A favourite argument among travelers is planning versus spontaneity. I get the appeal of throwing planning to the wind and letting adventure take its course. If I could do it, I would. However, I’m a planner, and, for me, painful efforts to be spontaneous result in me imagining showing up somewhere and finding the doors locked, or discovering I had just missed the last train, or the hostel was full. I’ve accepted my unreasonable anxiety about this and do whatever I can to plan ahead.
Despite my best efforts, planning does not always pay off. Such was the case on a recent visit to Ministers Island, New Brunswick. It’s conveniently located on the way to Saint Andrews by-the-Sea, of vintage travel fame, where we were going anyway. I figured, if there was a way to see it, we should at least try.
Ministers Island access
Formerly the private island refuge of a railway baron, Ministers Island is only accessible by sandbar at low tide from May to October. Some online information refers to boat access, but I didn’t see any while I was there, and suspect it may be outdated information.
I cannot stress this enough plan ahead. Failure to do so will leave you on the mainland, staring out at the island, wondering what’s on it. Since access to the island is limited by the tides of the Bay of Fundy, the highest tides in the world, checking the tide tables for Saint Andrews (the nearest tide data centre) is absolutely essential. Once you have an idea of the low tide window, check the official Ministers Island visit page, which identifies the access hours for each day and admission fees.
This is where it gets a little tricky and a lot confusing. The website has a daily calendar of entry times, as well as the admission fees, but there are also periods marked “Open Access.” It is not at all clear whether “Open Access” means free access or whether visitors still have to pay the $15 adult admission fee ($10 as of August 2015) without the benefit of a tour.
Arriving in Saint Andrews, we checked with the Tourist Bureau, and they assured us the admission fee was not charged during the Open Access period, but we wouldn’t be able to get a guided tour. On the day of our visit, there was Open Access until 12:30 pm.
Of all of the information available, this sign we found posted in the tourist bureau and in businesses around Saint Andrews had the best access information.
A Surprise Twist!
Figuring we had enough time to get to the island, take a leisurely drive around and see the highlights, we arrived at the sandbar around 11:15 am. It was as advertised. No real road to speak of, but enough of a sandbar to set out slowly and cautiously in our cars. We got to see a bald eagle, who took off immediately on our approach to take pictures.
Arriving at the entrance to the island about five minutes later, the booth attendant told us wouldn’t be able to access the island because of the approaching tide and a minimum of two hours was required for a visit.
We did ask about the conflicting information from the Tourist Bureau, but accepted our fate and chalked it up to bad timing, jumping out to take some pictures of the rocky beach around the entrance. In the meantime, another car arrived, put up a bigger fight, and was allowed to go onto the island for a short drive. When we explained for the second time that was all we wanted to do, we were allowed to enter and given strict instructions to return in 45 minutes or less.
Quickly exploring Ministers Island
While we were permitted to enter the island, we weren’t given a map or any information about it, so we took the best road available to us, which took us directly to the barn.
There was a quick sighting of some deer in a glade, but they were here and gone before we had a chance to grab some pictures. Given the peace and quiet on the island, it’s well-suited as a game preserve, where deer and other assorted woodland creatures live and frolic in peace.
For a more information about a proper visit to Ministers Island, check out Janice Waugh’s Solo Traveler post. Not only did she get to see the main house, she had a nice, sunny day for it!
In terms of travel disappointments, this one was pretty minor. After all, we did get on the island and had plenty of other things to do in Saint Andrews. That said, it feels like a huge opportunity is being missed, largely because of miscommunicated information.
Ministers Island at High Tide
Out of curiosity, we stopped at Ministers Island again as we were on our way out of Saint Andrews. The verdict: definitely inaccessible.
See Ministers Island for yourself:
199 Carriage Road, Ministers Island, New Brunswick