ST. MARTINS – Imagine feasting on salmon, oysters and other regional delicacies prepared by a top chef on the ocean floor in St. Martins’ sea caves.
That’s just one of the offerings of local company Red Rock Adventure.
The St. Martins-based company has been having a good year. It won the partnership award from Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick last week, and the week before, it was a finalist for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s Pursuit Attraction and Adventure Award.
Red Rock was up against the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Big White Ski Resort in B.C., which won the award.
“It was quite an honour to be a finalist in a pretty competitive category,” says co-founder Mike Carpenter says. ”We were competing against icebergs. That’s pretty cool.”
Red Rock offers new ways of experiencing the Bay of Fundy, particularly targeting people who are new or easing into the outdoors.
The company was founded in 2014 by Carpenter and Nick Brennan to offer wilderness leadership programs for young people. But when it was announced that the Fundy Trail Parkway was going to be completed in 2018, the pair set off to capitalize more on their assets.
“There was potential. So that kind of pushed it. The timing was right,” Carpenter said.
Wilderness education is still one of the four pillars of Red Rock’s business, which also offers introductory courses for hiking, paddling, climbing and other things.
“All those kinds of stuff where people can learn to go outdoors in a safe way,” Carpenter said.
But the company also started developing the travel trade product. It puts together tour itineraries, sells them to travel agencies in the U.S. and beyond, who would then sell those packages to their customers. Red Rock and its local partners provide services for clients who do make it to New Brunswick.
“We have trips that take people on the [Fundy] footpath, or nine days through southern New Brunswick, staying at different hotels, whale watching on Campobello Island and things like that,” Carpenter said.
Travel trade is the largest part of Red Rock’s business and that’s where the most growth is likely to come from in the next few years. It’s already working with companies from California, Vermont, Boston and Colorado, among others.
Most of its customers are from the Maritimes, Eastern Canada and New England states, while some others come from southern U.S., Europe and Australia. Red Rock is trying to grow its international client base.
The company also works with the province to bring travel companies on what’s called a familiarization trip, to “show them a true Maritime time,” Carpenter said.
New Experiences On The Bay of Fundy
The third pillar of Red Rock’s offerings is day- and multi-day adventures, which include food-supported kayak tours that can last between 2.5 hours and three days, and a four-day supported hike on the Fundy footpath.
“You don’t carry tents, we’ve got a whole porter team that sets up your tents and food, and you get a guide that you’re walking along the footpath with,” says operations manager Jordan Jamison. “When you get to the camp, everything’s set up and there’s food there…The porter team comes in through a back road. They break down your camp and set up a new one at the next stop with new food.”
With porters carrying the heavier load, Red Rock hopes to make the footpath more accessible.
It’s not regular camping food that’s offered, either. Jamison says the current tour includes dishes like cedar plank maple salmon with grilled veggies and rice, and pork loins with blueberry and mustard sauce, among other things.
Carpenter said the idea to offer fresh food came from the guides themselves.
“At first it was selfish. We wanted good food. But you start to see people enjoy their experience a lot more and get turned on to the outdoors. Some people may not like hiking, but if they have a really good experience, they might come back to hiking and do more challenging stuff until you develop a hiker in a couple of years,” he said. “It’s not quite full-on glamping, but it’s a little bonus.”
The latest offering is a culinary adventure. Last year, the company held one “Savour the Sea Caves” event on the ocean floor at the St. Martins caves. Next year, it plans to host four.
“That was a five-course meal with pairings on the ocean floor, with The Kilted Chef [Alain Bosse] as our chef. We used just under 30 different New Brunswick distilleries, producers, markets or wineries in that event alone. And that was a four-hour tour for those 24 guests,” Jamison said.
The guests move from cave to cave, until they get to the cove. These dinners can only happen at certain times in the summer when the tide is the lowest.
“We wanted to put adventure into it. We take people into tough-to-get-to areas. You have to work a little bit to get this cool spot,” Carpenter added, saying his team would also bring in a set of stairs to help guests to get to the cove.
This year, it also partnered with Eating Heritage’s Food Tourism Symposium, combining food from top local chefs with local history through an off-the-grid event at Fort Beausejour near Sackville.
“It’s really a great way of introducing people to different parts of New Brunswick that they may not experience,” Jamison said at the time. “The food and drinks almost beckon people to discover this area for themselves.”
Red Rock also opened the Shipyard Café last year at its St. Martins home.
Partnerships Are Key
This year, the company was able to extend its season by a month due to the culinary offering. It’s now working to develop winter offerings.
So far, Carpenter says winter glamping at Mt. Carleton and Fundy National Park are possibilities.
Red Rock operates with three core staff members, including the founders. At the peak of the summer, it operates with nine full-time staff, four part-timers and five or six casual guides.
Carpenter says partnerships with local suppliers and communities have been key. This includes First Nations, whale watching companies, hotels, inns, Parks Canada, groups that maintain trails and others. When Red Rock can’t offer a service, it could also direct customers to its partners.
“We try to partner with a lot of people and groups because we don’t know it all. So for example, we hired a birder from Grand Manan, and let them do that. We don’t need to bring our boats and do everything,” he said.
As consumers focus more on experiences, Red Rock is trying to tap into that by thinking a bit outside of the box.
“It’s these experiences that people will remember. They’re going take photos and put it on social media, which is fantastic, but it’s the experience people are buying,” Jamison said to Huddle in November.
More people are also looking for off-the-beaten path-destinations and Bay of Fundy is a popular destination for that.
With UNESCO designated biospheres, a UNESCO Geopark, the highest tides in the world, and a unique, friendly culture, the Bay has a lot of potential for tourism, Carpenter said.
“A local person might say, ‘yeah, St. Martins is cool,’ But we don’t realize what it is in the sense of the rest of the world. It’s unique.”