Travel

Rafting a tidal wave in Nova Scotia

Robin Esrock recounts his experience rafting a tidal wave in Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie River — the only place in the world to do so

  • Jun 08, 2023
  • 979 words
  • 4 minutes
Tidal bore rafting in the Shubenacadie River. (Photo courtesy Tidal Bore Rafting Resort - Tourism Nova Scotia)
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A tidal bore is a natural phenomenon that occurs when a wave surges up a river against the current. This creates reliably impressive waves and rapids, and despite its name (bore comes from Old Norse for wave), the homonym is not the least bit boring. Especially if you are on a Zodiac darting in and out of rapids churned by the world’s highest tide, turning Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie River into a wet and wild river adventure. Welcome to the only place in the world, you can river raft a genuine tidal wave. You will get wet.

The Shubenacadie River is the only place in the world where you can raft a tidal wave. (Photo courtesy Tidal Bore Rafting Resort - Tourism Nova Scotia)
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It’s Extreme Tide Day, and I’m feeling lucky. Not every raft trip with the folks at Tidal Bore Rafting Resort delivers seven-metre-plus waves. Depending on the tide cycle, it could be a Regular Tide (perfect for young kids) or High Tide, with plenty of action but not over the top. An Extreme Tide is equivalent to Class 5 Rapids, which the international scale of river difficulty (a sort of Richter scale for navigating rivers) reserves for Expert: ‘Very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk, may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes.” I experienced the thrill of Class 5 Rapids in New Zealand, including rafting over the world’s highest commercial vertical drop, and due to rocks and currents and its hold-on-for-dear-life stuff. When tides from the Bay of Fundy back into the Shubenacadie, it raises the water level as much as three metres high, creating all the thrills with none of the inherent risks. There are no rocks, and the riverbed is sandy. If you do fall over (which rarely happens), you’ll be safely washed to the sides, and being on a raft with an outboard motor means rescue is just seconds away. 

“How much do you value your shoes?” I’m inside the reception area of The Tidal Bore Rafting Resort and warned that the brown, brackish river wouldn’t play kindly with my favourite sneakers, or any treasured garment for that matter. Fortunately, there are plenty of old shoes and rain gear. Dressed appropriately, I’m handed a life vest and led to the jetty where the Zodiac awaits on calm waters six metres below, the first physical sign of how dramatic the tide in this part of the world can be. We hop on board and head up the chocolate-milk-coloured river, with high-tide markings on the shoreline metres above our heads. The Tidal Bore Rafting Resort, owned and operated by the local Sipekne’katik Band Council, offers two-hour or four-hour trips, and it’s all about timing: being on the water in the right spot just as the wave comes rushing in.

There’s plenty to appreciate as we scoot upriver in anticipation of the star attraction. Eagles fly overhead, the countryside is lush, and we can beach on a sandbar and stroll about or slide down a slope. Soon enough, the leading wave will arrive and swallow these muddy beds metres underwater.

Waiting on a sandbar. (Photo courtesy Tidal Bore Rafting Resort - Tourism Nova Scotia)
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My imagination half expects a 20-metre wave crashing towards us from the horizon. In reality, our guide points out a distinct approaching white cap, signalling the start of the bore.  Our outboard revs as we accelerate forward to meet the tidal wave. Keeping us away from the centre of the river, our guide tells us to hang on as she turns sharply into the churning rapids. The Zodiac instantly drops with a hard thump before lurching up another wave.  

Anyone who’s ever gone river rafting knows the unique thrill of conquering a series of fast-flowing rapids: the pounding, erratic jolts, heaves and twists as the raft gets pummelled by the torrent. Usually, the thrill is over in seconds, after which you regroup, catch your breath, and paddle downriver for the next set of rapids. With tidal bore rafting, the rapids keep coming relentlessly. Our extra-buoyant Zodiac takes a lot of punishment, filling up with river water to our ankles, but these boats are built for it. Breather breaks are taken by exiting the boiling soup for the calmer edges of the river, scooting down river to catch up with the wave, and heading straight back in. 

The Shubenacadie’s water is cool, invigorating and enters my mouth with every scream. It’s a white-knuckle, knee-buckling ride, and all eight passengers deeply appreciate the protection of the waterproof layers. Eventually the rapids settle, conveniently close to the very jetty where we set off four hours ago. The wooden steps of the jetty no longer lead six metres down to a calm river but float right on the fast-flowing water’s edge.   

There are some activities one must do in Canada, and there are some activities one can only do in Canada. It’s a delight to discover that tidal bore rafting on the Shubenacadie ticks off all the boxes by offering boatloads of fun with a unique natural phenomenon. 

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