Shore Excursion Review - St. John, New Brunswick, Canada - Bay of Fundy Sea Caves Tour
|Beyondships Cruise Destinations||
The area surrounding St. John, New Brunswick is relatively undeveloped and has a natural beauty. This shore excursion offered to show us something of this area centering upon the sea caves near the town of St. Martins.
When I was growing up, my parents would from time to time take me for “a ride in the country.” We would leave the urban/suburban sprawl and just cruise around country lanes through forests and farm country. The objective being to just enjoy the pleasant scenery.
The ride to St. Martins reminded me of those drives. Once we were out of St. John, we passed through rural landscapes, sprinkled with the occasional home.
Farmland and forest passed by. Occasionally, we could see the rugged coast of the Bay of Fundy and the marshy inlets that flood and empty with the tides.
St. Martins is an old community. It was founded in 1783 by British Loyalists fleeing the newly independent United States. During the 19th century, it was an important shipbuilding location with some 500 ships being launched here between 1803 and 1919. As ships grew bigger, the shipbuilding moved elsewhere and St. Martins became a quiet country town.
It is by no means a developed urban center. A devastating fire in he 19th century destroyed much of the town. Now, along the main street, there are some churches, a few shops and an array of pretty Victorian houses.
The bus stopped by the harbor. A few fishing boats were tied up to the wharf, which was dotted with stacks lobster pots. The main attraction of this place, however, was the close proximity of a lighthouse and two covered bridges. It is said that this is the only place in the world where you can take a picture of two covered bridges with a lighthouse.
In 1834, the government authorized the construction of a lighthouse near St. Martins. It was built on an offshore island that could only be reached by foot at low tide. That lighthouse burnt down in 1881 and since the island was eroding anyway, a new lighthouse was built on nearby Quaco Head. In 1961, the 19th century lighthouse was replaced with a new lighthouse at the same location.
The lighthouse in St. Martins harbor was built in 1993 in order to hold and display the lantern room from the 19th century Quaco Head lighthouse. It is now the town's visitor information center. Nonetheless, it is picturesque, set in a green park.
There is something delightful about covered bridges. They speak of a time gone by and of a less industrialized world.. The reason for covering a wooden bridge is quite practical. If they weren't covered the effects of sun and rain would require that the wood be replaced every ten to 15 years.
Traditionally, another practical use for covered bridges was as “kissing bridges.” Courting couples would take advantage of the privacy offered by the bridges' shelter to grab a kiss.
Covered bridges are also called “wishing bridges.” According to legend, your wish will be granted if you can hold your breath for the entire time it takes to cross the bridge. Another explanation for calling them wishing bridges, however, might stem from the hope that ones traveling companion will take advantage of their function as a kissing bridge.
At one time, covered bridges were commonplace but as other building materials replaced wood for bridge building, they have become relatively rare. New Brunswick, however, can boast 400 such bridges.
The two bridges in St. Martins are charming. Their weathered wood structures sit above a rocky river. You can get a picture of the two bridges and the lighthouse by crossing over the bridge nearest the lighthouse (“Irish River No. 1”) and walking a short distance up the sidewalk that runs between the river and the road.
After about 20 minutes, we boarded the bus to go to the sea caves. They are not far from the harbor and so it only took a few minutes to get there.
The sea caves were (and are being) carved into the sandstone rock by natural erosion - - the daily pounding of the waves against the rock. Part of the Honeycomb Point formation, these rocks were laid down in the Triassic period some 250 million years ago. Therefore, even though they are sedimentary, they do not contain dinosaur fossils because they pre-date the dinosaurs.
The sea caves are visible all day. However, you can only go into the caves two hours before to two hours after low tide. The rest of the time the caves are flooded with sea water and can only be seen from a distance.
Locals assert that the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world. At St. Martins, the tides range 38 feet and rise and fall every six hours and 13 minutes. As a result of this cycle, high and low tide is not at the same time each day. Thus, you need to consult a tide chart to determine what times the sea caves will be accessible.
When we arrived, it was near high tide. Consequently, the caves could only be seen from a distance. The caves are on the side of a point that juts out into the sea. A beach meets the point at a right angle and so affords a good view of the caves.
It is a pretty view. The dark caves contrast against the red sandstone. In turn, the red of the sandstone contrasts against the green forest above the caves and the gray blue sea below the caves.
The beach slopes down into the sea. For the most part, it is covered by round stones. Waves race up over the stones. If you get far enough away from the other visitors, you can hear the sounds of the sea as the water retreats back. It sounds like a multitude of voices whispering some message you cannot quite make out.
According to our guide, the Native Americans regarded this as a spiritual place. They believed that if you found a stone here with an uninterrupted stripe going all the way around the stone, your wish would be granted as it is a sign of good fortune.
We had about 40 minutes at the caves. Some of the people on the tour used this as an opportunity to sample the seafood chowder at the restaurant where the bus parked. Still others purchased souvenirs. I spent the time waking along the beach.
The bus took a more direct route back to St. John. There was some nice countryside but no views of the Bay like we had had on the way to St. Martins.
Above and below: The scenery outside of St. John is quite varied and often dramatic.
Above and below: St. Martins harbor.
Above: The St. Martins lighthouse.
Above and below: The two covered bridges at St. Martins.
Above: St. Martins is the only place where you can take a picture of two covered bridges and a lighthouse.
Above and below: The sea caves at high tide.