ST. ANDREWS BY-THE-SEA, New Brunswick — Autumn comes to this Canadian maritime province in a riotous dance of colors. The deep crimson, tangerine and gold leaves rustle in the brisk winds off the Atlantic in a stately minuet.
September and October are considered the ideal time to visit, and when you see the pyrotechnic display of fall colors, it's hard to disagree.
But if you come in the fall, you won't have a chance to watch fierce waves pummel the rocks at Cape Enrage, or to dogsled or cross-country ski the interior. For this, you'll have to brave the winter.
And unless you come in the summer, as I did, you'll miss the annual migration of sandpipers as they leave Mary's Point on the Fundy coast, winging their way non-stop to South America for the winter. You'll also miss the mating of right whales in the Bay of Fundy, considered one of nature's greatest spectacles.
My point: There's no bad time to visit to New Brunswick. No matter the season, you will see its most famous phenomenon: the Fundy tides, the highest in the world. Twice daily, the ocean tides pour in and out of the Bay of Fundy in a watery discharge equal to the daily flow of all the world's freshwater rivers: 100 billion gallons.
Every six hours the tides reverse, and water that was deep enough for fishing boats to moor is sucked out to sea in a manner similar to pulling the plug in a bathtub, only to return with a vengeance, at times raising the water level more than 50 feet.
The ocean's raging waters also sculpt the land they surround. At Rocks Provincial Park, towering rock formations and caves are the result of violent waves. Surrounded and sometimes submerged by water at high tide, they stand high and dry for half of each day.
Another tidal enigma is Reversing Falls in the town of St. John. From Falls View Park, you can watch the dizzying display of frenzied whirlpools and tumbling rapids created when Fundy's tides collide with the St. John River, forcing it to flow upstream.
Ice water and adrenaline
Seeing it this way, however, means you're a spectator and not a participant. For the full effect, you can take a jet boat ride right to the heart of the action. I knew I was in for a wild ride when I was presented with a full-body yellow slicker and told to take off everything I didn't want to get wet.
Until then, I had envisioned the Reversing Falls jet boat ride to be something on the order of Niagara's Maid of the Mist boat tour: a few passes around the falls, with an occasional soft mist spraying my face.
I was in for a surprise. What looked to be a frighteningly fragile watercraft, with a daredevil captain who didn't think you had gotten your money's worth until he had taken you to the very edge of the abyss — the roiling sinkholes and swirling whirlpools created by the tide's rush to and from the sea — was enough to satisfy any adrenaline junkie.
Forget the occasional misty spray; what I got amounted to a bucketful of icy water in the face every time the madcap captain took a wild turn. It was both scary and exhilarating. It's no wonder the Reversing Falls jet boat ride is one of the province's most popular attractions.
Whales at play
A decidedly calmer water experience was in store for me another day, when I went with Tall Ship Adventures out of St. Andrews By-the-Sea on a three-hour whale-watching cruise.
The Jolly Breeze took us across the aquamarine waters of the Bay of Fundy, beyond the churning eddies of Old Sow whirlpool and the beacon of East Quoddy Lighthouse to a playground of feeding whales.
"I can pretty much guarantee that at this time of year we're gonna see whales," our guide said.
Did we ever. For three hours, we watched as a cavalcade of finback and North Atlantic right whales, the latter among the most endangered species in the world, leapt and spun. It was only after we had returned to port that the Jolly Breeze's owner, channeling his inner George Washington, confessed that what we had seen were the same three whales over and over. Never mind; we saw them and they were magnificent.
It's hard to compete with the splendor of New Brunswick's natural wonders, but the province offers other delights. St. Andrews By-the-Sea, on Passamaquoddy Bay, which separates New Brunswick from Maine, has lots to offer.
Tour the lovely Kingsbrae Garden, 27 acres of spectacular plantings in a tranquil setting overlooking the sea. Its extraordinary collection of rhododendrons, roses and daylilies is matched only by its exquisite themed gardens, including the knot, white, bird and butterfly, and fantasy gardens.
An easy excursion from St. Andrews is Minister's Island, where Covenhoven, once the summer home of Canadian Pacific Railroad president William Van Horne, stands — a monument to the excesses of 19th-century robber barons.
After his railroad began serving St. Andrews in 1890, Van Horne started visiting the area, and in 1891 he bought the 500-acre island and began building the house. Visitors can get to the island only at low tide, but they must time their trip carefully to get back to the mainland before high tide submerges the road under 8 feet of water in Passamaquoddy Bay.
Tea with Eleanor
Anyone familiar with the story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt probably knows of their beloved summer retreat on Campobello Island. The sprawling red cottage is open to the public on self-guided tours, as are the beautifully landscaped grounds of this 2,800-acre International Park, jointly administered by the Canadian and U.S. governments.
A new feature at Campobello is Tea with Eleanor. Every day, weather permitting, guests gather at nearby Hubbard Cottage for an intimate afternoon tea and a chance to learn about Eleanor's life on the island (she continued to come long after Franklin stopped.) Tickets are free, but they cannot be reserved; anyone wishing to attend must pick them up on the day of the tea.
Another maritime province, Prince Edward Island, usually gathers the lion's share of the region's culinary kudos, but New Brunswick has two standouts. At Rossmount Inn, just outside St. Andrews, chef Chris Aerni presides over a restaurant that is packed nightly.
That's not surprising, given that he rustles up roasted corn and lobster bisque, with corn-lobster fritter and nasturtium oil; Bay of Fundy haddock fillet; and butter-poached lobster with sautéed foie gras.
Also in St. Andrews, chef Guillaume DeLaune is doing amazing things in the kitchen at Kingsbrae Arms Hotel. Lucky diners might start with a pre-dinner tasting plate of classic blinis, coddled eggs and smoked sturgeon, with a shot of iced vodka, then go on to a multicourse menu that reflects the classic French style of DeLaune's homeland, accentuated with herbs and vegetables from his garden.
Whether culinary, historic or natural, New Brunswick lives up to its motto: "Adventures left and right."