Grand Manan Feature

The Grand Manan Isle

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene & Pete Heck

It happens often, during these vagabonding days, that I wake up with no clue as to where I am. I glance around the room, take stock of what is around, and look for revealing clues. I then flip through my mental rolodex of recent places we’ve been until I link the chain of events that lands me in that particular bedroom, in that particular moment.Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I have more conspicuous indicators. Like a dull and repetitive fog horn.

My initial reaction, that first morning on the island of Grand Manan, was to lambaste Pete for not turning the sound off on his phone before going to bed (as is a common occurrence). But soon I realized what it really was.

A glance up to the uncovered window revealed the truth. A fog had rolled in overnight and hung low, so thick that I couldn’t see the stretch of land that was on the other side of the narrow cove the evening before. Instead of being a notification on Pete’s phone, that noise which shook me awake was an echoing alert to warn boaters of this land that they may not see from the water.

Oh yeah, we’re on an island.
 Tucked into a cozy cabin by the coast. The previous night, we had read by a fire and went to bed with the sound of gentle waves rushing the pebbled shore. On this day, we would poke around the coastline a bit but were chased back inside by the fog and rain. Hey, we didn’t mind too much.

We had a whole week yet to explore.

Grand Manan Island is one of the largest in the Bay of Fundy but still able to be driven from one end to the other in about an hour. And its width can be crossed in even less. We figured that our task, to discover the best of this island of New Brunswick, would be easy work with time to spare. We hoped to afford many hours appreciating the bookcase in our cottage and big lounge chairs on the patios. Besides the fog horn, there was nothing but comfort and quiet.And sometimes, especially after hecktic visits home coupled with time apart, this pair wants nothing more than these two things.

But on our first evening out, spent surrounded by a roomful of locals at a fundraiser for an iconic lighthouse on the island, the tips on what to see and do were flying our way. This beach has the best sea glass, be sure to stop at this art gallery. We ended up carefully planning most of our days around special activities and especially photo opportunities – not only did we have to plan for early sunrises and late sunsets, but tide tables had to be considered. We found ourselves driving more than reading; beach-combing more than resting.

The weather was glorious – that rain on the first day was all we encountered. Nothing stopped us from bush-whacking along the Hole in the Wall trail or seal-spotting in Pettes Cove. Or watching a humpback breach or kayaking in Whale Cove. Yeah, we did all of that, and a lot more.

We Hit the Trails

There is a trail that encircles the entire island that takes about three days to complete (says a 19 year-old we met, add on a few more days for us). While that hike is now firmly bucket-listed, we settled for a shorter journey called the Hole-in-the-Wall trail that took us all the way from an arched rock through some cliff-edge camping sites (also bucket-listed), and then onto the Swallowtail lighthouse.

The best part about this trail for these hikers is that much of it (save for the short trip that can be done to the arch rock and back) is adventurous hiking. It’s decently marked, but through a variety of terrain that saw us cliffside one moment and then shuffling through tall grass the next. The dirtier we got, the more rewarding we found it.

Grand Manan Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall.
Grand Manan Cliff Camping
Cliffside camping, anyone?

Then, the Water

We have gone whale watching before, several times, and will admit that we were initially a bit meh on going again. Our previous experiences were pretty spectacular, could they be topped?

Turns out, they could. We voyaged 15 kilometres offshore to find humpbacks that gave us a show like we had never seen before. A young male, probably 2 or 3 years old by our captain’s estimate, played tirelessly alongside our boat. He flipped, he waved, and he breached for us several times.

The captain stated that he kept a book to track those whales who habitually hung around in this spot, complete with photos and names to set them apart. This young male had not been added yet. When he does, we recommended that his name be Show-Off.

Grand Manan Whale Breach
Show off.

Shooting the Sun

After being woken by foghorn that first morning, my future early rises on Grand Manan either came from planned outings to capture the sunrise, or from Pete running out the front door in his underwear with camera in hand. (Apologies to those who stayed at the cottages around us.) Those shots at Whale Cove, along with capturing the famous Swallowtail Lighthouse at daybreak, were some of our favourites.

For high drama, South Head is the place to watch the sun descend. The 100-meter cliffs are made of basalt rocks left from one giant lava flow.

Sunrise Inn at Whale Cove
Sunrise at Inn at Whale Cove. Taken by Pete while in his underwear.

Combing the Beaches

As our trip wore on, we got better at being prepared for spontaneous beach enjoyment. Sunscreen, bathing suits, sandals, beach towels – all the required gear took up a permanent spot in our back seat. We found our best beach moments to be those that are impromptu. They provided an immediate infusion of mellow that we usually never make time for otherwise.

We especially loved Deep Cove Beach for lounging and Stanley Beach for strolling on Grand Manan.

Grand Manan Deep Cove
Deep Cove Beach.

General Exploratory Pleasantry

The best thing about Grand Manan is that it has a distinct character that was unexpected; a diverse and harmonious community that made us feel immediately welcomed. We met people who had moved there from across Canada, a salty fisherman who had spent his life on the island, and eavesdropped on a conversation involving an American looking to buy a house.

There is a strong community of artists – we encountered many photographers or others with easels set up in the most scenic places. That was again reflected in the cute cafes and craft shops. Yet it exists without an ounce of kitsch, and not at all to overtly appeal to tourists.

Grand Manan Bleu Marie Cafe

After one week we left the island for the mainland. We were somber for the parting yet energized by all that we had seen and done. This was our first taste of a province previously unknown to us, and set us up well for what was yet to come.

Where we Stayed and How we Did it

We can’t say enough about our stay at the Inn at Whale Cove. Our bed at the “Orchardside Cottage” was one of the most comfortable we’ve had in months, and the cottage overall was well stocked and comfortable. We had two patios to choose from, views of Whale Cove, and only a fog horn to disturb us. We also indulged in one dinner at the Inn and it was superb!Of course, watching young humpback whales breach isn’t guaranteed on every outing, but if they are to be found, trust this company to do it.

Our kayak excursion wasn’t exactly as planned – we were rerouted due to wind – but any day on the water is better than a day out of it. Especially when a couple of curious seals pop up to say hi.

This post was produced by us, brought to you by Tourism New Brunswick.

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  1. Loving reading about this part of Canada – I’ll admit that I know very little about it! The closet I’ve come is a few quick hops up the Maritime coast on a cruise ship a few years back. I had no idea New Brunswick was so darn pretty!

  2. I LOVED Grand Manan Island when I visited for four days back in June 2013. We camped at the Hole in the Wall Campground and also had perfect weather during our stay. The people on the island are so friendly and welcoming – we even had the Mayor give us an island tour for 2 1/2 hours when we were hitching one day. Would go back there in a second

    1. How cool! The Mayor! those campsites are amazing. I really want to return and do the hike around the entire island and stop there for a day or two. 😉

  3. Just discovered your website and it’s instantly bookmarked. Love the layout and the articles. We’ve been to Grand Manan Island on a couple of occasions and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s so peaceful and relaxing. A couple of years ago on our whale watching tour, we were lucky enough to see a basking shark. We’ve done the seaside cliff camping as well which I highly recommend. As you fall asleep at night you can often hear the whales which is quite amazing.

  4. Oh Grand Manan is still one of my favorite places on the east coast! We took my grandmother there (it was on her bucket list) a couple of years ago and the whales were showing off for us too! How awesome!

  5. My absolute favorite place on earth. Spend a week there every summer in a little cottage sitting in Deep Cove. My dream is to someday be able to retire there 🙂

  6. I loved my week stay at Grand Manan Island. We stayed at the Blue Lobster. There is much to do here and is so peaceful and quite. The freash seafood , the beach combing, the sunset and late night walks, and of course whale watching. Can’t wait till I can make it back.

  7. I am from New Brunswick and two summers ago went to Grand Manan for some camping as a “staycation”. We stayed at the Hole in the Wall campground right on the cliff edge and it was amazing! We sat and ate our meals and watched seals, whales and porpoises swimming constantly in the water below. A special place! Loved your pics and writing about this island.

  8. Me and two friends spent a week on Grand Manan in 1975. We were actually going to stay at Acadia Nat’l Park – but the park was full. Someone mentioned Grand Manan and we went for it. We camped out on the beach ( in a tent ) for free, for a week. I remember eating in some of the locals homes – they had signs in their windows – dinner 5PM ! – wonder if it is still the same. On the way to the island we saw whales – seals – and beautiful blue water. Hard to believe it is 42 years ago. Grand Manan is a treasure !

  9. Great article! So glad you enjoyed your stay on our beautiful island. It looks like you hit all my favourite places, too! Sunrise at Swallowtail, Stanley’s Beach and Sunset at Southern Head… the only thing missing was a trip to North Head Bakery! Hope you’ll be back soon

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