Discover Ontario: Driving Hwy 6 – Day 1

To officially drive the entirely of Ontario’s Highway 6, my first goal was to get to its starting point in Port Dover, on the shore of Lake Erie. To try to make our departure go as smoothly as possibly, I scheduled our vehicle pick-up for Thursday evening, booked a hotel room just outside of Port Dover for Friday night, and planned on an early morning rise on Saturday so we could get on the road at a decent hour. What I didn’t plan for was an unexpected hiccup in the itinerary.

Thursday went off without a hitch. After work I picked up our ride for the weekend — a 2015 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SEL. I first drove this car back in April during the #BucketlistTO day with Robin Esrock and Ford Canada. I had never been in a hybrid before, and I was surprisingly impressed with how smoothly it drove (it is the quietest car I’ve ever driven — so much so that you don’t even hear it turn on). This first impression was re-established on Thursday as I drove home.

15CMaxHybrid_09_HR

I quickly realized that the C-MAX was going to be a perfect fit for a road trip. I had about 30 kilometres to drive to get home, and by the time I arrived I had only used about 6 kilometres worth of gas, thanks to its hybrid system. I was excited to see how our fuel consumption would be for the weekend. And with this beautiful interior, I knew it was going to be a comfy ride.

15CMaxHybrid_14_HR

Friday evening was supposed to go as follows: after my work day I’d pack up the C-MAX, wait for my boyfriend to get home from work, then we’d drive to our hotel for the evening. However, when your boyfriend is a lineman and his work is considered an essential service, your hands are tied when he gets called to an outage (or in Friday’s case, four outages). We never made it to the hotel on Friday, and the poor man didn’t get home until 2am. So, we had to jig the itinerary a bit.

We decided to have a pre-dawn departure to make up for our lost time. We woke at 4:30am, were packed and on the road for 5am, and just after 6am we arrived in Port Dover.

 

 

I wish we had more time in this pretty port town! However, I am planning another drive along Lake Erie, so I’ll be back.

 

 

Highway 6 is divided into three distinct legs — Port Dover to Hamilton, which merges with the 403 as you drive down Hamilton Mountain, then reconnects with ON-6 near the city’s harbour; Hamilton to Guelph, which utilizes the 401 for one highway exit then continues north; and Guelph to Tobermory, passing through some idyllic examples of small town Ontario (such as Fergus, which holds the annual Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games every August — I highly recommend this event if you’re in the area).

 

Driving Highway 6 made me realize a few things about Ontario: 1. We Ontarionians love our garage sales! If you’re an antique hunter or avid garage saler, we saw a ton of sales on the stretch of ON-6 north of Guelph. I would predict that any summer weekend with good weather would allow you the chance to garage sale hunt to your heart’s content, and probably find some really cool antiques along your way through farm country; 2. Speaking of farm country, I never realized how many canola farms there were within our province. We passed field after field of yellow-blanketed land. I would love to see what they look like from above!

 

I think I enjoyed this last stretch of the highway the most as it was completely rural. The lack of cityscapes somehow helped build up the excitement of finally arriving in Tobermory — which we did around 11:30, just in time for our noon boat cruise with The Blue Heron Company.

 

Tobermory was extremely busy when we arrived. I don’t think I realized how popular this little town was with the tourists! Blue Heron’s main parking lot was full, so we had to park in another one of their lots nearby. However, the gentleman we spoke with made sure there was a shuttle bus waiting for us once we were parked. They literally provided door-to-door service.

We were dropped off at Blue Heron’s ticket booth right on Little Tub Harbour, and from there we joined the line for our cruise to Flowerpot Island, aboard the glass-bottomed Blue Heron V.

 

The cruise to Flowerpot Island includes a tour of Big Tub Harbour and its visible shipwrecks — the Sweepstakes, a schooner from 1885, and The City of Grand Rapids, a steamer from 1907. The wrecks are only a few metres below the water’s surface, submerged in bright turquoise water. Their remains create an eerie reminder of the nautical history of this area.

 

 

From Big Tub we sailed through Fathom Five National Marine Park, Canada’s first National Marine Conservation Area. We were finally headed to what is likely the park’s most popular attraction  — Flowerpot Island.

 

Flowerpot Island earned its name from the two huge rock pillars (named “Little Flowerpot” and “Big Flowerpot) that stand on its eastern shore. These sea stacks were formed over a period of many years as the elements eroded the cliff that once stood in their place. There was actually a third stack, but it collapsed in 1903.

 

 

These “flowerpots” are easily accessible from the main trail that runs along the shoreline of the island. Many people were relaxing, picnicking, and even swimming. Walking along the rocky terrain was very surreal. The shoreline is made up of layer upon layer of loose, flat, dolomite rocks of various sizes, and stepping on them creates an effect that I could best describe as the sound of clanking plates. Add to that the Caribbean blue waters within reach, and you almost forget you’re in Ontario.

We continued on along the main trail, headed to the Light Station. We first spotted the building from the Blue Heron V, and were told by our captain that it’s been on the island since the early 1900s. As we passed, a volunteer worker from the station came out to wave at us. It was here that we paused for a little picnic of our own, during which time we made friends with the same volunteer who had done the waving (and whom we witnessed reappear with every passing boat to greet them in the same manner).

 

After our lunch we went to further explore the island. We followed a trail to a lookout point…

 

…and climbed a steep flight of stairs to an ancient, wave-carved cave…

 

We ended up spending about 3.5 hours on the island, but I will admit that by the end of our time there I was ready to get back to the mainland. The number of tourists was incredible! The crowds unfortunately took away from the experience, however it was the first holiday weekend of the summer so it’s to be expected. In the island’s defence, I will say that its beauty is well worth any crowd — just be prepared to share the trails and shoreline, and try to get there early. If you’re a camping enthusiast, there are six campsites available for an overnight stay. Imagine how different the island can be after all the tourists have left for the day!

We were scheduled to return to Tobermory aboard another one of The Blue Heron Company’s boats, but this time around I decided to spice things up a little.

 

We were booked on the Flowerpot Express, a huge, orange jet boat! If you’re in a hurry to return to Tobermory (or have a need for speed), this is definitely the boat to take. If you’re wearing a hat, take it off (or keep a good grip on its brim); if you have long hair, tie it up. This beast is fast and the ride is beautifully windy. I didn’t take any photos during the ride (because my phone is neither waterproof nor has wings), so unfortunately I couldn’t capture the wind tunnel that this boat creates. But for your viewing pleasure, here’s a shot from a slow entrance into Little Tub Harbour.

 

This boat ride was so much fun. If you’re sailing with The Blue Heron Company during a visit to Tobermory, I would definitely suggest giving it a go.

We were tired by the time we got back, thanks to a day in the sun and a crazy early wake-up call. We walked around Little Tub Harbour for a bit to check out the shops, but eventually we wanted nothing more than to kick back around a cozy campfire. We waited for our Blue Heron shuttle bus back to the parking lot (which was hailed specifically for us by a Blue Heron employee in the ticket booth), got back into our C-MAX, and made our way to Land’s End Park to set up camp.

We enjoyed a dinner cooked over the campfire and relaxed in our camping chairs while the fire roared. While we settled in for the night, our C-MAX stood guard of our site.

 

Day one of driving Ontario’s Highway 6 was complete. We had another early morning ahead of us as we had to decamp and board the first ferry of the morning to Manitoulin Island, so we decided on having an early bedtime. With visions of passing farmer’s fields, ON-6 roadside signs, and the blue waters of Georgian Bay dancing through our heads, we fell asleep in our little tent under the cedars.

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2 thoughts on “Discover Ontario: Driving Hwy 6 – Day 1

  1. I’m glad you went to Manitoulin Island as that is the last “leg” of Ontario Hwy #6 which ends at Ontario Hwy #17 north of Espanola. I’m sure you enjoyed your trip as I did when I travelled it. Stay safe and enjoy it all!!

    • Hi Florence! The legs I described that lead to Tobermory are actually made up of old wagon routes from the first settlers of Upper Canada. Our journey from Manitoulin up to Hwy 17 through Espanola will be shared in the second part of this post 😉 I love this area of the province! Happy travels 🙂

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