Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Tobermory, Ontario

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Ohhh Canada! It's good to be back. Posting will be sparse this summer as I spend my time picking up where I left off with friends and family. I'm hoping to cook up a storm (not so much so far!) and spend as much time as possible out of doors (lots so far!).  As a celebration of our return home we decided to head straight north and explore some of the beautiful scenery our province has to offer.

I like to go camping and/or cottaging at least once per summer and this year I'm lucky enough to be going three times. My first trip is to a place I've long heard of for it's jaw-dropping scenery and great camping, so off I went with Other Half and two of our very best friends to Tobermory, Ontario. And when we arrived to find water more clear and more blue than I ever thought existed in Canada, I knew we were in for a good time.

Sitting at the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula, which juts out into the middle of Lake Huron - one of our 5 Great Lakes, Tobermory is known for several things, most notoriously as the home of Bruce Peninsula National Park, the start of the infamous (to Ontarians) Bruce Trail - which for interests sake runs 885 km from Tobermory to Niagara, as well as shipwrecks from the late 19th century and a natural phenomenon known as Flowerpots - huge stone pillars formed from changing water levels and crashing waves. I had never been, but longed to go and so decided that was my year - and I'm so glad I did.

Because there is so much on offer to us in this region, and we wanted to make the most of our time there, we decided to make it an extra long weekend and stay for 4 nights - it was the right choice. With this time we were able to hike, swim, and explore to our hearts content during the day and eat some great camp food by night (that's not an oxymoron either, we cooked everything from nachos to orange scented brownies over the fire).

Camping in Ontario is like a competitive sport. It has people mapping out their campgrounds (and specific sites) early in the year and waking up at all hours of the morning to be the first on the reservation system when it opens in early spring.  So because I'm not that organized, when we did manage to get our act together in early April all the sites in the National Park were already booked solid for July - we really like our camping in Ontario! That loss was also our gain as it forced us to seek out a privately owned campground which led us to Harmony Acres.  Placed on the edge of the National Park and 5 minutes from town, we were able to score a sleeping cabin (essentially a wood tent) in a small campground with spotless toilets, friendly owners, and a field of horses for us to admire.

We knew we had lots we wanted to see, but we also knew there were going to be a lot of other people seeing them too, so we decided to save our most "tourist-y" adventures to the end. For our first day we planned to pick up a portion of the Bruce Trail at Emmet Lake and hike to an area known as the Grotto.  Unfortunately for us the Grotto was actually twice the distance we had originally estimated and we missed the trail marker which (fortunately) led us to bouldering along the coast of Georgian Bay. Who knew heaving yourself up the side of boulder, down the other and then doing it again and again (and again and again!) could be so much fun.  We were able to ramble the beach and explore each little nook and cranny. A great day out.

The next day we were determined to see the Grotto so took a more direct route, a gentler hike and marvelled at the geography of the area.  The Grotto is an area within Bruce Peninsula National Park that is a natural cave accessed by swimming (a good distance) from a nearby beach and then through (a not short!) underwater tunnel or by climbing in from above.  We chose to climb down, and though it looks daunting at first it is made surprisingly simple by natural footholds and plenty of craggy rock to hold on to.  Once in the Grotto you can swim into the cave which is eerily lit from below by the aforementioned tunnel and jump from a natural outcropping or just enjoy the view.  Though it took us two days to get there it was well wort the visit as we managed to pass a couple of very pleasant hours hanging out in the glassy waters.

looking out from the grotto

looking into the grotto - from above

Our final full day was the day we saved for our “tourist day” and bought ourselves a place on a glass bottom boat to see a couple of the local shipwrecks, followed by a few solid hours on Flowerpot Island and a meal out in town.  While I personally found the shipwreck portion to be only okay (better explored by scuba or snorkel I think – both available in town), the hours spent on Flowerpot Island were some of the best of the whole trip.  A simple trail took us from the docks, past the flowerpots and over to the lighthouse and a more adventurous trail led us from the lighthouse through exceptionally lush forest back to the dock. The whole loop took us about 2 hours and was well worth the journey.  Most people seem to avoid the loop trail (doubling back the way they came past the flowerpots) but in my opinion the are missing some of the best scenery the whole region has to offer.  The forest is so lush it reminds me strongly of the temperate West coast of Canada that I could have easily have mistook one for the other.  It’s this trail that winds most naturally from end to the other and shows off mossy vines, vast height, and bright wildflowers.  If you’re on the island, don’t skip this trail, it was my favourite of the whole trip. 

They say that being away makes you appreciate home, and while I suspect that's true for every place, right now it's hard to imagine a more diversely beautiful place than my home.

Tobermory, Ontario

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