I finally got a chance to visit Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick this summer. I’d heard great things about the island for years especially with regards to its untamed beauty, superlative bird and whale watching and cliff-side hiking.
Grand Manan Island is the largest of the Fundy Isles though it’s only 34 kilometres long by 18 kilometres wide. Its home to about 2,500 people – many tied to the fishing industry – as you’ll see in no time if you drive around.
I stayed for two nights – which wasn’t much time – but it was enough to give me a sense of the place.
Most people get to Grand Manan Island via a 90 minute ferry ride from Blacks Harbour, located 90 kilometres west of Saint John. The approach to the island gives you a sense of its ruggedness with rocky cliffs and lighthouses being the first things you’ll see. If you’re lucky you might see whales too.
What to do on Grand Manan Island
I had big plans for the two days on the island; kayak out of Seal Cove, hike to the Hole in the Wall, bike the backroads of the island and hike the trails around the Southwest Head Lighthouse.
But Grand Manan’s notorious pea soup fog thwarted some of my plans.
Fortunately I arrived on a day that was sunny and clear.
Tourism New Brunswick had arranged my accommodation – in a cabin rented out by Adventure High in Seal Cove. It was nothing fancy but what a view it had out the back door!
After I unloaded my things I spent the rest of the afternoon kayaking from Seal Cove down to Anchorage Provincial Park with an Adventure High guide and a couple from Ottawa. It was great fun to poke around the quiet harbour that is Seal Cove – and watch the comings and goings of the fisherman.
There are a number of kayaking trips you can do out of Grand Manan Island but it’s the weather and wind that ultimately decides where you can go. If it is calm, it’s possible to paddle alongside the cliffs and around the Swallowtail Lighthouse at the north end of the island.
On the first evening – after a delicious dinner at The Inn at Whale Cove, I took the time to wander Castalia Marsh, a pretty salt water marsh with beaches and a picnic area. Spring is the very best time to visit Grand Manan if you’re into birding and this is one of the many spots that is frequented by birders.
On my second day I had great plans to hike the 10 kilometre trail at the southern end of the island. It’s here where you can see the Flock of Sheep – a rock formation hidden by fog on the day I visited. On a clear day the views from here would be spectacular but after just 30 minutes of walking my feet were sloshing around in my shoes and my pants were soaked. I gave up – but not before getting a few moody photographs.
I decided it was time to dry off so I headed to what had become my go to place in just 24 hours – The Island Arts Cafe and Gift Shop, just a few hundred metres away from the ferry terminal. Over a latte and homemade muffin I reformulated the day’s plan.
The fog had started to lift so I took advantage of the window and hightailed it to the Hole in the Wall Park. It is here you’ll find hiking trails skirting the coast and the famous Hole in the Wall rock formation.
Next was a drive rather than a bike ride to Dark Harbour on the west side of the island. It’s a place that owes its’ existence to fisherman. Fishing boats – with names like Days Pay, Seakelp and Unhook the Stars – are lined up on the beach. Across the river sit fishing shacks and I suspect no end of fishing stories.
The rock faces into and out of Dark Harbour sport colourful autographs – though I’m unsure of whether the locals approve of the writing.
As you can see I just got a taste of what Grand Manan offers.
My visit to Grand Manan was way too short. It would be easy to spend a week here. I’d go whale watching. I’d take the short ferry ride on a clear day over to Whitehead Island and explore it on foot. I’d walk what beaches I could find and get up at dawn to look for birds. I’d do nothing one day but read. The island invites you to relax.