We hadn’t been camping since early last May in Alabama, the Snoozy just sitting in the yard collecting spider webs and bird droppings. So when Sandy and Helen emailed last week asking if we would like to go camping and kayaking with them in Tobermory, Ontario we eagerly said yes.
The Bruce Peninsula is a sixty mile long finger of land that separates Lake Huron from the Georgian Bay. Tobermory is a tiny touristy town at the very northern tip featuring dive shops, glass bottom boat rides and locally caught whitefish. The water is crystal clear and the coastline mostly bold and rocky, very Scandinavian looking with many sheltered bays and inlets, a great place to kayak.
The tourists pretty much clear out after Labor Day so we would have no problem getting a good campsite and there would be no traffic to deal with anywhere. The weather could be iffy in late September but the place is totally surrounded by mid-sixty degree lake water so it shouldn’t get too cold.
Wednesday dawned sunny and warm, an auspicious start for our trip. We crossed into Canada on the ferry from Marine City to Sombra, ON. Customs clearance can be a hassle at the Bluewater Bridge crossing but the ferry is never a hassle because it only holds a dozen cars so there can never be more than eleven cars ahead of you at customs. There were only two people ahead of us Wednesday. It took most of the day to drive the 240 miles to Tobermory. It’s a nice drive though – all two lane roads with an occasional glimpse of the big lake and a little town every twenty or thirty miles. With three stops for currency exchange in Grand Bend, fresh whitefish in Bayfield and cheese from a farmer’s co-op in Pine River we arrived at the Lands End Park at 4:30.
Thursday morning was still warm but cloudy with a strong southerly wind. The campground is at the head of a little inlet that leads to Hay Bay on the Lake Huron side of the peninsula. We launched our kayaks from the beach behind our camp sites and paddled for a couple of hours, sticking close to the southern shore where the water was calm in spite of the wind. Here’s where we went:
Here’s us getting there:
After we recovered the boats and had lunch we went into Tobermory (maybe a mile’s drive) for a look around. The nice lady at the visitor’s center recommended a hike along the Bruce Trail which starts at the harbor in Tobermory and runs along the top of a rocky ridge called the Niagara Escarpment all the way to Niagara Falls – 480 miles. We will have to leave the whole 480 mile hike for another time but we did manage about five miles out to Burnt Point and back. There were several overlooks with beautiful views of Georgian Bay and the sun came out just in time to provide a nice contrast between the light blue sky and inky blue water.
Afterwards we treated ourselves to cold Canadian draft beer on the second story deck of a pub overlooking Little Tub harbor.
Dinner was at the picnic table again under a full moon in a clear sky and again the vast amount of relatively warm water surrounding us kept the temperature from dropping much after dark.
It rained a couple of times during the night but the clouds thinned by mid-morning so we decided to try kayaking in the harbor. It was even windier than the day before but still directly from the south so both Little and Big Tub Harbors were well protected. We paddled from the boat launch ramp (the center of “downtown” Tobermory) at the head of Little Tub out to the point and up to the head of Big Tub Harbor. It rained for a few minutes along the way but not enough to make us want to turn back.
Helen, your humble author and Sandy lined up in front of the rocky point where Little Tub and Big Tub Harbors join:
Our stomachs were growling by the time we got back to the ramp and loaded the boats on the car roof racks. The pub with the good draft beer was right up the street with beer-battered white fish as the lunch special so who could blame us for not exploring further. The afternoon ended with a hour or so of wandering around shopping and book store browsing.
Reading and writing time for a few hours then another dinner at the picnic table. Since it looked like it might rain again we sat under the expansive awning that magically motors out from the side of our friends motor home.
A cold front brought a stormy night and 50 degree temps the next morning. There was no mistaking it was the first day of fall. With a marine forecast of NW winds 25 gusting to 40 mph we were definitely not taking the kayaks out on the big lake.
Instead we packed a picnic lunch, drove a few miles to a small inland lake, Cameron Lake, paddled across Cameron, through a winding stream and across Cypress Lake into the Bruce Peninsula National Park. We left the boats at a campground and hiked eastward toward the Georgian Bay coast. It was a good day for exercise, a 5 mile paddle plus a 3 mile hike.
Our goal was the Grotto, a sea cave carved into a rocky bluff. It was spectacular with the waves crashing and spray flying up into the rocks. We saw a few people down in the cave but couldn’t figure out how they got there until we noticed someone disappear into a small hole between a couple of big rocks. We followed them down a hole and into the cave. It would have made a great picture – surf crashing in on one side and a spectral glow from the underwater entrance on the other side. Unfortunately the camera battery had already died so no pictures from inside the cave.
It took two hours to hike back to the boats and paddle back to the cars plus it rained a bit as we crossed Cameron Lake. Needless to say we were glad to get back to the campground, cleaned up, warmed up, relaxed and hydrated 😉
Sunday morning was even colder (mid-40s) and still mostly cloudy so we headed home. We decided to try the Bluewater Bridge instead of the ferry to cross back to the U.S. and that worked out great. It was half the price of the ferry, $7 instead of $14, and there was only one car ahead of us in the customs line. The guy looked at our passports and said ‘have a nice day’; took thirty seconds max.
PS: We got a new Jeep Grand Cherokee this summer, in part for its greater towing capability over our old Toyota RAV4. It’s 1200 pounds heavier though and we were afraid it might get worse mileage towing. We were happily surprised to see that the new Jeep got 17.6 mpg for the 500 mile trip even with the kayaks on the roof. The old RAV would only have gotten about 15.