Camping on Campobello Island with our kids back in the nineties, we’d watched as the ferry plied the route to Grand Manan Island, a hazy lump on the horizon in the middle of the Bay of Fundy. Always ones to want to visit the unvisited, we added that to a mental list of “trips to do”. After good reviews, first from a co-worker, and then from a friend who had visited because his cousin worked there, we moved it to the top of the list for a short visit. And so in August 2011 we put our bikes in the back of our Odyssey and headed off. We took the interesting route from Montreal, stopping a night in Skowhegan in Maine, and the next couple of nights just back over the border in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick.
Next morning we drove the 45
along and around the coast and joined the queue of vehicles waiting for the ferry at the dock, just past the village of Blacks Harbour. Our neighbours in the queue seemed to be mainly large construction dump trucks—
always a bit intimidating to have next to you, especially in the confines of a ferry, when you have a thought in the back of your mind about whether the ferry really can float with all that weight! Other large trucks on the ferry were carrying fish-farm food; salmon farming we found to be a major industry on Grand Manan.
There are two boats running this service, both bow and stern loading ro-ro; the Grand Manan V
(65 cars nominal) which we were on, and the newer Grand Manan Adventure
(82 cars). We crossed under overcast skies, and fairly calm seas. There was some initial manœuvring to get out of the beautiful, but rugged New Brunswick coast, but then a fairly straight run across to Grand Manan with a final sharp turn past the Swallowtail Lighthouse.
We docked in the harbour at North Head, a total crossing time of about 1½ hours. Our B&B for the next few days was the Compass Rose Inn, a heritage building half a kilometre from the ferry and overlooking one end of the harbour. Grand Manan is about 34
with a population of about 2500. There aren’t really any towns or villages—
it's just in some places the houses cluster a bit more than others! In fact the municipality that covers the whole island is called The Village of Grand Manan
What is there to do on Grand Manan? In a way the answer is “Lots, and not much”. It’s a small island with a fairly small tourist industry, so the classic attractions are few and low-key. One night during our stay there was a country music festival within earshot; we seemed to spend the whole evening listening to the repeated groans of “my tractor can't climb the hill“ coming from a singer who couldn't quite find his groove!
But most visitors go to soak up the nature and tranquility. It’s popular for artists, and I found the light quite interesting at times. Many go for the fishing. We had hoped to be cycling all over, but in the end did not do a lot because we found the hills a bit more than we could enjoy (we are very casual cyclists!). We loved watching the sunsets from the high basalt cliffs near the lighthouse at Southwest Head, with the coast of Maine on the horizon. The shoreline was always interesting.
One day we signed up for a guided kayak trip which took us from a beach on the north west of the island round the northern tip and eventually back to the beach close by where the ferry docks. That was great fun letting us see the cliffs up close from below, and we also spent time watching as fishermen struggled to free a basking shark from an offshore fish trap. On our final day we took our bikes across on the ferry to White Head Island
and explored the island-off-the-island.
Our B&B was all we’d hoped for—a good location, friendly, characterful and with a good view. Over the 6 nights we spent on the island we tried every restaurant that seemed worth trying. I have no strong memories, one way or the other—all were OK, none exceptional.
We had some great weather during our stay—
and some that was rather interesting. Hurricane Irene was battering places further south during the beginning of our stay, and day by day its track seem to aim ever closer to the Bay of Fundy and us in particular. As it got closer the harbour filled with all the local fishing and other boats, all lashed extra well to the harbour walls and each other. We located the candles in our room and sat it out. The inn shook in the wind, but in the end things were not as severe as we feared—
we had a short power cut but nothing too much.
We found a restaurant that was open and mid-meal had a call from our son at home in Pointe-Claire. The rain there had been torrential, the power out for several hours and he was frantically bailing out the sump by hand to stop the basement flooding, and wondering where his two brothers were to help him! It turned out that Irene hit parts of New England very badly causing the worse flooding in a long time. Our home in Pointe-Claire took a hit from the end of Irene, but our tiny island was spared the worst, although we did enjoy some spectacular waves along the coast the next day.
When it was time to head home the weather was much more cheery than our trip over. Around mid-way in the crossing, just as we passed the other ferry heading towards Grand Manan, we started seeing distant spouts from a whale, and then a tourist whale-watching boat. A nice little bonus for us as we watched the whale surface a few times, but it was quite distant—
the other ferry was much closer.