HAMILTON & NIAGARA REGION
Heading out from Port Perry area, with Greg at the helm, our first official stop was Hamilton. For those who do not know, Hamilton is home to the first ‘Donut Monster,’ and we could not drive past without a fuel-up on sugar. A half dozen and a doughnut ice cream sandwich later, (yes, they have those and yes, they have a vegan version) we rode our sugar high down to Niagara region. Our first night was incredible. Leaving on any trip you have some pre-journey jitters, a little anxiety maybe, a mix of anticipation and excitement with a dash of nervousness because you do not always know what to expect. We were certainly feeling that way. With this type of trip too, living out of a van, and finding spots to spend a night, sometimes by the seat of our pants, it is new for us. We were fortunate enough to spend the night at a winery by the lake. With breathtaking views and a couple bottles heavier, we were pretty certain we could get used to this new lifestyle quickly. Then the sun started to set, and just when we thought the scenery could not get any prettier, we were proven wrong. Right over the lake with gorgeous colours and light streaming through the vineyard, with my favourite people (Abbey counts as a person), wine glass in hand, of course. We were off to a great start.
Our second day we drove to the Turkey Point area and decided on some hiking in their provincial park. To sum it up; don’t bother. Harsh I know, but we were honestly very let down. They only had three short hikes, and on recommendation from an employee of the park she directed us to their most popular hike with a great look-out of the water. Well we almost missed the ‘look-out’ point because we could not believe that THAT was the view. You could barely see the water and the hike was so short we ended up doing the other two, and still were disappointed. The evening took quite an upswing however, when we reached our next winery that we were to camp at for the night. We cannot praise Burning Kiln winery enough. They had a beautiful property with a large pond that we could park anywhere around. We were the only campers that evening so when operating hours were over, we had the place to ourselves.
The food and wine at Burning Kiln also added positively to the whole experience, but you will have to wait for our southwestern Ontario food post for that review!
After that we cruised on down to the most southern tip of mainland Canada; Point Pelee. It was a rainy, busy day, no thanks to our late start, but we were in good spirits and prepared. We were almost glad it was raining as we could not imagine how busy it would be on a sunny day. We did a couple hikes through beautiful forests, and with the rain drizzling down it had the aura of almost a magical fairy land. We walked all the way to the point and enjoyed the rocky beach and looked for stones and driftwood. Doing the marsh boardwalk was also memorable, some of the flowers that grew there were striking. Point Pelee National Park had such a variety of landscapes and ecosystems, we enjoyed the variety of trails and scenic spots. Alas we hit the road for our next van camping location, this time a brewery on an apple orchard, where we enjoyed a relaxing evening with some tasting flights.
From there we hit the beautiful little beach towns on the Lake Huron coast of Kincardine and Southampton. We actually drove past Kincardine and up to Southampton first because we knew of a parking lot we could stay at overnight. And then the rain really hit. Three days of straight rain. Our little home became filthy and damp so quickly, and with the three of us confined to that small space, it was our first van life hurdle. So, we hunkered down and waited, taking beach walks when it lessened to a drizzle and played a lot of cards. Regardless we loved Southampton. Which, seeing as the weather was less than ideal and we were in a bit of a mental slump because of it, was saying something. The homes were very Cape Cod-eques with the beach easily accessible, and the water was a beautiful baby blue colour. I think we liked it so much because it was our first taste of the spectacular waterfront scenery this part of Ontario boasts.
A couple days later when the weather cleared, we stumbled on a little place that has cross country skiing trails in the winter and is open to hikers and cyclists in the summer for a donation. If in the area we highly suggest Stoney Island Conservation Area. We did not know what to expect and thought the sun has come out a bit, why not? The trail led us out to an amazing white stone beach that was simply stunning. The water had hues of baby blue, turquoise, and indigo which stood out exquisitely in contrast with the white stones. A few more hikers came eventually but it was mostly private and with Abbey leaping about in the waves, testing the water, it made our hearts so full and happy. These white rock beaches along Lake Huron and into Georgian Bay remain the highlights of Ontario for us so far. The colour of the water must be seen to be believed. Other than the beach not being sand, you felt as though you were on a tropical island.
We ventured to Kincardine and walked Bruce Beach where Greg has happy memories of spending summers as a child, and stayed at Inverhuron Provincial Park for a couple of nights. We really enjoyed this Ontario Park. Our first night was at the Lime Kiln campground and we had a very private site surrounded by beautiful trees. The site was a quick walk to a secluded beach where we watched the sunset in the evening and enjoyed the crisp refreshment of its clear waters during the day. This is where, when we first arrived, Greg backed our van up too far and the back wheels went down a gravel hill and despite our best efforts to right ourselves, we were good and lodged. The park employees could not help us due to liability issues, so we were just about to call CAA when a couple walked by and saw what had happened and offered to go there 4×4 truck. Getting to the campsite late, after those three days of rain and our whole camper a mucky mess, we were so indescribably grateful to those lovely people who took the time out of their day to help us. And shout out to Joe, Lauren’s mom’s husband, for insisting we take a tow rope with us. We were back on track!
We stayed at Holmes campground the next day and were a little disappointed. The sites were meant for big RV’s and it was not as scenic nor as private. Although no sharp drop-offs this time so our van remained safely on all four tires with little issue. All in all, we loved our time at Inverhuron. If you can snag a site at Lime Kiln, we highly recommend that, although we also heard that Gunn’s Point has attractive, quiet sites. The lake water is so clear and pure looking, it is intoxicatingly inviting. Even Greg who is not the biggest fan of water could not help himself. Either that or it had just been too long without a shower.
BRUCE PENINSULA & TOBERMORY
Our journey continues north up the Bruce Peninsula towards Tobermory. The water kept getting more and more surreal in its colour and beauty. The jewel of the Peninsula is ‘The Grotto’ in the national park. You need to reserve a parking spot in order to see it and because we are planning this trip quite spontaneously, we did not manage to snag a spot. However, we were told we could hike there, 8.5 kilometers in and then the same back. We were up for a challenge, so we packed water and snacks and headed out early. Easily the most challenging hike we have ever done but even more fun for it. Lots of inclines over tree roots and rocks, and steep slopes down even rougher terrain. Abbey maneuvered the trail like an expert. At one point she scaled a rock wall and then pulled herself up with her front paws, to our astonishment. I did not know dogs even had upper body strength that way, so she was showing us up hardcore. ‘The Grotto’ was not worth the hike, although the hike alone was worth the hike. The destination was way too busy, and seemed to be a beach party hub for youths, (you can tell we are not in our early twenties anymore, eh?) The hike there though was dotted with visual delight after visual delight. From dense forests that lead you out to death-defying lookouts over that turquoise water, to isolated beaches with great big rock slabs poking out of the gentle waves. It was an adventurous day and we were rewarded for our athletic efforts. Not to say we handled it like champs, that would be stretching the truth to a breaking point. The return hike nearly did us in. We ran out of water and energy rather quickly, and at the end of those 17 kilometers we were never so excited to sit down and cool off.
AND THE JOURNEY CONTINUES…
We took one and a half weeks to complete that southwestern circuit. We decided not to drive too long any day and wanted to enjoy without feeling rushed. We made some tasty, as well as disappointing, food stops along the route as well so stay tuned for our first food post, where two jelly doughnuts from two seaside towns battle it out to win over Greg’s heart, and taste buds. There was also a lot of fresh fish prepared in some mouth-watering ways. And we cannot forget the wine! We also have a full review of our favourite winery to date, if you did not already guess, it is Burning Kiln. From their food to their wines, we were impressed from start to finish.
Ontario you truly have exceeded our expectations and played homage to that age old saying that you do not always appreciate what is out your own front door.
Keep following along as we do Manitoulin Island, and explore northern Ontario and what Lake Superior has to offer. Then we head out west!