Exploring Ontario: Manitoulin Island

The past year has been hard on us travellers. First, no seeing family in your home country – very hard for ex-pats. Secondly, having to cancel trips to Disney World that you had planned to complete before your teenager decides that they would really rather not be seen with you. Thirdly, no anticipation of future exploration into unknown and exciting new territories unless it’s that dark, dank corner of the basement or right under the stairs in that place where the light never fully reaches so you’re not totally sure what’s there, and no-one looks forward to that. Except maybe spiders.

So, our trip to Manitoulin Island was a blessing when we were finally able to go. We had to push it further into the future once and were concerned that we were going to have to do it again.

Having not been anywhere for a while other than local trips to go for hikes, I was actually really looking forward to the journey, which was lucky as it was going to take us over 7 hours (7 hours!) to get there. Now, I know the Brits who read my blog would balk at that as motorways permitting, you’d probably be in the wilds of Scotland (or Cornwall if travelling north to south) by then and you wouldn’t do that for a weekend away, unless you flew by budget airline. However, in Canadian terms, 7 hours is a hop and a skip to somewhere else and has to be done.

Just to put the size of Canada into perspective, we travelled seven hours at pace and didn’t even leave the province of Ontario. Yep, same province. Not even a different provincial border. Still Ontario.

Anyway, we had booked a studio in a secluded spot on the banks of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. We had visited Huron before when we lived in Montreal and hopped on a ferry to the rather lovely named Flowerpot Island, dispatched from Tobermory and staying in a cabin at Eugenia Lakes.

Manitoulin Island

This time, we were stopping at Green Bay Lodge near Mindemoya with the lovely Christina as our hostess. I had brought enough food, drink, etc. to last the weekend so our time was to be devoted to hiking, kayaking and relaxing by the lake, maybe even taking a dip if the weather cooperated. This would also limit our contact with the locals just in case.

The trip there was conflict free except for discovering that the WiFi in my husband’s new truck was playing up but the kids had their devices and games to play without the internet and so we synced my Spotify playlist to the truck’s sound system and spent a tranquil few hours passing through the varied scenery of Ontario.

One of the places that we went past was Pembroke which we really must stop off at at some point as I come from a town called Pembroke in south west Wales, a quaint little one street town with a fantastic castle, little quirky shops and the gateway to some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited.

I’m not sure that Pembroke, Ontario will live up to my expectations but I’ve got to have a look! It will struggle to rival my experience of other Pembrokeshire namesakes in other parts of the world, for example Milford Sound and the Cleddau River and the Pembroke Glacier in New Zealand…no pressure, Ontario.

So much travel place dropping.

Our navigation system was showing us the way and one of the things that is noticeable about Canada is once you are off the main road, things become less polished pretty quickly. Roads become narrower; tarmac is replaced by gritty grey gravel and a dust trail is imminent; signposts are rarely spotted and landmarks are taken over by dense tree growth.

It is always with a little trepidation that you enter an address in Google Maps. Having had occasions where we have ended up literally in the middle of nowhere with the nice female robotic voice telling you “You have reached your destination” when you quite clearly haven’t, unless you want to pitch up in a ditch next to stretches of prairie with the yipping of coyotes for company, has made us, quite rightly, sceptical.

Luckily, the way to Green Bay Lodge is well signposted and once we had got to Cosby Subdivision Road, we just looked out for the signs with arrows until we ended up in the small car park attached to the group of dwellings that constitutes Green Bay Lodge.

The lake stretches ahead of you. Green Bay Lodge is on an inlet so the vastness of Huron is not immediate, the view broken by a small band of mini islands where geese perch and waves approach to be halted abruptly. Leading down to the lake, there are established gardens with flowers and lush grass and by the water’s edge, there is a small sheltered pond, surrounded by mature trees. By the pond is a circle of boulders with charred earth in the middle of them, the place for lakeside campfires. Surrounding the boulders, Adirondack chairs are placed ready for night to fall and the marshmallows to be produced. Spanning the pond is a walkway where boards have been hammered into a fallen tree making an undulating path to a small spit of land that shelters the pond. The boards flex as you walk, making it seem daring to head that way.

I loved it.

A jetty or dock protruded partly out at the end of the green space where a further dock was to be joined, making a launching and landing pad for those keen to enter the cool waters of Huron. And I have to say that it did look inviting. And little did I know at that time that Huron would welcome me into its fresh wateriness, albeit unwillingly by me.

It wasn’t long before we were introduced to our accommodation and were unpacked. After hours in the truck, stopping only for bathroom breaks, the boys were keen to get out on the kayaks and explore. We had brought an inflatable kayak and Huron was to be the site of its virgin voyage but Christina had masses of equipment for us to use with life jackets, kayaks, canoes, paddles – a whole shed full of watergoing paraphernalia and bowls to boot.

The boys headed to the water while I took a moment to savour my surroundings: the quiet, the lake, the differentness to the four walls of my home. Bliss.

It wasn’t long before the boys were on the water and heading out to explore the islands which my youngest claimed for himself in true conquering Brit style with a floating stick which he had purloined from the water in transit.

And that’s what we did for our first day. Christina had built up the campfire which just needed a match to light it, and provided us with the perfect stick for toasting marshmallows as well as the marshmallows themselves (I’d forgotten to pack them – there’s always something). Armed with mozzie spray and determination, we sat, toasted, chatted, avoided smoke, swatted insects and generally, wound down.

The next day was just as leisurely, reading and kayaking. We were blessed with glorious weather and a lot of sun traps where we could rest and soak up that heat, letting the sun warm our skin. We had a little walk along the road to stretch our legs but that was the extent of our exertion.

Our last day, we decided to visit a hike that Christina had recommended called the Cup and Saucer Trail which takes you higher to view the lake from the Niagara Escarpment. This takes you up steep climbs including a ladder-style staircase and some rocky bits but the view at the top was worth it. It is a busy trail because of the views and some people on the trail had more of a view than they anticipated when they had to wait for a tubby middle-aged woman to make her way steadily back down the ladder backwards i.e. bottom first.

The views stretched ahead of us and after having the sole vista of mine and my next door neighbour’s garden for weeks, it was liberating to be out, with a wide sky and the vast blueness of the lake glimmering in the distance. Blue sky, blue lake- beautiful.

After lunch, we decided to visit Bridal Veil Falls, another short drive away and this too, was worth a visit. We clambered down to the falls, the gentleness of them described in their name as a thin flow of water fell to a pool and the continuing river below. I say thin but if you were to put your head under them, the falls would have given you a resolute pounding. The noise as you stood next to them reminded you of this too as they roared and the moist created dampened your face, delightful on such a hot day.

There was a trail along the river and I don’t know about you but I love the sound of water rushing over stone. The tree-lined surroundings were a welcome respite from the hot sun, the canopy filtering the light and providing a quiet that allowed the flowing water to show off.

As we walked, my son noticed something in the bank – a little hand painted house, built by faery folk, no doubt. Ontarians do love a bit of whimsy with their faery houses and brightly painted bird houses. It provided a focus as we walked to see if we could spot anymore and we did, snuck away in the roots of trees as well as boldly positioned near the path.

We continued along the river until we reached a pump house which had been built with the scenery in mind, like a riverside cottage and I did wonder if anyone lived there as the window was open but we never knocked the door.

The prospect of returning to Green Bay Lodge and kayaking before the sun went down was tempting and so we walked as far as a bridge and were preparing to turn around to head back when something was shining in the trees.

Deer! I know, deer are not generally distinguishable because of their shinyness but hidden in a copse of trees by the river was a cluster of them, statues, ungulates of quirky shapes with bits cut out of them, which would have been macabre had they not been metal. I’m not sure what their purpose was – decoration? Somewhere to lean and gaze at the water? A perch for a small person to enjoy? Art? Who knows? They were there, beautifully formed, resting in the trees.

Time to head back and as we did so, we were surprised by something blocking the path – a thick black snake. Now, having lived in Australia, snakes in Canada are tame items of curiosity instead of creatures that may or may not bite you or chase you but will undoubtably kill you if fangs break skin. Still, it was a bit startling to find one sunning itself on the path and elicited a cry of “Snake!” from my husband and a swift leap to the opposite side of the trail to that of the situation of the snake. It was just one of two that we would see on the return to the truck although the next one was considerately off the trail, slinking in some tree debris and boulders.

Snake – not the thick black scary snake but a rather cute one

Once we were back at Green Bay Lodge, it was my time to kayak to the islands.I had already gone out and kept close to the shore as, even though there was land jutting further up the lake, the wind created quite a few bumpy waves and as my experience of kayaking is not extensive and I was reluctant to get a ducking in Huron, I picked a time where maybe Huron was not quite like a mill pond but was certainly not a rolling swell.

Off I went. Steady kayaking, rhythmic and therapeutic, the odd skit of cold water from the paddle dampening my legs but on the whole, tranquil and meditative.

I reached the islands and skirted them warily, conscious that in the time that it had taken me to get to the small clusters of sand and trees, the wind had picked up and little white curls could now be seen on top of some of the waves. My return trip was hampered by the wind a bit as well as my dissipating confidence but I remained resolute and determined to get back to the dock without tipping over. I bobbed and bounced around, taking my time and sure enough, the sight of my husband and my youngest son expectant on the dock was a welcome sight. I had managed to remain on top of Huron and not been treated to its underwater delights.

My son helped to pull the kayak to the dock and inadvertently brought the front onto the shore which meant that trying to get out of the kayak was proving tricky. I was at a very difficult angle and knew that any core work I had performed in recent weeks was about to be sorely tested.

And so, I attempted to get up. Not a hope. I wanted the kayak to be back in the water. At least, if I only ended up with wet feet, wet calves at worst, that would not be too bad. I could clamber out and be on the planks by the water in no time.

Unfortunately, Huron and my son had other plans for me. The kayak tipped and much to my son’s genuine delight, Huron accepted me willingly into its icy grasp.

It was very cold and Huron had no problem robbing me of my breath. And my dignity.

I suspect that for some in my family, this was the highlight of the trip and an enduring memory of it.

What a place to escape to. It was by all accounts the perfect getaway – our accommodation was well situated, quiet, clean with a friendly unobtrusive hostess who provided me inadvertently with entertainment, due to her curious outfit changes courtesy of tasks she had to complete – waders to help fix the dock, some sort of mesh sweater affair to keep the black flies at bay – as well as making sure that we were happy while we were there.

Getting out in to Nature is the best therapy and just whiling away the hours in a place that is different to the place that we have all inhabited through restriction for such a long time now – well, it was heavenly. My youngest son asked when we would be returning and I can only hope that it will be soon.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Ontario: Manitoulin Island

  1. Sounds like it was a wonderful holiday for you all. Apart from the snake and unexpected trip in Huron. Apparently, eating marmite stops mozzies biting, and yes also the quinine in Tonic has the same effect. No harm in trying thrm though. xxxx

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    1. I hate Marmite, although possibly not as much as mozzie bites. Might be worth looking into. I might be able to manage Twiglets although I’ve not seen any in the supermarket. It may be that the mozzies continue to feast.

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