Shooting the Tidal Bore

A tidal bore is a tidal phenomenon in which the leading edge of the incoming tide forms a wave (or waves) of water that travel up a river or narrow bay against the direction of the river or bay’s current. As such, it is a true tidal wave and not to be confused with a tsunami, which is a large ocean wave traveling primarily on the open ocean. — Wikipedia

The Bay of Fundy, bordered by the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, boasts the highest tides in the world. Up to 50-foot variations in water level are commonplace here. You can enjoy the spectacle from a comfortable chair on the beach. Or you can see them up close — from a Zodiac raft.

Your river-rafting adventure begins at the Shubenacadie River in South Maitland, at the headquarters of Shubenacadie River Adventure Tours. At first you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. When you put in, the river is shallow and slow-moving. You descend a 30-foot back and don life jackets and rain gear before seating yourself in the Zodiac. Then you sit and wait for the tide to come in.

When it does, you’ll think your eyes are playing tricks on you. A foaming wall of water appears downstream and hurtles into the estuary from the Bay of Fundy, where the tide meets the current from the river head on. Suddenly the quiet waterway becomes a torrent of whirlpools and waves, sometimes 10 or 15 feet high.

The pilot guides your raft through this torrent until you find yourself staring down into the center of a huge whirlpool. Your raft will whirl around the funnel of water, which can stretch as wide as 75 feet in diameter and occasionally get deep enough to expose the riverbed. This is said to be one of the largest whirlpools in the world, almost as big as the famous Norwegian maelstrom.

After your group has had its fill of the rapids, your pilot will guide your raft up the river at a more leisurely pace, giving you a chance to enjoy the incredible scenery along the banks. A huge population of American bald eagles lives along the banks of the Shubenacadie. The sandstone and gypsum cliffs lining the river often tower over you and take on interesting shapes. One formation mimics the features of the Mikm’aq deity, Glooscap, who gazes placidly on the often frenetic doings on the river.

Further upstream we pass the Gosse Bridge, the world’s first cantilever bridge, which parallels the remains of the old railroad bridge, now turned into a tidal observation deck. Then it’s into a side estuary for some messy fun sliding down mud banks into the river.

The Shubenacadie mud has the consistency and appearance of chocolate pudding. When wet, it is near frictionless and the adventurous can repeatedly hurtle at breakneck speed down the banks and into the water.

After our fill of sloppy frolicking we headed back to Shubenacadie Adventure Tours home base for a shower and an all-you-can-eat barbeque. Ravenous from the day’s activities we devoured stacks of burgers and hot dogs (or steak in the evening).

The great thing about tidal bore rafting is that you can gauge the intensity of your adventure by whether the tides are high, medium or low. The ultra-adventurous (or crazy) can choose spring tides when waves can top 16 feet, or those with kiddies can choose neap tides when waves crest at three to fivefeet. Either way, plan to get wet and enjoy the time of your life.


For more information:

Shubenacadie River Adventure Tours, Ltd.

1-888-878-8687 or e-mail: [email protected]


Photo Credits

Raft making a big splash © Shubenacadie Tidal Bore Adventures

Ariana mud sliding on the Shubenacadie River  © George Burden


Recent Dr. George Burden Articles:

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