Campobello Island gave us our first impression of the Canadian Maritimes and between the beautiful landscapes and the friendly people, the east coast is shaping up to deliver us a pretty amazing time. The next leg of our adventure was to head to New Brunswick and to be honest, we had heard pretty mixed opinions about this province. Many people enthusiastically recommended great stops and pleasantly recalled their visits, while others simply said it’s the province you drive through to get to PEI or Nova Scotia. Undeterred and with our goal to see as much of our own country as we can, we set out on our route following the coast, starting with New River Beach and heading up through the Acadian region to finish off with some unexpected extra time in Moncton and Dieppe. We discovered quickly that New Brunswick has more to offer than just the Bay of Fundy. We picked up a pamphlet at one of the visitor centers that said ‘Come for the (Hopewell) Rocks, stay for the rest!’ As much as Hopewell Cape was a highlight, the rest of the province was also full of great experiences to be had.
New River Beach Provincial Park
The Fundy Trail
St. Martins Sea Caves
Fundy National Park
Acadian Coastal Drive
Kouchibuguac National Park
Dieppe & Riverview
New River Beach Provincial Park:
We had been trying not to book too many overnight stays in campgrounds, mainly because it’s expensive, but also because it limits our ability to see things. But after four busy days on Campobello and because we had booked these days before we began this trip, we were Provincial Park bound again. So many of the New Brunswick parks are renowned for their beaches and New River was no different. The park itself is a decent size, has many sites with hookups and really nice bathrooms, but it’s the beach that draws both the tourists and the locals here. When the tide was low, the sandy beach seems to go on forever. The ocean water is still pretty cold, but was wonderfully refreshing to wade through on the hot days. The park technically has a hiking trail called the Barnaby Head trail with some really pretty lookouts, however, it’s located about 2 km outside of the actual park, which no one mentioned to us when we asked for walking directions to the trailhead (which wouldn’t have been terrible if it wasn’t so hot and we weren’t hiking with the dogs). Since dogs aren’t allowed on the main beach, we were thrilled to find a few secluded spots along the trail where they could play. At the third lookout, if you didn’t mind climbing under the lookout platform and through some seaweed covered rocks, there was a gorgeous stretch of beach that was enclosed in a little cove and isolated enough that the pups could run off-leash and splash in the waves. The rest of our time at New River was spent relaxing, blogging and planning how we would be spending the rest of our time in New Brunswick.
We’ve been a bit apprehensive about taking the campervan into larger cities because of both maneuverability and security concerns – it is our house after all. Saint John was definitely the busiest and biggest city we’ve tackled so far, but it had a ton of street parking so once we found a good spot, we were able to most of our exploring on foot. Saint John was the first incorporated city in Canada and is rich with historical sites and structures. Sadly, it was another rainy day or we would have loved to have taken one of the Discover Saint John Historic Walking tours that highlighted many of the important landmarks in both the city’s and the country’s history. But, since Mother Nature seemed to be working against us we opted for a visit to the City Market and a lunch stop at a delicious, very veggie-friendly restaurant called Taste of Egypt.
The Fundy Trail:
The Fundy Trail is an 18 km scenic drive along the coast of the Bay of Fundy. Although it’s a government-maintained stretch of road, it’s not part of Fundy National Park, but it’s been developed to showcase the beauty of the region. Fully of hiking trails and lookouts, it makes for a really relaxed roadtrip. A couple of points to note prior to going: A) It’s $8.50 per person; B) Many of the roads say ‘No trailers or buses’ – we had no problem on any of those roads in a 21’ foot campervan; C) Skip the suspension foot bridge, especially at low tide – it’s a lengthy walk and pretty underwhelming.
We took the dogs for a few of the shorter hikes to some of the lookouts and wandered the footpath that led to Flower Pot Rock. At the end of the trail, we stopped at Long Beach for lunch. This section of beach is still fairly undeveloped and as such, there were no restrictions on taking dogs. The tide was low and you could wade out along the shallows across its entire length. The view from here and the crystal clear water was worth the price of admission.
St. Martins Sea Caves:
The start of the Fundy Trail is just outside the town of St. Martins, a small village that centers around its main attraction – a set of red stone sea caves that empty out at low tide and make for a really cool spot to explore. The rest of the town thrives on seafood restaurants, souvenir shops and sea kayak rentals, but in the summer when the tide is out, the little town gets pretty busy. Be sure to check the tide schedule and wear good shoes you don’t mind getting wet. The beach is really rocky and muddy with soft red clay – the perfect spot to walk three dogs! The sea caves were really pretty cool and provided a treasure-trove of awesome new sniffs for three very curious and soggy pups. With the hint of a sunburn and a good amount of fatigue from all the hiking and ocean air, we retired to the comforts of our cozy parking space at the Sussex Walmart.
After a decent night’s sleep in the Walmart parking lot (after living the last 10 years on a heavily trafficked street, we find we actually sleep better in Walmart parking lots than we do in campgrounds, they can be too quiet!) we decided to grab coffee and wander the streets of Sussex. Another fairly small town, Sussex has made a name for itself by creating an outdoor mural gallery on the walls of a number of their local businesses. The visitor’s center provides a map to all the works and their locations, or you can wander like we did in your own scavenger hunt and see how many you can spot (we found 16 of 28).
Fundy National Park:
Originally when we looked at Fundy, the national park was fully booked. We took a check online a couple of days before heading there and saw that a few sites had opened up, so we took a gamble and just showed up hoping we’d be able to find a spot for the night. Since we didn’t have reservations and preferred electric hookup, we managed to grab a spot at Point Wolf Campground. Since, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers, we couldn’t really complain about being jammed into the center RV lot surrounded by no trees and close enough you to our neighbor that you could easily see into their trailer…okay, that did sort of sound like a complaint. Thankfully, it was only for one night, so we hooked up our power and headed out for some hiking. Fundy is known as a haven for outdoor adventure and between beaches, ocean kayaking and number trails for hiking and mountain biking, it definitely delivered. This year seemed to be their year for upgrades within the park, so many of the trails had closed sections or detours, but they were well marked and didn’t seem to take away from the focus of the trail. What was surprising, was how incredibly windy it was even in the campgrounds which were set back from the coastline. When we returned from hiking the Coppermine Trail, we noticed that a couple of dining tents and shelters had been blown over and actually damaged from the wind. It wasn’t long after that that everyone else took theirs down and some of the tent campers actually left.
We lucked out with an early morning low tide on the day we wanted to see the Hopewell Rocks. We had read that you could explore the site before the park officially opens, but when we arrived 30 minutes early, we found the entrance blocked by security. So we waited it out with the dozen or so other vehicles that must have had the same idea. You have 3 ½ hours on either side of low tide to walk the beach, and since tide was just after 6 am that day we were hoping to not be rushed before the beach section gets closed. Thankfully, it was still relatively quite at 8 am when the park opened so we lucked out and managed to grab some great pictures of the rocks before the crowds and tour buses arrived, not long after 9 am. We decided to spend the morning there and wait to see the rocks again after the tide came back in. This is where there are some definite benefits to traveling in your ‘house’. We had about 3 hours to kill, so we took a nap, had a snack and snuggled with a cat before grabbing the dogs and headed back to the lookout trails to see the rocks partially submerged. The Hopewell Rocks were a really interesting site not only because it’s one of the best displays of the rising tides in the Bay of Fundy, but also because it’s an amazing representation of the effects of nature overtime and is one of those natural wonders that may not always exist.
We’re not sure if you can call New Horton a town, more of an area just outside of Alma and Fundy National Park. We only stopped here because we had found a free campsite called the Shire and it seemed like something we had to experience. How can we describe this place? Peaceful, quirky and fantastic, and a little like you’re camping in the middle of what should be a horror movie (but in all the best possible ways!). Located beside the Ha Ha Cemetary (seriously), the grounds have gardens and a pond, a scarecrow made of cans (that waves at you when the wind blows), remnants of a giant ‘mudman’, a horseshoe pit, covered swings around a fire pit and a handmade stone oven that apparently makes a phenomenal wood-fired pizza. The Shire Camp is owned by the Wilbur brothers who generously decided to open the space, which was pretty much a field that could comfortably fit about a dozen or so tents, to anyone looking for a place to stay. It has no amenities, but so much character, and the fact that the owners have simply opened it up for free just reiterates the kindness and welcoming nature maritimers have a reputation for. When we arrived, we met two 20-something guys from France, who were using their Canadian work visas to take a 2 month whirlwind trip across North America. They had just finished a cross-Canada trek that took them across to British Columbia and then returned via the southern United States. They were now spending their last two weeks in the Maritimes before one had to return and actually start work in Montreal and the other was taking off to Moscow to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway for the summer. They were packing up and headed to the Hopewell Rocks themselves, so we had The Shire to ourselves until the late evening when two other couples tent camping and a guy sleeping in his car arrived. Besides being incredibly mosquito-infested, this was a wonderfully unique spot to spend the night and if nothing else, makes for a fun story to share.
Everyone says you can’t go to New Brunswick without going to Magnetic Hill, so we detoured into Moncton to see what the hype was about and to do some restocking at Cabela’s. Magnetic Hill seems to be Moncton’s big draw for visitors, but we found it to be such a tourist trap. Essentially an optical illusion, the concept is really cool but the cash-grab aspect of it sort of takes the fun out of it. They charge $6 per car and there’s no way to watch anyone else do it to know if you want to bother yourself. By the time you hit the entrance, you’re corralled into the purchase line with no other alternative route than to go through. What they also fail to mention until you’re in line waiting for your turn, is that if you’re driving a small RV or campervan, you can’t do the reverse portion and you have to u-turn and drive it forward as well which minimizes the illusion. So what we ended up with was an overpriced 30 second drive that messed with our visual perception. If nothing else it was another checked box on our list, but not something that we’d ever need to do again.
Acadian Costal Drive:
After another Walmart overnight, this time in Miramichi, we woke to find out that none of the grocery stores opened until noon on Sundays. We had booked the next three days in Kouchibiguac National Park and needed to restock before making our way there. We figured we had two options: either wait in a parking lot for over three hours until everything was open or take a more scenic route, via the Acadian Coastal Drive, to a store that would open much earlier. We of course chose the latter. Besides Quebec, New Brunswick is Canada’s only other official bilingual province and no area seems to embrace that more than the Acadian Region. Made up of a number of small coastal towns, they proudly display the Acadian flag (a flag of France with a small gold star in the upper corner) and signs of this heritage are prominent. The Chiac dialect spoken there is also complicated, and as much as we can usually muddle through with our basic French, we really struggled with understanding this unique language. It was along this stretch that we came across a lovely little town called Caraquet. Still likely considered a small town, it had the perfect mix of old and new, local maritime charm but with modern nuances. Driving through we both thought that if our French wasn’t so incredibly rusty, this would be a beautiful place to live.
Kouchibouguac National Park:
Kouchibouguac (pron. Koo-she-boo-guac) is New Brunswick’s other national park and touts that it has the warmest ocean waters along that coast until Virginia. Kouchibouguac is a Mi’kmaq term meaning ‘river of the long tides’ and has tried to develop a lot of the park around this aboriginal heritage. Many of the interpretive trails and park activities highlighted its history and the main visitor’s center was practically a small museum devoted to it and the preservation initiatives the park has undertaken. We left this park with a mixed experience and found it can be summed up as the perfect park for cycling and for people who want to be left alone. On the upside, the trail system here, like Fundy, is amazing. There are kilometers of trails for easy cycling and mountain biking and fantastic routes that led to both beaches. Another positive we could say for the park is that it did have a specifically dog-friendly beach, Callanders, that was warm and shallow, but we only saw about 6 other dogs the entire three days we were there, so it was pretty deserted most of the time. On the downside, we found Kouchibouguac to be one of the least friendly campgrounds we’ve encountered so far. No one said hello, made small talk or even eye contact in the majority of run-ins we had with people. Maybe it was a perceived language barrier or maybe it was just the people staying at the time, but we found it really odd.
Dieppe and Riverview:
We really never planned to spend any time in either Dieppe or Riverview. Our original plan was to spend a night close to the Confederation Bridge to PEI so we could cross bright and early. But when we pulled into our stop for the night, Stella (our cat) started crying and seemed to be in significant distress, so we packed everything back up and rushed off to an emergency vet in Dieppe. After some blood work and tests she was diagnosed with a bladder blockage due to interstitial cystitis and required hospitalization for 2-3 days. So with nothing booked and deciding it was best to stay local, we headed off to Walmart for the night to plan what to do with this unexpected change of plans. Since we had done most of our sightseeing, we scoped out a park to spend our days at as that would give us a nicer backdrop than a mall parking lot. Parc Rotary St-Anselme was perfect – it had numerous walking trails, beautiful gardens, covered picnic spots, free public wifi. That’s pretty much everything stranded van-living bloggers could ask for! So we spent our days there exploring the park, picnicking in the shade, using their very generous internet connection and waiting for our sweet girl to recuperate. We also snuck out one afternoon to take in one more sight we had failed to see before all this happened. We were just down the road from a viewing spot for the tidal bore, a true wonder of Mother Nature. Every day, the Bay of Fundy fills and empties 180 Billion tones of water. When the tide starts to come in, the force of the water is enough to change the direction of a rivers flow. To see it, we headed to the Chocolate River Station in Riverview, which is another spot with a fantastic walking trail and some really cute shops. We walked the dogs along the trail and watched the tidal bore roll past before heading back to our temporary daytime home.
Thankfully, Stella recovered well and one of her vets recommended a clinic in PEI for her follow up, so we had our green light to continue on. Unexpected emergencies aside, we really enjoyed New Brunswick. It was a beautiful province and we’ll remember it fondly for not only the popular sites and attractions, but also for the many hidden gems along the way that we never planned to explore, but were so very glad that we did. Next time we get to come out this way, we’ll take in the northern part of the province!
The Joy Rides and Speed Bumps:
These sort of go together for New Brunswick and obviously went hand in hand with our veterinary emergency. It’s always stressful to deal with a sick pet. They can’t tell you what’s wrong and in many times they don’t show any symptoms until things are serious. We were incredibly grateful for the vets at Dieppe’s Grey Cove Animal Health Center. They are a 24 hour emergency facility that took us in immediately and were amazingly accommodating to our situation. The vets and support staff we dealt with were sympathetic and incredibly friendly and called with regular updates. They gave great advice on how to prevent recurrence and gave us recommendations for our living arrangements that obviously aren’t typical. We couldn’t have asked for better treatment for our Stelly Cat and are always so happy to find vets out there who are not only incredibly compassionate but seem to genuinely care for your furry family member.
What we’re Enjoying (aka. What’s keeping us sane):
Cabela’s Dog Bed – This has been great! It keeps the dogs off the ground, so hopefully they’ll stay cooler and get fewer bug bites (and bring less bugs in, so hopefully fewer for us as well!). Plus it actually fits all four fur-balls at the same time (and it was on sale!).