We drove into Ontario and the first thing we noticed was the singing road, for about the first hour of the drive in on the highway it was a very loud “singing” of the tyres and the road. It was not so great though and we were very relieved when it was over. We spent about two weeks crossing through Ontario and that was doing it pretty quick. It is a massive Provence with a lot to see. In this post I will talk about our first week, Ontario the east and the south. From the Quebec boarder to Niagara Falls, bordering with the US.
Our first destination when we hit Ontario was to head to Ottawa. Here we came into the city and visited the museum of nature. It was super interesting, mostly all about animals (which is way more interesting for us 🙂 ). They also had a special exhibit on dinosaurs as well as their usual dinosaur exhibit so we learnt a lot about the planet and everything that has lived on it. We got to see some of the bones of Wendiceritops, the new dinosaur found last year in the US.
From the Museum we went to the downtown to find the famous eight step canal. We found the area, a lot of closed roads and crazieness around so we didn’t stop. We found out later that it was like that due to a new sink hole which had just opened up… Something that would have been awesome to try and get a look at, though with all the fences around wouldn’t have seen much anyway. After this we wanted to get out of the city and into the less hectic country side. We went south toward Kingston making our way through the more scenic route, along the Rideau river and around the Rideau Lakes. This is the series of lakes and rivers which connect Ottawa and Kingston with a series of locks.
We didn’t make it as far as Kingston, we stopped around one of the lakes at the Mull Pond Conservation Area. It was a beautiful looking spot with some nice walks which we unfortunately couldn’t go on due to recent pesticide use, they were closed for the week. We got there later in the evening and we decided to stay in the car park overnight. There were not signs saying no overnight parking so we figured it would be ok… and it was 🙂 The evening was beautiful and clear with a lovely sunset then bright with so many stars. We even got to see fire flies, we watched then for ages flying around outside the car. It was beautiful.
The next day we were off to see the beautiful old town of Kingston. This used to be Ontario’s first capital city before it was moved to Ottawa. The buildings in the town are all beautifully preserved and everything has a very quaint, calm feeling to it. We went to the lake Ontario park to sit and have out lunch and watch all the black squirrels play out amongst the grass and trees.
After this we went to visit the prison museum. This was located in the prison wardens quarters across the road from the old Kingston prison. It is donation funded and run by volunteers. It was super interesting, all the staff were incredibly helpful and knowledgable. One of whom used to work in the Kingston prison so she had lots of exciting things to tell us. The rooms were themed in different ways, such as punishment, weapons, crafts, cells, and many more. This maximum security prison which is no longer in use ( as of 2013) is actually older than Canada itself. It was originally opened by Americans as a place to send their prisoners. There is another company which has now opened a tour of the actual prison, this was starting the week after we were there.
We had an exciting afternoon in store for us after visiting Kingston, we were off to visit a blog friend of mine Hilda and her husband Hector in Tamworth. She is the author of the blog Along the Grape Vine. A fantastic blog incorporating gardening and food. They had been kind enough to offer us a place to stay on our journey. We actually stayed with them for three nights and used their place as a base to explore some of the area’s of Ontario around them.
On arrival the sun was shining, the flowers were out in the garden and we were greeted with big friendly smiles followed by some wine and cheese. It was just exactly what we needed after a few days on the road… or just at any time 🙂 Through out our stay with them we learnt a lot about both Hilda and Hector, both incredibly fascinating people especially as they had worked in foreign affairs. They had both travel a lot them selves so we had some great stories to share, we learnt some great things about gardening and plants and most importantly we just enjoyed some lovely company.
On the second night we were there some of their friends and past colleagues came to stay also. It was like being in another world for us. Some of their stories are like things we would only know of to happen in movies or on TV. We loved it, just listening to their stories and talking about life.
On our first day we decided to venture north a little into the Bon Echo Provincial Park. This is home to some of Ontario’s beautiful cliffs. The Bon Echo cliffs are beautiful, falling straight down into the lake below. One of the things that make them so famous is the ancient drawings on the sides. These drawings are visible if you were to climb them or to take a kayak our and go exploring. We didn’t do that, we just did some walking around so we just got the beauty of the cliffs. We also did a few other walks which we were in the park. A short wildlife walk and then a longer walk around the Bon Echo lake side. This was called the shield trail, however we dubbed it the mosquito trail. We basically ran the whole thing swatting mosquitos as we went. We did still manage to stop a few times to enjoy the beautiful view, then quickly move on.
We made our way back to Tamworth where we were to spend the afternoon/evening sitting outside in the sunshine on their deck and enjoy a delicious BBQ with their friends. It was good way to relax after a few nice walks.
The next day we were heading south to ‘the County’. Prince Edward County. This is a little island sitting just out on lake Ontario. We took the ferry across onto the county. A free short ferry service which runs every 15 minutes over the summer and half hour year round. It took us onto the county close by the lake on the mountain. This small lake is a strange phenomenon where it is sitting above the level of lake Ontario. I know it might not sound strange to some and until I saw it I was somewhat a disbeliever too, especially after living in Iceland which is littered with crater lakes sitting on the tops of mountains. This was what I was originally imagining. However it is not anything like this, it is only a few hundred meters away from the shoreline of lake ontario, you can see both lakes easily from many angles. The mountain is not really much of a mountain either, more a small hill but somehow there is this nice lake sitting on it looking out over lake Ontario. I can’t really explain it other than if you pass by go and see it.
We had some lunch by the lake on the mountain then went to explore the eastern side of the county. The things to do there are visit wineries and eat dome delicious food. The little island id dotted with lots of fantastic wineries, restaurants, a few cheeseries and a famous ice-cream parlour. We visited the cheeseries, where at one we could try some of the delicious famous ice-cream too. We brought a cheese from each cheeserie and a bottle of red wine to bring back and enjoy in the afternoon sun with Hilda and Hector. We only had an afternoon there so didn’t get to do everything but if you are there for longer there are also some fantastic beaches and sand dunes to visit once you are full and happy. The Island itself is just beautiful and on a day with bright blue sky and sun shining you wouldn’t really think you were in Canada, it has more of a european feel to it, guess it’s all the grape vines everywhere :).
We could have stayed with Hilda and Hector for ages but after three nights we decided it was time to get a move on or we would be there for weeks. We had had a good much enjoyed few days break from big cities and felt ready to venture into Toronto. The heart of Ontario. This is a huge city with massive multilane highways. Fortunately we were turning off before it got too crazy. Our first destination in the big city was the Scarborough bluffs. A beautiful little wilderness area right on the edge of Toronto’s heart. The bluffs/ sheer cliffs look out across lake Ontario and the beautiful clear blue water. We stopped up at the top first where you can look out in some places but unfortunately there are not many good views unless you cross over the fence and walk out as many people do. After having lived in Iceland we have definitely learnt to respect the signs so as much as we wanted to cross over and look out on the edge we figured there was a reason we were not supposed to.
From the top cliffs you can walk down or drive down to the lower part at bluffers park. This is where the large marina is and a few nice beaches at each end. We walked around then spent the afternoon just relaxing out at the park at the far end. We enjoyed our dinner there on the picnic tables then went back up the top where we stayed for the night. It was not the best choice of places to stay though, surprisingly on a Wednesday night people were coming and going all through out the evening, even at 4am. At one point when I woke up in the early hours I started thinking that if anyone had seen our car there the night before and then again in the morning, they could have though that we had fallen down the cliffs in the night and called out the rescue team of something. Far fetched I know but when you are half asleep it is amazing what the brain will come up with. However, we woke up early and got out from our little house at the same time another car pulled up, some more fellow ‘carpers’. We stopped and talked with them for awhile, sharing stories, enjoying a coffee and watching the deer wake up and walk along the long grass. As this happened a few of the fire department arrived and waited a bit out near where we were. A little bit after that another two cars of police and paramedics arrives…. the rescue team. By this point my early morning thoughts were all coming back to me! They got out all their gear, abseiling and climbing equipment, rescue beds and everything else… they were off for a training exercise.
We cut some tracks shortly after all the crew arrived making our way out to the Toronto Zoo for John’s birthday. The day was beautiful and it was the perfect way to celebrate. We got there early and spent the entire day there just enjoying all the animals. One of the highlights was the grizzly bears, when we were down to see them the big male was up and playing in his pool. First he was swimming around and bobbing for food then he was playing with his toys, trying to sink the giant ball and throwing the logs around making massive splashes. It was so amazing to watch!!!
In the afternoon we decided to head to a campground where we could relax, enjoy some delicious wine which Hilda and Hector had given John for a lovely present and just be in a place where we knew we were allowed for the evening. It was a nice way to end the day for John’s birthday.
Our next day was the hard one, heading into Toronto, being the biggest city in Ontario, and Canada for that matter, we knew we were in for a ‘treat’. We were heading first into the Royal Ontario Museum. A crazy looking building from the outside and even somewhat confusing on the inside too. Filled with exhibits of ancient history, natural history, geology and dinosaurs we had a lot to see. They had a feature exhibit on tattoo’s too which was very interesting. This history of tattoo’s and how they have developed around the world. We spent the while day there and eventually had to leave as it was about 3pm and we were wanting to head out to Niagara falls that evening. Being a Friday and the biggest city we wanted to get out before that 5 o’clock traffic.
So we made our way back to the car and didn’t see any of the other things we were hoping to pass by like the Casa Loma, the Absolute towers and the CN tower, but we were not too bothered. We made our way our or the centre city and south, with traffic and road works it took us about 4 hours to make it to Niagara, at least double the time it should have if the roads were clear. So we were very happy we decided to leave a bit before the crazy Friday 5pm rush. Though the trip was long and slow the sun was out and the drive was beautiful in some parts, especially as you got farther from the city.
We made it out to Niagara falls just as the sun was going down, there were not too many people around so we had a beautiful view of the falls being lit up with the glow of the setting sun. On Friday and Sunday evenings at 10 PM they do a fireworks display over the falls on the Canadian side. With live music playing in the evening too this is a great little spot. We stayed around for the fireworks. We also noted that the Ontario /Canadian side of the falls was the far better side to see them from rather than the American side as the water fell from the States into Canada. They are just huge, actually consisting of two different falls, planting down into a gorge below. My recommendations for a time to visit would be early morning or late evening, even though the path along the river side is very long and there are many places you can see out from it can be crazy busy with people during the day and also when the fireworks were going off, we were just luck to get a spot to see as the fireworks started. Also don’t bother about the town at Niagara Falls, you will most likely have to drive through it and then you will understand, it is a weird crazy place just full of casino’s, bars and ridiculous places! But definitely visit the falls, they are awesome!
From here we went to the nearest Walmart to try out our first night at Walmart camping…..