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Tidal Bore Rafting - The Ultimate Nova Scotia Boating Adventure

I know I’m challenging all internet sleuths by saying as much, but as far as I know the only place in the world there are tours that take small Zodiacs and smash you through the waves of a tidal bore are in one very specific region of Nova Scotia. If there is somewhere else, I’d love to know about it and go check it out!

Assuming it is, and this is an only-place-in-the-world-you-can-do-this activity, it’s worth explaining what the heck tidal bore rafting is all about.

What Is A Tidal Bore?

It’s a phenomenon where the incoming tide forms a wave that travels up a river or narrow bay, against the direction of the current. As the tide rises, the incoming tidal water is funneled into a river, creating a wave that travels upstream. It forms a relatively predictable set of waves – I say relatively because water is never 100% predictable and slight changes in the river bed can effect wave height and location. The tidal bore is caused by the tide moving into a river with a large tidal range, such as the Shubenacadie River from the Bay of Fundy. If you look at a map showing the entire Bay of Fundy on the north short of Nova Scotia you’ll see that at its eastern edge the pay narrows and feeding the bay – while the tide is low – is the Shubenacadie River. When those world’s highest tides (up to 16 metres or 50 feet) in the bay show up twice a day, the river effectively reverses flow.

I don’t know how long people have been playing in the waves or when the very first attempt to boat through the waves happened, but I am quite certain it happened before someone decided to charge tourists for the experience. And the first regular tours begin in the 1987 with the Tidal Bore Rafting Resort. Since then other companies have opened up as well so you have lots of options for tours.

The Experience

First thing to note is you will get wet on this ride. Very wet. Guaranteed. The second thing to note is that you must be able bodied to get down slippery slopes to the boats, and to hold on to said boats. This is a Zodiac and you’re sitting on the tubes with no backrests. The third is that it’s way more fun than you think it will be! Like anything these days, it begins with signing waivers at base camp. You don’t need to be staying on site to take part in the rafting experience. Once everyone in your group has gathered and been fitted with a lifejacket you work your way down to the boats. The reddish-brown clay that makes up the shoreline and river bottom is a distinct and strong colour that will give a healthy red-tinge to anything you’re wearing, so don’t wear your brand new shoes with white laces (note: lesson learned the hard way!).

You load into your red-tubed Zodiac and your rafting guide sets out, running with the flow of the river towards the Bay of Fundy. At times it’s a slow putt, other times you’re able to get it up on plane and rip along the flat-as-glass water sheltered from wind by the hills and cliffs along the shoreline.

I had experienced tidal bore rafting once before, about 20 years ago, and only remember the fun of smashing through the waves. I didn’t recall – nor, to be honest, did I believe our guide who said to watch for it – the clear-as-day start of the tidal bore. I thought that tides are gradual so there’s no way it will be a dramatic mini-tsunami, yet that’s exactly what it was. In the distance we heard rushing water and our guide announced “It’s coming. Hear that?” and then ushered us all back into the boat because we were killing time wandering around a small sandy island that would soon be buried under a few metres of brackish water. We loaded into the boat and I was able to yell to the Water Ways TV videographer in the second boat to turn around and get a shot of the first wave. Sure enough, as if following military orders, wave after waves followed behind that first one. Then they started to grow. It's water, so things are never truly static in a perfectly literal sense, but the tidal bore causes waves that are essentially static but large. They can grow to a few metres high at their extreme.

Then the real fun begins.

“Everybody ready?” our guide asks which feels more like a statement than a question, and an enthusiastic-if-somewhat-tentative “Yes” ripples through our boat. He hits the throttle and our boat pushes clear of the sheltered shoreline and towards the far side of the river right at the bed, where thanks to hydrodynamics we can predict the highest flow of water and, thus, the biggest waves.

Then a 90-degree turn to port and “Here we go!” from the guide and we’re into the fray riding up the first wave and stuffing the bow into the second slightly as a huge splash of water slaps into our smiling faces.

In retrospect, those first waves were some of the smallest but the first experience is one of the best.

As it continued, the few landmarks that were pointed out on our slow cruise out – notable rock structures – began to disappear under water. The only indication of how deep things had gotten was beneath the flowing water and waves.

I can’t be sure, but I think the guides gauge the reaction of their passengers to see how far to push it and our group’s laughs and cheers were the biggest affirmative he could receive. So things got bigger, wetter, and wilder with our boat entirely submerged at brief points before the combination of buoyancy of the inflated tubes and forward motion had the self-draining floor earning it’s keep. We somehow managed to emerge riding on top of the water once again.

When the height of the flow had passed but the waves remained, we were given the option of hopping in and floating up river. Not one to pass up a new experience, I slid my legs over the side and hopped into the murky water and flowed up and down through the large waves.

It's hard to wrap your head around it in the moment, but I was being pushed up river. Nature is a trip sometimes.

On the way back we pulled into a small, secluded cove away from the current and had the option to play slip-and-slide on the muddy banks. In an instant, a dozen adults transformed into school-age kids having the best time playing in the mud!

Would I recommend smashing your own boat through massive waves? Nope.

Would I suggest you try this experience and let someone else smash their boats through the waves? Absolutely!

Generally, I prefer to be behind the wheel, but despite having no control of the boat and even less control of the waves I floated through, I can honestly say this was one of the most fun boating adventures I’ve ever been on!

Check it out:

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