There is more to Fathom Five park than just shipwrecks, and some of the most beautiful scenery can be seen from one of the sunset cruise boats that operate out of Tobermory. The town is on the point of the Bruce Peninsula, where an invisible line marks the border between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.
Named for King George IV in 1822, the French called it La Mer Douce (“the calm sea,” which is not entirely true….). The Algonquins and Hurons who lived around the bay used it as one of their major trade routes and still hold some of the land in the area.
The evening light glows on the rock cliffs, highlighting the area’s caves and geological formations, and then the sun sinks behind the islands in the harbour. It’s particularly spectacular if you get a partly cloudy evening because the clouds just light up over the water.
Blue Heron offers a reasonable deal, with trips on a comfortable boat with an open upper deck and a closed-in lower deck. They provide cosy blankets to battle the evening chill and sell hot and cold drinks and snacks on board. The crew know a lot about the Georgian Bay area and they tell some good stories.
Blue Heron will also take you on a day trip to Flowerpot Island, about 25 minutes out of Tobermory harbour. You have a choice of glass-bottom or jet boat and, as of this year, both types of craft can get right up to the dock on the island. Low water levels in previous years have meant that passengers had to transfer to the motorized rafts to approach the island.
There are three trails to explore: one along the shore, which goes past the famous flowerpot rock formations to the lighthouse and a small museum; another across the centre of the island; and a shorter one out to a bed of marl, a kind of rock, but also the name of the red algae seen on some of the rocks on the shore. This last hike is only for those who like rocks. As we were going out, we passed a dispirited looking Spanish tourist on her way back in. Was the hike worth it? we asked. “Well,” she replied uncertainly, “it is if you like the nature....”
The flowerpots are what most people come to the island to see: formed thousands of years ago when the softer limestone was eroded from the cliffs, leaving the harder dolomite capstone on top, there were three of them on the shore but the largest one toppled in 1903. The two remaining form the backdrop of thousands of tourist photos every year. While we sat nearby eating our lunch, a group of five Chinese women (maybe they were a girl group shooting their new album cover?) had a blast giggling and posing for about an hour for their male friend. It took an hour for me to get two photos without people hanging off the rock, and only one was properly lit. You can see the photo in this year’s calendar, available soon.
The rocks along the shore are fantastic for swimming, although, being Georgian Bay, the water is really cold.
There is a large cave in a cliff on Flowerpot, once a sea cave with “stucco” or nubbly rock on the ceiling. It’s a bit of a climb up wooden stairs, but it’s a good example of this kind of formation. The most spectacular cave on Georgian Bay is the Grotto, accessible from Cyprus Lake campground in the Bruce Peninsula National Park. A short, easy walk through the forest from the parking lot brings you to slabs of rock where people laze in the sun with picnics like seals along the Pacific coast. The water is shallow, although it does drop off sharply about 50m out from shore. It’s a fantastic place to spend the day, but be sure to take the trail above the rock beach to see the cave itself. You can climb down to swim around inside, and if you are very brave or very foolish (depending on your claustrophobia rating!) you can crawl down through a chimney in the rock and emerge in the pool below. You can also swim through a short tunnel (you can see the other side) from one part of the cave to another. The luminous blue and turquoise water might make you think you’re in the Caribbean. The light in the cave, reflected from the sun on the water outside, is magical.
The signs saying that it is dangerous and illegal to jump from the cliffs begin in the parking lot and continue along the trail and up to the cliff itself. We’ve been to the Grotto twice: both times, there was a constant waterfall of teenagers flying off the top of the cliff into the bay below. Terrifying and exhilarating to watch…. Definitely not for the unflexible, or for those with a sense of their own mortality!
We didn’t camp at Cyprus Lake or in the Bruce Peninsula park. Instead, we chose our favourite campground, Cape Croker Park, run by the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. It’s a beautiful, clean, well-run camp with friendly, helpful, and welcoming staff.
The photo here shows one of the hundreds of caves above and below the water surface. To see more, look in the archive of the blog on this site.