Shippagan & Miscou Island
Both Shippagan and Miscou Island require detours off Route 11, but they're each worth the detour if you're interested in glimpsing Acadian New Brunswick in the slow lane -- tourism has not yet discovered this place. As an added bonus, Miscou Island boasts some fine beaches and a historic lighthouse. I think this side trip is worth a half-day to a day, because the area looks more like Cape Cod or Maine than much of the rest of New Brunswick. There aren't, however, places to stay and dine; you'll need to do that in Caraquet.
Shippagan, the first stop, lies about 30 minutes from Caraquet via routes 11 and 345. It's a quiet, leafy village that's also home to sizable crab and herring fleets. (Go down to the harbor and snap pictures of the various boats in their slips; it's better than buying a postcard.)
There's a famous local legend about this harbor: Three identical herring boats were built for it in Saint John in 1966, but two sank within several years of their maiden voyages for no apparent reason, killing nine fishermen; one ship's wreck has still never been found. The third ship, the Marc Guylaine, then became the object of intense scrutiny in these parts. Local fisherfolk assembled in angry public meetings until the "cursed" third ship was finally sold for scrap to the government -- except that it wasn't scrapped. The provincial government shrewdly resold it to some other folks, who used it for fishing and ocean research on the west coast. Today it still plies the fishing waters of British Columbia.
Shippagan is also home to the surprisingly modern New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre, 100 Aquarium St. (tel. 506/336-3013), also on the water near the harbor -- prominently posted signs around town direct you there -- a good destination if you're the least bit curious about local marine life. Here you'll learn about the 125 species of native fish hereabouts, many of which are on display. Kids are especially drawn to the harbor seal tank outside, where trainers prompt the sleek beasts to show off their acrobatic skills. Little ones will also love watching the twice-daily feedings, when the seals down pounds of herring. Admission is C$9 adults, C$6.75 seniors, C$6 children age 6 to 18, and C$25 families. The center is open mid-May to late September from 10am to 6pm daily; seal feedings are at 11am and 4pm.
Keep driving north on Route 113 and you'll soon cross a low drawbridge onto Laméque Island. If you're traveling through in mid-July, don't be surprised to hear fine baroque music wafting from the Sainte-Cecile Church. Since 1975, the island has hosted the Laméque International Baroque Music Festival; call tel. 800/320-2276 or 506/344-5846 for details. For about 10 days each summer, talented musicians perform an ambitious series of concerts, held in an architecturally striking, acoustically wonderful church in a small village on the island's north coast. Tickets often sell out well in advance, and most are priced at C$20 to C$35 per adult.
Also in the village of Lamèque, take an hour or so to explore the Ecological Park of the Acadian Peninsula at 65 Rue Du Ruisseau (www.parcecologique.ca; tel. 506/344-3223). Inside, screens interpret the natural world outside where you can climb the observation tower, hike the boardwalk that snakes across an estuary into a forest, and do a little bird watching through a scope. Interpretive guides are available. The center is open late June until the end of September. Admission ranges from C$6 to C$11.
The Saint-Marie church, a gorgeous twin-towered white wooden structure, is also worth finding; it's located in the hamlet of Saint-Raphael-sur-Mer, about 16km (10 miles) from Shippagan—bear right onto Route 305 a few miles after crossing the drawbridge onto Laméque Island. (Saint-Raphael is also the village where those angry fishermen finally demanded the cursed fishing boat's sale.) From the church, continue north on 305 another couple of kilometers (a mile or two) to find Cap-Bateau Arch, a remarkable natural stone formation that looks like it should be somewhere in the canyons of Utah.
Backtrack to Route 113 and keep traveling north. You'll soon cross onto Miscou Island, which for decades was connected by a simple ferry. In the mid-1990s, an arched bridge was finally erected across the strait. The bridge made a few islanders grumpy, but happily this wee island still retains a sense of remoteness, especially north of the village of Miscou Centre when you start getting into boggy territory.
If you drive northward on Route 113 across the island until you run out of road (it won't take long), you'll come to New Brunswick's oldest lighthouse. The Miscou Island Lighthouse (tel. 506/336-1302), built in 1856, marks the confluence of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Baie des Chaleurs. It's only open to the public in August and September, from dawn until dusk.
The dominant natural feature of Miscou, though, might be its bog. The bog landscape here is as distinctive as that of the Canadian Rockies; it's flat and green, and stretches for miles in places. You'll see much of this bog habitat on northern Miscou Island, where some of the bogs have been harvested for their peat. There's a well-constructed nature trail on Route 113, just north of Miscou Centre; a boardwalk loops through the bog and around an open pond. Learn about the orchids and lilies that thrive in the vast and spongy mat of shrubs and roots, and watch for the pitcher plants. The loop takes about 20 minutes, and it's free. If you come in fall (say, late September through mid-October), you'll find these bogs suddenly aflame in coats of gorgeous crimson. It happens every year.
There's also a saltwater beach (tel. 506/336-1302) on Miscou Island's northern end where you can swim, change, and shower; it's open year-round.
The historic beach town of Caraquet—widely regarded as the spiritual capital of Acadian New Brunswick—is the town that keeps going and going. (Geographically speaking, anyway.) It's spread thinly along a single commercial boulevard that parallels the beach; this town once claimed the honorific "longest village in the world" when it ran to some 20km (13 miles) long. As a result, Caraquet lacks a well-defined downtown, an urban center of gravity, an identity; there's one stoplight, where Boulevard St-Pierre Est changes to Boulevard St-Pierre Ouest. (Most of the establishments we've mentioned in the area are somewhere on this boulevard.)
A good place to start a tour is the Carrefour de la Mer, 51 Blvd. St-Pierre Est, a modern complex overlooking the man-made harbor. It has a spare, Scandinavian feel to it, and you'll find the tourist information office, a seafood restaurant, a snack bar, a children's playground, and two short strolls that lead to picnic tables on jetties with fine harbor views.
Grande-Anse is a wide-spot-in-the-road village of low, modern homes near bluffs overlooking the bay, lorded over by the stone Saint Jude church. The best view of the village—and a pretty good spot for a picnic—is along the bluffs just below the church. (Look for the sign indicating QUAI 45m/147 ft. west of the church.) Here you'll find a small man-made harbor with a fleet of fishing boats, a small sandy beach, and some grassy bluffs where you can park overlooking the bay.
If you'd prefer picnic tables, head a few miles westward to Pokeshaw Park, open from mid-June through August. Just offshore is a large kettle-shaped island ringed with cliffs that rise from the waves, long ago separated from the cliffs on which you're now standing. An active cormorant rookery thrives among the trees. There's a small picnic shelter for use in inclement weather; the park's open daily from 9am to 9pm, and a small admission fee is charged.
For an ocean swimming experience, head to Plage Grande-Anse, located 2km (a mile) east of the town. This handsome beach has a snack bar near the parking area and is open from 10am to 9pm daily. There's a small entrance fee for adults.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.