The Fundy Biosphere Reserve

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Expect the Unexpected at Martin Head

For anyone who has been able to reach the wilderness of Martin Head, you will know that many people experience it by ATV. There are other ways to gain a more intimate connection to this Amazing Place, but perhaps none as profound as paddling by kayak. This story takes place on a special evening, during a simultaneous sunset, a rising full moon, a spring low tide, and a dominating high pressure, clear, windless sky.

Gravel bar at low tide in Martin Head. Photo credit: Craig Norris

In this moment of calm James Little has brought his friends out to kayak around Martin Head during slack tide. The timing was perfect as the often turbulent waters off the point had settled to a near glassy state, as if a position of perfect balance had been reached between the opposing gravitational forces of the sinking sun and ascending moon.

James Little paddles by Martin Head. Photo credit: Craig Norris

Normally the bay is not this serene, and James has challenges to contend with. “It’s not so much the tides, but the currents they can create,” asserts James, “ I find on most sections of the bay I’m more concerned with the wind, but if you take a little time to plan your trip, you can make the currents work for you.” Knowledge and experience are necessities; otherwise, James suggests, "Go with a group that has experience or get a guide, and be sure to have an understanding of the conditions that can exist in the area you are going to paddle.”

James (background) and his group after sunset at Martin Head. Photo credit: Craig Norris
Paddling by Martin Head with the Fundy Escarpment in the distance. Photo credit: Craig Norris

A long tombolo beach reaches out to Martin Head, tying the island to the mainland. This beach is blasted by powerful storm waves travelling up the bay, and recent storm history can be read in the storm berms pounded into the beach. The durable and sharp headland bends waves and the tidal current around itself, often producing confused waters which are difficult to paddle. In days gone by a proud lighthouse stood atop the headland to warn ships to stay away from its dangerous rocks, which are often covered by thick fog. Luckily today we are experiencing the gentle and inviting temperament of Martin Head. This headland marks the entrance to a sheltered tidal marsh wetland, a rugged highland river valley, extensive cobble beaches, high cliffs and coastal hardwood forests; all the characteristics of an epic park.

Martin Head marks the entrance to Quiddy River Estuary. Photo credit: Craig Norris

Although we were kayaking Martin Head to witness the astronomical transition, the Bay of Fundy usually has surprises in store. “The one thing you can be sure of on the bay is no two trips will ever be the same,” states James with certainty, “And to always expect the unexpected.” He often has close encounters with seals, porpoise, whales, and even had one close call with a large, curious shark.  He says, “Travelling slow and quite allows you time to see not only big wildlife, but the different types of rock that make up the massive cliffs, sea grasses and lichens, even barnacles on a weir post, or an urchin moving over some coralline algae.”   The experience of the bay from a kayak offers a different set of sights and sounds such as, “Listening to the swell smuck up against the cliffs, the beach rock resettling after a wave, or maybe the surface water dripping from a high cliff,” explains James.  “It might not be everybody’s thing, but it’s mine. It’s the one thing that every time I go, I get more hooked!”

Passing by the rugged Martin Head. Photo credit: Craig Norris
The rise of the full moon marks the coming rise of the tide. Photo credit: Craig Norris

“As a kayaker, I hold the entire bay as a special place, including Martin Head. It's definitely an Amazing Place, whether you’re a kayaker, a hiker, or just out for a picnic,” James concludes. The Amazing Places Challenge is encouraging people to get out and visit all 50 Amazing Places in the Fundy Biosphere Reserve to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. What better way to celebrate than to spend time on the land visiting the very “Canadian” Amazing Places.

This article is the fourth of seven in the Amazing Places Challenge series.


Financed by The Government of Canada