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It is located on the border between New Brunswick (Canada) and Maine (USA), and is part of the former Canadian province of. Grand Manan Island is the largest island in the Bay of Fundy and probably relatively unknown as a tourist destination, since it is a little off the beaten track. In fact, I had not heard of this island before our tour of Canada. On the 34 kilometers long and 18 kilometers wide island live about 2.500 people. It is quiet here.
For a whale watching tour, we included Grand Manan Island in the itinerary of our Eastern Canada tour, as it is located on a prominent spot on Canada's east coast. The Bay of Fundy is one of the best regions for whale sightings.
The way to the island
A ferry connects Grand Manan with Blacks Harbour on the Canadian mainland. This runs several times a day – there's a departure every two hours in the summer months, and every four hours the rest of the year. The tickets can be booked online on the Costal Transport website and must be there at least 45 minutes before departure of the ferry.
We have booked the tickets beforehand and arrive with our rental car, which we will pick up after arriving at the airport in St. John, also arrived in Blacks Harbour on time. The crossing takes two hours and unfortunately it is quite unspectacular – no whales, no seals in sight. We hardly feel the swell on the ferry, which is lying calmly in the water, but the white whitecaps on the waves give us an idea of a rather choppy sea.
Compass Rose Heritage Inn
After our arrival in North Head we find ourselves in a small town with few houses, which are basically grouped around the main road running along the coast. It is quiet here, the main season is over and only a few tourists are still on the island.
As accommodation for two nights we have booked a small vacation apartment at the Compass Rose Heritage Inn. We do not have to search long, only a few hundred meters next to the harbor we discover the pretty blue house, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Built in the late nineteenth century as a post and telegraph office for the village of North Head and now used as a B&B.
Our small apartment is nicely furnished with antique furniture and has a fully equipped kitchen as well as a terrace with a fantastic sea view. We can watch the impressive differences between high and low tide, for which the Bay of Fundy is famous, right from the terrace. (You can read more about it in my article Bay of Fundy, Canada – the highest tidal range in the world.)
Grand Manan – the highlights of the island in the Bay of Fundy
What we unfortunately also observe: the sea is still very rough. This unfortunately leads to the fact that our planned whale watching tour cannot take place. THE absolute highlight on Grand Manan, the whale watching, is unfortunately cancelled for us. So what to do?
First we take the main road – which is also the only road leading from north to south on the whole island – to the nearest supermarket to buy some food for the next two days.
The coastal villages on Gand Manan Island
Afterwards we look around in the small villages along the east coast. Summer is over and all houses are already beautifully decorated for autumn. Everywhere there are big flower pots with chrysanthemums in front of the entrance doors. This sight has become firmly associated with Canada in my memory since this vacation.
In addition we notice the gigantic wood piles – it becomes cold in the Canadian winter and the inhabitants of Grand Manan prepare themselves now, to the conclusion of the summer, already well for it.
You may have noticed that it only talks about the places on the east coast. The explanation is quite simple: there are no towns on the west coast. While the east coast is lined with beaches and harbors, the west coast shows a rugged cliff and almost 100 meters high cliffs.
Lobster fishing on Grand Manan Island
As in other places around the Bay of Fundy, lobster is omnipresent here. Of course the traditional boiled lobster is on the menu of the only open restaurant in North Head.
As we tour the island, we see traps carefully stacked in the harbors for lobster fishing. They are already prepared for the lobster season which starts here in November. Then the fishermen sink these cages in the sea off the coast of the island. The lobsters are attracted by the tempting smell of the fish bait and crawl in through the openings. They can't easily find their way out – and so they are caught and end up as a delicacy on the menu somewhere. In the past the cages were made of wood, today they are made of wire or plastic.
Swallow Tail Lighthouse
It is the landmark of the island and you can see it already before you arrive, when you take the ferry to Grand Manan: the lighthouse on the Swallow Tail peninsula. It dates back to 1860 and is built of wood in the typical octagonal shape that we will later see at what is probably the most beautiful lighthouse in Canada at Peggy's Cove.
From a viewpoint at the Swallow Tail peninsula we enjoy a fantastic view of the sea and the more than 30 meters high cliffs. The lighthouse stands picturesquely in the sun and makes a beautiful photo motif with the deep blue sea. A path leads to the lighthouse and there is of course a small souvenir shop.
Birdwatching on Grand Manan Island
What I didn't know when we visited the island: Grand Manan is a birdwatching paradise. Puffins and Arctic terns, marsh cranes and herons, eagles and peregrine falcons – there are many different bird species on Grand Manan. From the harbor in Seal Cove there are boat trips to the bird sanctuary of Machias Seal Island during the summer months. Here it is recommended to book in advance, the number of visitors to the breeding colonies is limited.
A very personal conclusion
Unfortunately, during our stay in Grand Manan Island the actually planned whale watching tour could not be realized due to the weather conditions. The biggest attraction of Grand Manan we could therefore not experience. It's a pity, but this made the stay on the island a short rest in our East Canada round trip. I really liked the accommodations at the Compass Rose Heritage Inn.