By Max Hartshorne
Our trip to St Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada was one of the few times in my life that I left the country in my own car.
This ease of travel, allowing us to pile all of our favorite beach chairs, bottles of wine, and all of the stuff we probably didn’t need, combined with so many other aspects to make this the perfect summer trip.
The currency in Canada is still a great bargain for Americans— 76 cents buys a Canadian dollar. Lobsters have been heading north for a year or so…and many of them live off the coast of New Brunswick, instead of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
But the biggest thing that really struck me about New Brunswick is how few people are there. Even during tourist season, nothing is close to being crowded. And in places where you might expect to see paved paths and souvenir shops, it’s just—nature.
On Cape Cod and other more touristy parts of the US, an ocean view is a rarity—so if you are so lucky enough to have one, everything will cost more, there will be a crowd, and even the parking will be expensive. In New Brunswick, this is not the case. Ocean views are everywhere, and tourists are not.
Ogunquit en Route
We departed our home in Western Massachusetts for the first leg of our trip, a short hop to Ogunquit, on the southern Maine coast. This town has one of the biggest beaches in Maine, and some call this the most beautiful beach on the entire east coast.
The Ogunquit river winds its way next to a peninsula where the beach is, and people float down the river when the tide is right, all the way to the ocean. It’s an immense stretch of pristine sand, and our sunset float trip there was sublime.
Our next stop the following day was to a famous National Park, Acadia, in Bar Harbor, Maine. We found an oceanfront resort that is modern, inexpensive, and provided the perfect jumping-off spot for our next destination across the border, Campobello Island.
At Lubec, Maine, we crossed a bridge to enter the province of New Brunswick, where a 2800-acre park is anchored by the famous Red Cottage, summer home to a few generations of Roosevelts—the New York City Roosevelts, who thought this was the perfect summer spot.
In 1903, Franklin Roosevelt invited his future wife, Eleanor, to visit the family compound, and after a few weeks, she too was smitten.
The park was created as a symbol of the close relationship between the US and Canada in 1964, and this slice of New Brunswick became a part of the United State’s heritage, honoring the man who spent more time as president than any other in history.
Tea with Eleanor
At the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, Eleanor’s amazing life story is shared, twice a day, by two women who have come to love the memory of this gallant and heroic woman.
Over bottomless cups of Orange Pekoe tea and ginger cookies, we heard Debbie Newman and Carolyn Mitchell reveal the interesting story of how Eleanor felt about the island and the history that comes when you marry a future 3-term president of the United States.
Though FDR loved their family’s New Brunswick island summer home, he didn’t return regularly after he was struck down by polio in one of the upstairs bedrooms of the Red Cottage in 1921. But Eleanor returned frequently, and the free two-hour talk all about Eleanor at the park is highly recommended–reservations are a must.
Though the FDR home is the main attraction, Campobello offers much more in its vast expanse. Some people enjoy the self-guided tour of the Eagle Hill Bog, a .6 mile-long walkway that takes you over moss-covered wetlands.
We dined on fish cakes and salad at the Fireside restaurant inside the park and then headed to our next New Brunswick destination, St Andrews-by-the-Sea, a two-and-a-half-hour drive back through some of Maine’s least attractive inland areas.
The Algonquin Hotel
St. Andrews is a small town, a village even, of about 1500 residents, it’s located on the Bay of Fundy and the place to stay is atop a high hill—The Alqonguin Resort.
Driving up to the historic red-trimmed hotel, its immaculate, carefully manicured greens line a pool and a wrap-around porch that invites travelers.
Built in 1889s and top-to-bottom renovated in 2014, the Algonquin has 233 rooms, some that are small and others that are larger and modern.
It depends on which side of the road you stay. It was once owned by the railway company that served the region.
I had a date with a golf pro at the hotel’s beautiful oceanfront golf links, and the club’s Director of Golf, Jason Porter was ready for me…except that due to an injury, he could not swing a golf club!
As we toured the course in a cart, he showed me the many trees that have been removed, opening up the gorgeous ocean vistas that were once covered. Excavators and dozers were working on several other hole improvements, and with views like this, how can you not love a round?
I hadn’t driven a golf ball for several years, maybe even ten, but when I took a swing with Jason’s Nike driver, the ball sailed straight and true.
Ok, I wasn’t going to have to do any putting, but my chip shots and drives made me feel like a million bucks!
Up on one of the greens, I spotted a peculiar varmint—a porcupine. “We see those all of the time,” Jason said, “We also see moose, deer, rabbits, and raccoons on the course.”
These links are special in other ways besides the views. It’s an acclaimed golf course, listed among the top 10 Oceanside courses in North America and the top 100 in Canada.
They use the absolute minimum amount of toxic pesticides, Jason explained, preferring to use things like water to flood out pests instead of poison.
It’s working so well that they’ve been designated as an Audubon society bird sanctuary, and Jason can’t remember the last time they had to spray.
Though the trend across most golf courses is declining memberships and fewer and fewer players, especially younger ones, the number of rounds played at the Algonquin’s course is up. Jason attributes this to the many business conferences held at the hotel, bringing players to the course.
Dining at the Algonquin was first-rate…both at the bounteous breakfast buffet in the sunny long dining room, and in the evening when they showed their seafood chops. I haven’t visited a destination where the seafood is fresher or more abundant than New Brunswick. Whether it’s lobster, local halibut, cod or simple mussels, they REALLY do it right here.
The Man in the Kilt
The next morning we were to meet a man whose family came to St. Andrews from Turkey and who wears a kilt. That all makes sense, seeing that we were in St. Andrews.
Kurt Gumushel, whose parents are Turkish, runs Off Kilter Bike Tours, and when we went down to his shop on the main drag, we saw a man and a woman peddling bikes wearing kilts. Yep, we were in the right place.
Donning velcro-fastened kilts over our shorts (insert cliched kilt joke here) we set off following Kurt down the main street where we soon turned into a bike trail, newly constructed and with no other riders in sight.
The St Andrews Van Horne Bike trail winds its way down a former railroad track to eventually bring us out to the ocean. The ocean is everywhere in St. Andrews. The ride in the August sun was wonderful, crossing by the ocean, and coming to a stop rather abruptly.
“The neighbors here don’t want this to keep going,” Kurt explained. We pedaled around some of the small-town streets, back past the Algonquin and then down to the edge of the harbor.
The water had receded with the tide, so we kept on riding over the sand and rocks way out where the water usually stood.
We had a little time before we were to depart on a whale-watching excursion with Island Quest Marine, one of several outfitters that offer whale and shark fishing tours near Campobello and other islands where finback whales and dolphins are plentiful.
Lunch Overlooking Niger Reef
We had lunch overlooking the harbor, where the tide had gone out and left rocks and sand for about a quarter-mile. A perfect spot is the Niger Reef Tea Room, a small restaurant with a deck that serves homemade salads, seafood chowder, and fish cakes. Sweet!
There’s never that much new that can be said for a whale watch, except for when the whales are everywhere and nobody gets seasick. YES on both counts.
At one point during the 3-hour excursion, we came across a patch of ocean that was littered with what looked like dead herrings. “They’re alive,” explained one of the onboard naturalists.
“They just got shocked by whale bubbles blowing up from underneath!” Apparently, we had stumbled on one of nature’s secrets. Whales like to stun fish and l by creating a wall of bubbles. The seagulls were delighted, of course.
After many of the 60-foot long Finback whales and smaller Minke whales were spotted, we headed back to the dock, which by this time had risen with the tremendous Bay of Fundy tide, with the movable wharf now about twenty feet higher and the areas where we had ridden our bikes completely engulfed by blue. People never get sick of tide stories!
Visit Wonderful St Andrews, New Brunswick!
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GoNOMAD received assistance from Tourism New Brunswick on this story, but the opinions are the author’s own.