Tobermory; Ontario’s Hidden Gem

I can’t decide if the title of this post is true or not. A few months ago when Nick asked me what I wanted to do for my twenty-fifth birthday, I told him I wanted to go to Tobermory, Ontario. I had only ever seen a photo of it one time but it looked absolutely stunning and Nick had never even heard of it, which is why I am calling it a hidden gem (neither of us has ever heard anyone even talk about it before). The reason I can’t decide if that is a true statement or not is because of the amount of obvious tourists (myself and Nick included) that were there. Regardless of how many tourists were there and how frustrating it was at times, Tobermory really is a gem. There were so many moments in the short time we spent there that our jaws dropped and we were in awe at how beautiful it was. Neither of us could handle how perfectly green, blue, and clear the water was. At one point we didn’t even know where in the world we were… it could have been France, Spain, Thailand, The Bahamas, or The Philippines… we couldn’t tell the difference.

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Tobermory is every outdoor enthusiast’s playground. It is every photographer’s perfect photo op. It is every family’s perfect vacation destination. There is a plethora of activities to be found in Tobermory, which means that you probably need more than just a few days to do everything and if you ever find yourself bored here, you’ve got a problem. I will let you know some of things that Nick and I were able to squeeze into our few days in paradise but please note… there is SO much more to do so this is just a glimpse.

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Step one, don’t rely on the Internet. Seriously, if there is one thing this trip taught me, it’s that you can’t rely on a google search to find everything there is to do somewhere. Check out the visitor’s centre wherever you are and talk to the locals, they usually have favourite spots and they’re not going to be full of tourists.

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On our first day there we stopped in at the visitor’s centre because we couldn’t get into Cyprus Lake to see the Grotto. Why couldn’t we get into see the Grotto? TOURISTS. We waited in the car in a line for twenty minutes and we were sent packing because their day parking lots were full… full of tourists. This was disappointing because all Nick talked about leading up to our trip was that he was going to jump in the Grotto and swim through the cave and out the other side with his Go Pro (we can talk about the water temperatures later). We ended up driving to the visitor’s centre instead and talking to a woman who told us her favourite spots. We spent a few minutes at the lookout point and then went for a five-kilometer hike on Burnt Point Loop Trail. It was a really beautiful hike and there weren’t a ton of people on it so it was really nice. It also gave us our first glimpse at the crystal clear Georgian Bay water.

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On our second day, we did one of the most tourist things of all and got on a glass bottom boat to Flower Pot Island. At the end of the day Nick and I were both two seconds away from snapping on someone because of how busy the island was and how badly we were packed onto our boat like sardines in a can. Okay, that’s it… I am done venting. It was worth it. As much as we felt that our personal bubbles had been invaded and we were sun burnt to a crisp, it was totally worth it. Flower Pot Island is definitely a must see if you’re going to go all the way up to Tobermory. The glass bottom boat was forty dollars and there are tons of them to choose from. I would recommend not going on the first long weekend of the year, or a long weekend at all… but still, worth it. We also got to go over two different shipwrecks (hence the reason for the glass bottom boat). Tobermory and Georgian Bay is known for all of it’s shipwrecks and the clear water that gives you such an amazing view. Two flower pot shaped rock formations can be found on the island, a small and a large. They’re pretty beautiful but I wouldn’t say they were my favourite part of the island. I can’t explain my favourite spot on the island so I will add a photo (the one where Nick and I are standing on the rock together), even though photos never really do anything justice. I just couldn’t believe the shapes and colours of these rocks in contrast with the green water behind them and the blue sky. It was by far one of the prettiest things I have ever seen.

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On day three, Nick had surprised me for my birthday with introductory scuba diving lessons. We were both SO excited. Scuba diving is something that has been on both of our bucket lists forever but I never thought that the first time I would do it would be in Tobermory. We got our Go Pros charged up, packed our bags, and got to the GS Watersports store in Little Tub Harbour. Even the weather was cheering for us with blue skies and the warmest temperatures of the trip. We went into the store and picked out some towels to buy and started filling out our paperwork. As per usual, most extreme activities have waivers and health check lists asking you specific questions like, “Do you suffer from any heart conditions… yada yada yada…”, obviously not. “Do you suffer from respiratory diseases?”… no… okay… and there it was… “Do you suffer from asthma?” NO… yes I do but NO, NO I don’t… nooooo… I looked at the man and said… “I have asthma but I have puffers back at the room and I can go get them, it’s not a big deal…” and the look in his eyes said everything I needed to know. I would NOT be spending my twenty-fifth birthday crossing scuba diving off of my bucket list. I would not be bringing my freshly charged Go Pro underwater to capture all of the shipwrecks. I would not be taking epic photos in a scuba diving outfit so that I could later instagram and blog about it. I wanted to cry. I looked at Nick and I could tell his heart had already stopped. The man behind the counter said that asthma is usually one of the health issues they will not let slide, especially since my asthma is exercise and cold weather induced. The water we would be scuba diving in was close to zero degrees and scuba diving is a physical activity. The oxygen tanks are also something that is hard on your lungs and body to get used to, so no… no I would not be scuba diving. Nick and I stepped outside to discuss our game plan… should we lie and make it seem like it isn’t a big deal and I am fine? Should we go snorkelling instead? Kayaking? Stand up paddle boarding? What could we do now on my twenty-fifth birthday after being so deeply disappointed? Nick kept reassuring me that he wasn’t upset and that we would find something else that would be cool and fun to do instead. As much as I was disappointed I couldn’t do it, I mostly felt bad for him. He had been planning this surprise birthday gift for god only knows how long and he was able to keep it a secret forever, which I couldn’t have done if it were me. He basically got me the coolest, most thoughtful birthday experience anyone could ask for and it ended in a heap of disappointment. He felt bad for me and I felt bad for him… it sucked. Stupid weak lungs, get your sh*t together and start working right so you can stop ruining my life! I am trying this thing lately though… where you choose your own happiness. I am trying to look at things in a positive light no matter how bad they suck. Thankfully we both chose to feel this way at this moment and we brushed it off as best we could.

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After coming to terms with the fact that we would not be scuba diving on our third day, we got some lottery scratch tickets, went back to our room, and regrouped. Nick spent an hour researching things we could do on the Internet, like skydiving, which I probably can’t do either thanks to my stupid asthma. We eventually decided to go for a patio beer (my lungs don’t work but my liver sure does) and then to try the Grotto at Cyprus Lake again. It was now the Monday of the long weekend and maybe some tourists had gone home. We were able to get right into the park with no lines at all. We walked about twenty minutes until we got to the water and… oh my god. We were literally left speechless when we got there. The water was the nicest out of all of the places we had been that weekend and the cliffs were gorgeous. We found a cool cave right away and couldn’t believe that we almost didn’t come here. We both looked at each other and agreed that this was definitely our favourite part of the entire trip. I imagine that if we had gotten in on the Saturday (when we originally tried but it was too busy) we wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much because it would have been packed with people. Luckily, not going scuba diving and going to the Grotto instead meant that we got to experience it when there wasn’t very many people there and the weather was absolutely stunning, because Monday was the warmest day. Oh, remember how I said we would talk about the cold water later? Well… Nick was the only person crazy enough to go in the water. He went in and nearly went into cardiac arrest because it was so cold. It may have looked like we were in the Caribbean or Spain but the temperature of the water was definitely the complete opposite. He jumped in again when we found the actual Grotto because he said that was the one thing he wanted to do the most out of the whole trip. Unfortunately he couldn’t swim through the hole in the bottom of the cave but I was impressed he still made it in. I couldn’t even put my foot in the water for longer than two seconds.

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That night, we had the weirdest and maybe best experience. After we had dinner at the restaurant attached to our motel, we walked down into the little ‘town’. Nothing was opened. There wasn’t a soul to be found. We wanted to get an ice cream or a beaver tail (Canadian dessert) but nothing was opened. It was like everyone upped and left at the exact same time on that Monday and the weekend never happened. I couldn’t believe how it could go from being so busy to being completely empty, but it did. We ended up back at the same restaurant for dessert and that was basically the end of our little Tobermory getaway.

If you live in Southern Ontario or you’re coming to visit Canada from another province or country… please add Tobermory to your list. You pretty much have to go in the Spring (late May) to September because I imagine it is a complete ghost town in the winter. When I go back (because I am DEFINITELY going back), it will be in August when it is warm enough to hopefully swim in the water and it will be during the week when it hopefully won’t be rammed with tourists, like myself. Oh, and if you’re planning on scuba diving… make sure you don’t suffer from asthma or any other health conditions, woof.

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