Grand Manan / Travel

Top Tips for planning your day trip to Machias Seal Island

Top Tips for planning your day trip to Machias Seal Island

If you’ve lived in Atlantic Canada for any part of your life, there’s a really great chance you’ve heard of the puffin. These ridiculously cute birds that should be officially called the Canadian Penguin visit our coast every summer and flock to a spot called Machias Seal Island, located 19 km from Southwest Head on Grand Manan Island.

Of all the times I’ve visited Grand Manan – I’ve never had the opportunity to go to Machias to see these magical birds. Until this summer. 

Machias Island 1

We booked our tour with Sea Watch Tours back in March (we were told the earlier you book, the better) and then waited patiently for July to arrive.

I should note, we were incredibly lucky that we had AMAZING weather for our tour.  Because visiting Machias Island requires you to transfer from a 45’ vessel into a 16’ skiff that then must dock on the rocky island, good weather and low wind is a must. Machias Island 2


Our boat left Seal Cove in the early morning and coffee at sea was the best way to start the day. The crew are lovely – friendly and super knowledgeable.  The sheer excitement of everyone onboard to see puffins is contagious.

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Machias Island 3

Once you arrive at Machias Island, you’ll get to rock a super sweet lifejacket, hop in the skiff and sail over to the island. Docking can be a bit tricky, as you’ll disembark from the skiff onto a slippery, seaweed covered ramp. No-slip shoes are definitely a must! I wore my Hunter boots for warmth and grip.

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Machias Island 6

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Once you get to the island, the fun really begins. Or, if you’re like me, the fun began when you spotted the first hundred puffins from the boat and you excitedly shed a few puffin excitement tears.

Machias Island guides will take you to your blind – we were four people to one blind and believe me when I say, whatever side of the blind you stand on, you’re going to get the million dollar view.

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Machias Island 7

See? Told you!

Here’s just a handful of my favorite shots from our two hours on the island. There’s about a thousand more where these came from.

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Now, an hour in the blind will go by incredibly fast but if I can offer my two cents – remember to put your camera down (your iphone too!) and enjoy the moment. Take in the sounds, the sights, the smells – yes, an island with thousands of birds does have its own unique smell. It’s kind of a cross between lobster and bird poop. The birds are so cute you won’t even care!

And as you will be reminded several times during your adventure, visiting Machias Island is not a right, it’s a privilege. 

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On the way back to Grand Manan Island, we stopped by North Rock to see a couple hundred seals, which was AWESOME. It was a great way to finish the trip to Machias.

Machias Island 23

Puffin tours are finished for this year, but according to Sea Watch Tours’ website, they will be taking summer 2018 reservations beginning in January! If you’ve been thinking about crossing this off your bucket list – what are you waiting for?

Here are my must-haves for your visit:

  • Dress warmly. Wear layers. Bring a proper coat to break the wind and even some gloves for colder days are a must.
  • No Slip Shoes. Wear something with a solid grip for disembarking on Machias.
  • Backup battery. I keep a backup on me at all times for my iphone but it’s a must for this visit. Especially if you’re capturing video on your iphone.
  • Extra Memory Card. You will take A LOT of pictures.
  • Sunscreen. You’re going to be on the ocean. There’s hopefully going to be a lot of sun. Protect your skin.
  • Lip Balm. Again, you’re at sea. It gets salty. I reapplied and reapplied again my Nova Scotia Fisherman’s lip balm.
  • Sea Sickness Meds. I’m lucky to not get sea sick easily, but many onboard were feeling the swell of the ocean. My mother was one of them. I armed her with some homeopathic drops for sea sickness and they did the trick. Others turn to Gravol or the Sea-Band.

Most important thing of all – bring your sense of adventure! You’re going to have an amazing experience!

Want to see more Grand Manan? Follow on instagram to see our adventures 👉🏻 @crystal_catherine


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