Travel

10 things you absolutely must do in New Brunswick – according to my two-year-old

Discovering boats, buoys and deep-fried clams on an epic family road trip in the 2022 Chevrolet Traverse RS

  • Oct 07, 2022
  • 2,330 words
  • 10 minutes

In July 2020, a few weeks before I gave birth to my son, I made him a promise that someday I’d take him to the Bay of Fundy. So, when GM Canada offered me the chance to take an epic road trip anywhere in Canada in the 2022 Chevrolet Traverse RS, I thought instantly of New Brunswick. (Actually, I thought instantly of the Dempster Highway but then remembered that I have a young toddler.) So it was decided that my husband Jason and I would hit the road for 10 days and take our son Marcus to visit some of our favourite spots in the province where we met.

My late-pregnancy brain, marinating in hormones, had conjured up a powerful image of chubby legs running on the red mud of Alma Beach, of a little hand inserted trustingly in mine as we walked together between sparkling tide pools. It never occurred to me that we’d have to get the child to New Brunswick, and parent him in between sentimental movie moments. Life with a toddler is wild, frustrating, hilarious and exhausting no matter where in the world you are. There were plenty of moments when Jason and I exchanged silent glances that said help, and what have we done? But it also turns out that seeing a beloved destination through your child’s eyes is pretty darn magical, so it seems only fitting that I share Marcus’ highlights from the trip — with some added context from mom and dad.

  1. 1. N.B. must-do #1: Sing sea shanties to pass the time on long drives

    M does pretty well on long car rides, but we still felt the wisest course of action to protect everybody’s sanity was to split the 10-hour drive from Ottawa to Fredericton into two five-hour chunks, stopping overnight in Quebec City. Day 1 went as smooth as could be, but construction, long lines at the Costco gas bar, and an unplanned stop in Edmundston to buy M new shorts for reasons I won’t go into (if you know, you know) meant we were still on the road at almost 6 p.m. on Day 2 and tempers were getting short. Desperate, I decided what we needed was a thematic family singalong, so I connected my phone to the stereo via Apple CarPlay and put on the “Sea Shanty Medley” by Home Free. The good news: it turned our moods around instantly. The bad news: M demanded to listen to it over and over for the rest of the trip until we were ready to christen the Traverse the Billy O’Tea.

    Mom and dad recommend: Building a road trip playlist of songs you like in advance to see you through those long stretches. The Traverse makes it easy to stay connected on the go with wireless smartphone charging in the centre console and wireless Apple and Android connectivity.

  2. 2. N.B. must-do #2: Splash in “really deep puddles”

    We arrived in Fredericton in the wake of a thunderstorm, so as we ventured out to stretch our legs and find dinner, we were dodging puddles throughout the historic downtown. Well, two of us were. M has never met a puddle he wouldn’t splash in, and his mind was positively blown to discover that “really deep puddles” exist outside of Ottawa. While J and I got all schmoopy revisiting the student apartments, bars and parks where our young love blossomed in the early 2000s as students at the University of New Brunswick, our progeny ran about, soaking his new shorts and shrieking with joy. The circle of life.

    Mom and dad recommend: Spending a couple of days exploring Fredericton’s food and drink scene. Get to Mill Town Roasters on King Street early to snag one of their huge, gooey cinnamon buns for breakfast. Or, swing by the Tipsy Muse on Regent Street for a hearty breakfast sandwich on a St. Viateur Montreal bagel. There are plenty of great spots for lunchtime libations, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shout-out to some Freddy institutions that have been quenching thirsts since we were students: The Lunar Rogue Pub and The Joyce, located on the ground floor of the Crowne Plaza Fredericton-Lord Beaverbrook Hotel. On a nice day, take a stroll across the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge to take in picture-perfect views of the Fredericton cityscape and then while away an afternoon at the Picaroons Roundhouse with Picaroons beer on tap and shareable eats by 540 NORTH.

  3. 3. N.B. must-do #3: Shop at Atlantic Superstore

    Fun fact: Not only does the Atlantic Superstore in Sussex, N.B. have ceiling fans, it also sells various fans.

    Mom and dad recommend: Stocking up here on all your snacks and camping supplies en route to Fundy National Park as options in and around the park are limited.

  4. 4. N.B. must-do #4: Throw rocks in the ocean

    This was it, the entire reason for the trip: the moment my son would meet the rocky stretch of beach that has held my heart since I first visited Alma on a cross-country road trip with my mom in 1998. I actually had butterflies in my stomach as we led M down the boardwalk and onto the pebble-strewn sand, wondering how he would react to seeing the ocean up close for the first time.

    “That’s the ocean,” he said.

    “Yeah, buddy, that’s the ocean,” I replied. A long pause.

    “Want to put rocks in the ocean.”

    So that’s what we did. I let him lead me by the hand down to the water’s edge (the tide was just starting to go out) and watched as he carefully selected several smooth rocks and tossed them into the waves. The start of a beautiful relationship.

    Mom and dad recommend: Grabbing some grub at Fundy Take-Out, situated on the bank of the Upper Salmon River across the road from the beach, and picking up beer to go at Holy Whale Brewing Co., Alma’s very own craft brewery located inside an old church. Time your visit for low tide and explore the huge expanse of ocean floor and myriad creatures of the intertidal zone.

  5. 5. N.B. must-do #5: Go nuts in an Ôasis accommodation

    I was initially very excited to sleep in one of the highly Instagrammable, teardrop-shaped pods that Parks Canada calls its Ôasis accommodations, but by 3 a.m., with my husband’s breath tickling my feet, my son trying to force me off the narrow bench that transforms into a bed, and the segmented mattress coming to pieces beneath our combined weight, I was ready to go sleep in the Traverse. All of us were too nervous to sleep in the plastic mesh loft, though Marcus had a ball climbing up and down the ladder and rolling around up there. Fortunately, we managed to bag enough rest to make the most of our time Fundy National Park, going for a dip in Wolfe Lake, hiking the Kinnie Brook trail and exploring some of the informal paths through the woods around our Lakeview campsite. 

    Mom and dad recommend: Upgrading to an oTENTik for all the fun of family camping without the need to sleep on the ground.  

  6. 6. N.B. must-do #6: See the Hopewell Rocks

    Did I make my family hike down to the famous Hopewell Rocks in the teeming rain? Yes. Did they have any interest in exploring the beach with me? No. But J knows the Hopewell Rocks are also special to me, so he took M back to the Traverse, where they had a grand time listening to music and experimenting with all the buttons and knobs on the dashboard while I enjoyed a misty walk among the rocks.

    Mom recommends: Saving this excursion for a sunny day if travelling with small children. But, if you and your family are up for it, visiting the Hopewell Rocks in the rain (or snow!) is a great way to see and photograph these amazing natural sculptures without crowds of tourists around.

  7. 7. N.B. must-do #7: “Do the beep-boops” in downtown Saint John

    It started with the button that activates our local splash pad, which makes a satisfying “beep-boop” sound when pressed. Ever since, M has had a pathological need to press every button he encounters, especially the buttons at pedestrian crossings, an activity he likes to call “doing the beep-boops.” Saint John — Canada’s first incorporated city — is hilly but highly walkable, with plenty of historic architecture to admire as you rest your burning thighs and enough beep-boops to occupy a two-year-old for at least as long as it takes you and your partner to wolf down your lunch in shifts.

    Mom and dad recommend: Not trying to make your busy toddler sit through two restaurant meals in one day. Lesson learned.

  8. 8. N.B. must-do #8: Explore the St. Martins Sea Caves

    The same mighty forces that carved the Hopewell “flowerpots” also hollowed out several immense, shallow caves in the red sandstone cliffs at St. Martins, located in the Upper Bay of Fundy, about 40 minutes drive from Saint John. Only accessible at low tide, the caves are easy and fun for all ages to explore. Marcus enjoyed discovering the many different textures in and around the caves: the soft, sandy mud of the ocean floor, the rough sandstone walls, and the slippery dulse clinging to the exposed rocks.

    Mom and dad recommend: After working up an appetite exploring the caves, stopping at one of the roadside food stands on the highway through St. Martins for a bowl of chowder and some deep-fried clams.

  9. 9. N.B. must-do #9: Look for buoys and boats in the lower Bay of Fundy

    If you ask J and I about our favourite experience of the trip, we’ll both say the St. Martins Sea Caves, hands-down. But the experience M still talks about months after the fact was the ferry ride from Deer Island to Campobello Island in the lower Bay of Fundy, not because of the charming coastal scenery but because of the quantity and variety of buoys we passed along the way. Round orange buoys! Tall green buoys! Square-ish white buoys! We had to hold him tightly to keep him from throwing himself overboard in his excitement.

    Mom and dad recommend: Taking the time to explore this somewhat underrated part of the province, which boasts picture-perfect villages and harbours, friendly East Coast hospitality and swimmable beaches.

  10. 10. N.B. must-do #10: Throw rocks in the ocean (again) and make a core memory

    Our last stop in New Brunswick before crossing into Maine for the first leg of the drive home was Herring Cove Provincial Park on Campobello Island. Anticipating the long drive ahead, J took M to the playground to burn off energy while I hiked over the dunes and down to the wide, windy beach to spend a few quiet moments by the ocean. I found myself captivated by the many colours and patterns evident in the warm, weather-beaten stones piled at the high-water line. When I looked up again, J was coming over the dunes, carrying M on his shoulders. I watched as my husband took our son down to the water and held his little hand while M exclaimed over the rocks and threw some into the waves. I couldn’t hear their conversation over the roar of the onshore wind, though later, J told me he was explaining the purpose of the fishing weir in the cove. I realized with a rush of emotion that I had missed a crucial detail in my imaginings two and a half years earlier — that it was not just M and me who were meant to discover the Bay, but the three of us together. Our family, writing different memories on the same road. 

    Mom and dad recommend: Holding onto those moments for dear life because your precious baby is growing up way too fast. 

  11. 11. The vehicle

    J and I disagree on the perfect vehicle. He loves sedans; the bigger and boat-ier, the better, whereas when we were on the hunt for a new car last year, I advocated for an SUV — something that would give me a high perch above the road and have room for a lot of stuff. The Traverse RS offers the best of both worlds: the smooth, powerful ride of J’s beloved Buick Lucerne (2012-2017, RIP) with panoramic views of the highway and more than enough space for two adults, a small child and everything they need to be comfortable for 10 days on the road. We filled the back with our duffel bags, wet-weather gear, bedding and a cooler, installed Marcus’ car seat in the second row, and piled up books, toys, snacks and the all-important diaper bag between the seats for easy access.

    A feature we quickly came to appreciate was the available HD Surround Vision, which uses multiple cameras to display a digital overhead image of the area around your vehicle alongside the standard rear camera view when reversing into or out of a parking spot. This was especially handy when backing into our campsite at Fundy National Park, where we had a tight fit between the Ôasis and the trees.

    We packed for typical East Coast summer weather — temperate, cooler by the water, prone to fog and rain; we got nine days of sun and highs of 30C. That, plus the fact that I spent much of the trip riding in the backseat, providing Marcus with a steady supply of snacks and books, made me very grateful for the second-row climate controls. On the one day that it did rain, we were impressed with how the vehicle handled on the hilly, winding roads along the Fundy coast. 

    Of course, anyone who’s had to drive anywhere in the past six months is likely wondering how the Traverse is for fuel efficiency. This was our biggest fear heading into the trip, when gas prices were at an all-time high, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that despite its size, the Traverse could achieve about 800 kilometres per tank of highway driving, slightly less when combined with city driving.  

    And what did Marcus think of the Traverse? We assumed he was indifferent to the mode of transport for our big adventure, but recently, we were out for a walk and a red Chevy Traverse drove by us. M pointed and screamed, “That’s our red car!” A memorable trip, indeed. 

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