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Hit the Road

Tidal bore rafting adventure in Nova Scotia

I’ve been fascinated by the Bay of Fundy ever since I was a kid in grammar school geography class.
Lying between the north shore of Nova Scotia and the south shore of New Brunswick, it has the world’s highest and lowest tides. The bay is narrow, and when the Atlantic Ocean comes rushing in, there’s no place for that 200 billion tons of water to go but up — sometimes as high as 58 feet.
Being there when that happens is pretty darn exciting.
On a recent trip to Nova Scotia, my husband planned it so we could go “tidal bore” rafting on an extreme-tide day — when the moon’s gravitational pull on the earth is the greatest.
The “tidal bore” is the leading edge of the high tide — the moment that low tide ends and high tide begins. Living on the expansive California coast, we can’t see this happen. In fact, there are only a handful of places you can see it and one is near the mouth of the Shubenacadie River (pronounced shoo-ben-ACK-a-dee) on the north shore of Nova Scotia. Here you can see the very moment that the ocean water meets the river water and begins pushing its way upriver against the normal flow.
This location also is the only place in the world where you can go tidal bore rafting.
We began our two-hour adventure after registering at the Shubenacadie Tidal Bore Rafting Park (; 800-565-RAFT). We suited up in orange and yellow rain gear and life jackets, then sloshed our way through the muddy river bank and into the raft. Our informative and ever-smiling guide was Tyler, a 20-something Canadian with a degree in adventure tourism (yes, there is such a thing).
We powered out to the middle of the Shubenacadie and headed north toward the bay. At this point, the river was extremely low; we passed protruding sandbars and rock formations. Tyler related the geological history of the area and pointed out several bald eagles perched high in the trees and soaring over the river. Then we pulled up to a sandbar, climbed out of the raft and waited for the tide to shift.
Within 10 minutes, the tidal bore appeared — a single, long breaker, probably no higher than a foot, crawling steadily toward us.
As we scrambled back into the raft, I wondered what all the hoopla was about. This didn’t look too impressive, nor much like the videos I had seen with bobbing rafts and screaming passengers.
It didn’t take long for the scene to change.
Within 45 minutes, the river rose more than 8 feet; in another couple of hours, the water was 28 feet higher than when we began our trip. All that water pushing its way upstream causes a “washing machine effect” and Tyler took us right into it. He stalled the motor as we dove to the bottom of a trough, then gunned the boat into a high wave coming straight at us.
I tried not to scream — I didn’t want to drink the brackish water — but it wasn’t easy, and I hung on to the safety line for dear life. I still remember Tyler’s grin every time we headed into another wave; he was clearly enjoying this.
We could see a few riders from other rafts who apparently didn’t hang on hard enough; they were bobbing in the river, soon to be rescued. At times our raft was completely submerged and we were in water up to our armpits. Fortunately, these specially engineered rafts are impossible to sink, according to Tyler, because of drainage holes and other construction features.
Our two-hour trip stretched into almost three because our raft carried a travel writer from London who was filming with a small, hand-held video camera and trying to narrate between drenchings. His cameraman rode in another boat trying to capture the experience. He kept telling Tyler to “do it again” so he could get another shot.
No one in our raft complained.