The moon does many things. It helps us define the months in a year. It changes shape and colour. It’s the star of countless nursery rhymes. But as any Bay of Fundy fisherman can tell you, one of the moon’s most important roles is the one it plays at sea... and not just because it provides a guiding light under the dark of night.
Through its gravitational pull with earth and sun, the moon creates tides in our oceans. And right here in New Brunswick, Canada, is where the moon has helped create the highest tides in the world.
LUNAR TIDES: THE HEARTBEAT OF THE OCEAN
Curious how, exactly, the moon does this? Think of tides as the pulse of the ocean, beating in and out twice per day. When earth spins relative to the moon, ocean water sloshes, bulging in the direction of the moon and back again. These bulges are what we call tides, and they can be bigger or smaller depending on the moon cycle. Full and new moons bring the highest tides - known as ‘spring tides’ - and quarter moons bring the lowest (‘neap tides’). Supermoons bring extra-large spring tides, sometimes referred to as king tides.
Around the world the average tidal range is about 1 metre (3 ft.). The tidal difference in the Bay of Fundy, though, reaches up to a whopping 16 metres (52 ft.)! Nowhere else on earth will you find such extremes.
SO, WHAT MAKES THE BAY OF FUNDY TIDES THE HIGHEST IN THE WORLD?
There are several (really cool) factors at play. Think of the bay as a giant funnel with geologically distinct features. It’s got a unique shape and size - narrow and elongated - plus a crazy amount of water (160-billion tonnes to be exact).
When all that water reaches a certain point, the only place it can go is up. So every day, twice a day, 160-billion tonnes of seawater gush in and out of the bay with the tides. It’s basically the world’s biggest bathtub.
Just how much IS 160-billion tonnes of water? (A lot). Think of it as:
- The height of a 4-storey building
- The weight of 32 billion 5-tonne elephants
- The equivalent of all the water in all the rivers in the world
Pretty cool, right? The time between high and low tide is six hours and 13 minutes on average, so you can expect to see at least one high and one low tide during daylight hours. The best place to experience the height and range of these tides is at The Hopewell Rocks, where you can walk on the ocean floor around the famous rock formations at low tide, then return hours later to kayak around them at high tide. The water rising up and down is known as vertical tidal effect, and it’s an awesome way to experience the power of nature.
Check out interpreter Fran Steeves’ tips on how to get the most out of your visit to The Hopewell Rocks. You’ll also want to take a look at the tide schedule, which you can view here along with everything you need to plan your visit.
But don't think that your Fundy explorations are going to end at The Hopewell Rocks... there are plenty other amazing places to experience the power of the bay and its numerous tidal effects. Here are just a few:
NEW RIVER BEACH PROVINCIAL PARK: One of the best spots to see horizontal tidal effect, where water can travel up to 5 kilometres (3 miles) away from where it was at high tide. In other words, majorly multiplying your available beach-bumming space in the span of 6 hours.
🏰 Don’t miss the annual Sand Sculpture Competition, where competitors race against the tides to create sandcastle masterpieces.
MINISTERS ISLAND: There are some places you can only get to during low tide and this is one of them. Time it just right and cross the Bar Road (essentially a driveable sandbar at low tide) to experience early 20th-century heritage at the Van Horne Estate, the summer home of late Canadian Pacific Railway baron Sir William Van Horne.
OLD SOW: Hop on the ferry to Deer Island to see the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere. It occurs 3 hours prior to every high tide.
ST. MARTINS SEA CAVES: Wander around red sandstone caves created over thousands of years by agitating waters. Time your visit, though, because as the tide comes in, you guessed it - they disappear. (Missed low tide? All good - check out the coastline by kayak)
REVERSING RAPIDS AND TIDAL BORE: The Fundy tides are so strong that they actually manipulate rivers flowing into the bay. Visit Skywalk Saint John to see the Reversing Rapids, where the Saint John River is pushed backward when the incoming tide collides with the river. Head to Bore Park in Moncton to see the long, steady wave in the Petitcodiac River that’s created by the tides, known as a ‘tidal bore’.
STONEHAMMER UNESCO GLOBAL GEOPARK: A billion years of earth’s history is revealed through geological sites across southern New Brunswick - including the birthplace of the Atlantic Ocean. Curated experiences take you through the late precambrian time to the most recent ice age.
WHALES AND SEABIRDS AND SHARKS - OH MY!
The bay may act like a giant bathtub, but to the animal species that call this area home it’s a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet. The Bay of Fundy supports one of the world’s richest marine ecosystems, essentially acting like a giant bowl of nutrients mixed together from the ocean floor, the salt marshes, and the mud flats. It provides tasty meals for the seabirds, whales, fish, seals, and other marine life that visit or call Fundy home.
There are some very cool ways to experience this ecosystem firsthand. Take a whale-watching excursion (you may see a rare Right whale - it’s one of the 12 species that call the area home), go on a shark-tagging expedition to assist conservation efforts, head out for world-class birdwatching (over 360 species have been spotted here), or visit a protected puffin colony on a tiny, uninhabited island.
Always keep an eye out for Bald eagles, Peregrine falcons, playful Harbour seals (you can’t miss them!), and tidal pool treasures. If you’re a bird buff, don’t miss the Semi-palmated sandpiper migration each summer that sees thousands (yes, thousands) of sandpipers dancing through the sky.
LOCAL CULTURE: SETTING TIME TO THE TIDES
Just as the wildlife is so intertwined with the bounty of the bay, so too are the people who call the region home.
The economy and the culture of the Fundy region have been inextricably shaped by the sea, so much so that tide clocks and cast-off buoys are a regular appearance in the homes and small communities that dot the coastline. From St. Martins and Saint Andrews on the mainland to Seal Cove and Welshpool on the Fundy Isles, the people here have an unwavering respect for the bay. It stems from generations of fishing its waters and living on its shores. High tide sees fishing boats out to sea - they’re essentially dry-landed any other time of day - and low tide sees curious explorers picking through treasures revealed to prying eyes.
Locals welcome the chance to show curious visitors their corner of the world and there’s only one way to experience it best: by road trip. From coastal culture to jaw-dropping nature, the Fundy coastline is one of the world’s great drives. After all, there’s a reason National Geographic named the Bay of Fundy as one of its Places of a Lifetime.
Are you ready to start planning?
Use these handy resources to help plan your trip:
- Ferry Schedules
- Tide Timetable
- The Hopewell Rocks
- The Bay of Fundy at Fundy National Park
- About the Fundy Tides
- Travelling in the Fundy Region
- Road Trip Planning Guide