to be fill fully afloat when the water rises. Visible stretches of ground are covered with water even as you watch water levels rise before your eyes, and birds cling to exposed rocks only to be forced alight in minutes. 

Nowhere is this better expressed than at the Tidal Bore Rafting Park along the Shubenacadie River, a two-hour drive from Halifax. At first it seems like a feeble marketing claim, “tidal bore rafting,” and frankly how much fun can it be since you’re not really rafting at all? An inflatable Zodiac with a 60 horsepower engine takes you up river. Well, ‘river’ in this case also appears misleading, as what you see on the Shubenacadie is shallow and muddy. Yes, the geology is beautiful and you can clearly see high water marks along the shore, but it seems impossible the water can reach that high. There are bald eagles all along the river, 75 to 100 of them and though you won’t see that many, you will easily spot at least three or four. At one point our guide jumps into the river to demonstrate that the water is only waist high, and on one occasion the motor got stuck with mud, it’s that shallow. You’ll be taken into a massive mud flat and will get out of the boat still unsure of what the fuss is all about. Then, in the distance, you see a small wave coming towards you, a mild little thing, which seems to pack all the power of a ripple in your bathtub. It’s generated as the tides rise into the Bay of Fundy and work their way up river. The call to get back in the boats means the water is fast approaching and as it gets closer you can see it more clearly, though it’s still unimpressive. But within 10 minutes the mud flat is engulfed in water and the rush of the incoming tide gains strength and power. It is the collision of the river running out to sea and the seawater running up river, which becomes a stunning experience. 
The singular force of these two bodies of water forced through the narrow canyon slamming into each other creates waves of eight, ten feet, and even higher. We grab on to the side ropes on the Zodiac as instructed and plunge head first into the “washing machine,” a spot of consistent waves that crash upon us, one after the other, sheets of muddy water pummeling us mercilessly. We grab a breath in between sheets of water cascading down, get tossed about but manage to hold our own. As we finish, drenched and pitiful-looking as a bathed cat, we look down at the Zodiac which is filled with water and in that brief moment, we wonder: where’s the boat, are we going to sink? The motor kicks on and the force hoists the front of the Zodiac out of the water and the excess water drains out the back. We sigh, then turn around and head purposefully into another series of waves that push, force and smack us around, and we laugh and joke and realize this is hard core fun. This is not for the timid: you will be soaked from head to foot with ochre-colored water and it will stain your clothes, you’ll probably be sore the next day, but you will have had a totally unique experience.

At the Train Station Inn, north of the Shubenacadie, whimsical meets clever at Tatamagouche. The inn began in an old brick railroad station from 1887 and it’s still intact with a few rooms upstairs as well as a gift shop and breakfast area, all peppered with train memorabilia. But the quaint brick building soon became the lesser sibling when James LaFresne assembled 7 cabooses, all sitting on their rails and retrofitted them into accommodations. The rooms have TVs, coffee makers, a fridge and bathrooms and they are fun, and if the rails are a source of inspiration, or if the romance of a bygone era is appealing, or you simply want to spend the night in something completely different, then you’ll be ideally situated to visit here You can dine in a 1928 dining car, sleep in a box car, and wake up like a well nourished vagabond.

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