On transformation and hope: Easter camping at Wheatley and Point Pelee

I am way behind on my writing. It’s been two weeks since our Easter camping trip and I am only just getting to it. But before I begin, I have a confession to make: I am not a very religious person, more of a questioning agnostic, but I love Easter. Its message of rebirth and transformation lifts my spirits and brings hope. And nowhere is this message more pertinent than in nature so that’s where we choose to spend our Easter holidays. This year I welcomed Easter morning watching the yellow Easter egg of the sun roll out of Lake Erie and right into my heart, sparkling a fire akin to religious devotion, a feeling I haven’t experienced in any of the churches except for Nature’s cathedral.

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The Best Camping Moments of 2015

It is the season to tally up accomplishments over the past year and make plans for the next one. Our New Year resolutions are usually summed up with “camp as much possible, visit as many new places as possible, try as many new things as possible.” Putting together a list of 2015 best camping moments is a slightly more difficult task since there were so many of them. Nonetheless, here is my attempt to narrow the list to our 10 favourite camping memories of 2015 (in no particular order).

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Camping in Canada’s “deep south”: Wheatley Provincial Park, Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island

May long weekend camping is always a gamble. Will it be cold? Will it rain? Will the temperature drop down to freezing at night? Where to go? Which park to book? This year, we decided to go to Wheatley Provincial Park with the intention to also visit Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island located nearby. When we arrived in the park late Friday night, the trip didn’t look very promising. The weather forecast showed high chance of rain and thunderstorms for the next couple of days. Our campsite was soggy and wet. On top of it, our neighbours turned out to be Top 40 fans (not my type of music, especially in the woods, where I want to listen to birds not Taylor Swift). On the plus side, the weather gods waited patiently till we finished setting up (it started to rain the exact moment I zipped up the tent door behind me) and the sound of rain drowned out our neighbours’ music.

eating breakfast under an umbrellaThe next morning, we woke up to a drizzle that would occasionally intensify to a medium strength rain. After finishing our breakfast under the umbrellas and playing a dice game (I lost), we started wondering whether we should put up a tarp to get some protection from the rain. Miraculously, it stopped raining sometime around noon and the rest of our stay was rain-free. I am even happier to report that our neighbours didn’t turn on their music after that first night. The mud on our campsite never went away, though. In fact, the ground seemed to be getting soggier and muddier the more we walked on it and we brought back a good deal of Wheatley mud caked onto our boots and tents. But then you can’t have everything.

Wheatley Provincial Park

Wheatley Provincial Park is located in Ontario’s “deep south” on the shore of Lake Erie. It boasts a beautiful sandy beach and a tangle of creeks with picturesque foot bridges connecting campgrounds to the beach.

running on the beach at Wheatley Provincial park

beach at Wheatley Provincial park   driftwood on the beach at Wheatley Provincial park

foot bridge at Wheatley Provincial park   creek at Wheatley Provincial park

Even though it wasn’t exactly beach weather with numbingly cold water and thick foggy blanket over the lake, our younger son enjoyed digging and playing in the sand.

playing on the beach at Wheatley Provincial park

playing on the beach at Wheatley Provincial park   playing on the beach at Wheatley Provincial park

The park was filled with dainty spring flowers and a wide variety of birds. Every morning we would wake up to their whistles, chirps and trills – my favourite part of this trip.

smelling flowers

flowers at Wheatley Provincial park

Point Pelee National Park

Point Pelee National Park is Canada’s smallest national park. It is located on a peninsula that extends 15 kilometres into Lake Erie making its tip the southernmost point of mainland Canada. A mix of marshes and woodland, this park is home to rich flora and fauna. Its location on the crossroads of two major migratory routes also makes it an excellent spot for bird watching (it is one of the Top 15 Birding spots in North America according to Birder’s World Magazine, October 2002, and is often called the “Warbler Capital of Canada”). Up to 360 different species of migratory birds have been recorded here. So bird watching aficionados with impressive lenses and binoculars are just as abundant as birds.

red-winged blackbird Point Pelee National Park

warbler at Point Pelee National Park

It was our second visit to the park and we started it with exploring the Marsh Boardwalk. When our younger son saw it, his first reaction was: “I remember it but I always thought it was in Florida.” The boardwalk did remind the famous Anhinga Trail in Everglades minus the alligators but turtles and birds were plentiful.

Marsh Boardwalk

view of the marsh   view of the marsh

boardwalk at Point Pelee National Park

water lily

turtles   turtles

turtle   turtles

turtles   kid watching turtles

red-winged blackbird   red-winged blackbird

swallows   swallows

We then rode our bikes to the tip of the Peninsula. The Centennial Bike and Hike Trail extends all the way from the Marsh Boardwalk to the Visitor Centre. It is a pleasant 4 km ride through the forest.

biking the Centennial Bike and Hike trail at Point Pelee   biking the Centennial Bike and hike trail at Point Pelee National Park

The trail has multiple accesses to the beach along the way so we made a short stop for some more digging and playing in the sand.

beach at Point Pelee National Park

beach at Point Pelee National Park

digging at the beach at Point Pelee National Park   digging at the beach at Point Pelee National Park

digging at the beach at Point Pelee National Park   digging at the beach at Point Pelee National Park

Lake Erie at Point Pelee National Park   wheel poseon the beach at Point Pelee National Park

Once you reach the Visitor Centre, it is another 2 km (you can either bike, walk or take a free shuttle) and then a short walk before you reach the tip. Because of the currents, the appearance of the tip constantly changes. Last time we visited it was a narrowing sandspit that ended in a sharp point. This time the tip was pointless (literally).

southermost point at Point Pelee National Park

at southernmost oint at Point Pelee National Park

The trip itself was not pointless at all. On the contrary, it was a lot of fun. We enjoyed watching birds of all shapes and sizes and listening to their songs. We spotted some cacti along the trail (the park is on the same latitude as North California after all). We bathed in the intoxicating smells of multicoloured flowers and the green intensity of the forest that’s only possible in the spring.

red-winged blackbirds

turkeys at Point Pelee National Park   turkeys at Point Pelee National Park

cacti at Point Pelee National Park

flowers at Point Pelee National Park   flowers

Back at our campsite, we had some s’mores, a perfect ending to a perfect day.

s'mores at Wheatley Provincial park

Pelee Island

Pelee Island is the largest island in Lake Erie and southernmost populated point in Canada (this was a trip of southernmost locales, including a southernmost school on the island that accommodates 30 to 40 students). To get to the island, you can take a ferry from either Leamington or Kingsville (click here to learn more about the ferry service). Some people bring their cars with them. Because our plan was to bike around the island, we only took our bicycles.

biking on Pelee Island

The route around the island is 30 km long and is a mix of mostly flat paved and gravel roads. The ride was quiet (even though it was a shared road, less than ten cars passed by us) and incredibly picturesque. Idyllic cottages on the one side with beautiful lake vistas on the other, light breeze from the lake and rich smell of soil, joyous bird songs and blooming trees – all made the ride an unforgettable experience. To be honest, I was ready to move to the island permanently. Our younger son called it a perfect day. According to him, only ice-cream could make it better but unfortunately the ice-cream place was closed by the time we reached it.

biking on Pelee Island

Because we missed the morning ferry, we only arrived at the island around 4 in the afternoon. That didn’t give us a lot of time to explore and also meant less time to stop and take pictures. We did manage to take a hike through the Fish Point Nature Reserve: beautiful trilliums, nice beach and southernmost tip of the island with the actual point this time.

trilliums at Fish Point Reserve on Pelee Island

beach at Fish Point Reserve on Pelee Island

beach at Fish Point Reserve on Pelee Island   beach at Fish Point Reserve on Pelee Island

gull on the beach at Fish Point Reserve on Pelee Island

beach at Fish Point Reserve on Pelee Island   beach at Fish Point Reserve on Pelee Island

We also stopped for a fish’n’chips dinner at Scudder Beach Bar and Grill: excellent perch, decent fries, coleslaw could be better plus an entertaining game of giant Jenga happening on the patio and a beautiful view. We did regret not having enough time to visit Pelee Island’s numerous attractions, including the Lighthouse Point, Stone Road Alvar, Heritage Centre and many beautiful beaches. But then we decided it gave us an additional incentive to come back here, stay longer and do more exploring.

We managed to catch a beautiful sunset before leaving the island on a late night ferry. Another perfect day, another perfect ending.

sunset on Pelee Island   sunset on the beach on Pelee Island

sunset on Pelee Island