Exploring Ontario: A road trip around Canada
This Christmas I received the Lonely Planet ‘Best in Travel 2017’, and was delighted, and not at all surprised, to see that Canada had made it to number one. It’s always been high on my hit list, but not anywhere I expected to go during my time in the Middle East. However after eleven years living in Dubai making friends from around the world, I had the un-missable opportunity when two of my closest invited me to be a part of their wedding in Ontario, Canada.
The wedding was due to take place in Ontario in the Blue Mountain Resort, just outside of Collingwood, where the bride’s parents live. With a week’s worth of activities planned in the surrounding area in the days before and after the wedding, I decided to take a couple of extra weeks beforehand to explore further north and into Quebec (more on that in the next post).
I hired a car and planned a route to take me from Toronto airport up to the whale spotting town of Taddousac in Quebec and back in only a week – these extreme distances leading to me being referred to as “the crazy one” by the bride’s mother on my arrival in Collingwood.
I have to admit there was a lot of ground to cover, but with such stunning scenery, some good tunes and a fab little Jeep, I enjoyed the journey, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, with only a few minor tweaks!
The first tweak would be not to take the 13 hour overnight flight, pick up a hire car at the airport and head straight out on a three and a half hour drive through the city and main highways to Gananoque!
This pretty little riverside town was a great place to rest my weary head though, I couldn’t check in so headed straight out on a Thousand Island cruise. The islands are scattered either side of the Canada/US border, in fact the tours that stop at the iconic Boldt Castle require visitors to have a US visa (worth remembering when you book your boat tour). And yes, it’s also the origin of the famous 1000 Island salad dressing, which is said to have been introduced at the very same castle. I took the two and a half hour tour with Gananoque Boat Line and it was just the right amount of time to sit in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air and admiring the simply stunning scenery from the water.
After all the sunshine, fresh air, some great local food and a good night’s sleep, I was refreshed and inspired to head out for a run. After which, I was more than happy to get back on the road and head up to Ontario’s capital, Ottawa. I drove the scenic 1000 Island Parkway along the river, rather than the Expressway, and thoroughly enjoyed the two and a half hour drive. There was a lot of construction going on in Ottawa so I didn’t need much time to explore there, just taking a wander along the famous Rideau Canal, where everyone ice skates over the frozen waters in winter, and stopping for a calorific (but delicious) beavertail, and to bimble through the local markets.
My solo tour then continued north into Quebec Province (read more about my adventures with bears and whales in Quebec in the next post). The second tweak I may have made to my itinerary with hindsight, would be not racing all the way back down the route I covered in five days in only two days, and certainly not doing the last long leg back to Toronto airport on a Sunday when the roads are more snarled up than I think I may ever have seen!
Once I’d dropped the hire car and joined the rest of the wedding party, we were driven a couple of hours from Toronto to the town of Collingwood. Home to a great local Sunday market, as well as the annual Elvis Festival (which incidentally started the day we were leaving) and a great base for hiking The Bruce Trail and exploring some of The Great Lakes, it acted as a second home for us during the wedding period. We took a group day trip to Midland and indulged in a boat cruise (which we assumed was around Lake Huron… Turns out they weren’t kidding when they named them The Great Lakes, this was only around Georgian Bay – a small part of Lake Huron!) The cruise we took was on the Miss Midland, and the trip was similar to the one I experienced in Gananoque and a great way to see some stunning scenery.
The wedding itself was held in the Blue Mountain Resort, ordinarily a ski resort, but a lovely place to visit in the summertime too, with a number of hiking trails, a golf course, air park and zip lines. I can highly recommend the Segway tour – a good giggle and quiet a skill to master off-road!
The post wedding celebrations took us to Toronto and with only 24 hours to spend in the capital and see everything, we boarded a City Sightseeing Tour to get our bearings and understand more about the city. The markets in the main square were great for a wander, and the sports bars were an experience in themselves, with more than 100 TV screens in some of the bars. We booked lunch in the 360 restaurant in the CN Tower for a delicious lunch in the revolving restaurant, which gave us all as many scenic views as we could possibly have wanted, and by chance we did this at the same time the Toronto Blue Jays were playing at home, so also got he chance to soak in the atmosphere of the pre-baseball crowd.
The final group trip was to Niagra , staying in a beautiful Air B&B house amongst the vineyards of Niagra-on-the-Lake, which was perfect for a day spent touring the wineries and breweries to sample the local produce. The trip wouldn’t have been complete without an afternoon spent at Niagra Falls either. From what I could see, the views from the Canada side seem like they must be a lot better than the US side (though of course I could be biased). We took a boat trip on the Maiden in the Mist (well, technically it was the The Hornblower) to get up close and personal, and never realised how soaked we would get from the mist alone! We were also able to go down into the tunnels below the falls and get behind them for a look too – literally taking in the awesome sight from every angle. The town of Niagra Falls itself was crazy, a whole world away – I’ve never been to the US, but I imagine this is pretty much what it is like – Blackpool on steroids! Neon everywhere you look, noise, dinosaurs, games, cartoon characters, and other craziness, which only got more prominent as it got darker, but it was worth it to see the fireworks over the falls.
It was a great way to finish up an incredible trip, after nearly a month away it was still hard to leave, but made somewhat easier by the thought that I will be back someday!