Sitting in our camp chairs, we watch as the sun descends on the 30,000 Islands of Georgian Bay. We're camped in the French River delta, part of French River Provincial Park where there is no sign of civilization; no buildings, no people, and no roads. There is only the sound of water lapping against the rocky shoreline, the breeze brushing through the tree tops and the laughter of our travel companions. It is a wilderness seemingly untouched by humans. And it is exactly what we paddled out here for.
The shoreline on this eastern side of Georgian Bay is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Every few kilometres of travel rewards us with new vistas; islands of grey Canadian shield granite are streaked into the azure blue of the waters, contrasted with bright orange lichen that grows everywhere. In August, it’s like a Caribbean island chain; paradise in a freshwater sea. And each night, the setting sun offers a time to reflect on the day, the adventure, and the incredible blessing it is to travel in such a beautiful place.
Much like the infamous white pines of Georgian Bay, our trip is constantly shaped by the wind; as it picks up speed crossing the Bay from Tobermory, or down from the North Channel, it creates waves that are difficult to navigate in a kayak. But with so many islands surrounding us, there is endless opportunity for shelter. Wind coming from the west? We’ll duck behind the Bustard Islands and paddle in the lee of the land mass.
Wind coming from the north? We’ll head out to the Chicken islands. This labyrinthine archipelago provides shelter wherever and whenever we need it. And at times we do.
We’d set out from Key River. Putting in at a small marina just off to the side of Highway 69, we paddled downstream then into the Bay. Our end goal is Killarney in seven days and about 80 km to the northwest. A totally attainable goal, as long as the winds work with us. We’d travel the northern end of the 30,000 Islands before skirting the western shoreline of the incredibly beautiful Phillip Edward Island.
Travelling by kayak is relatively effortless. Their hulls skim through the water with very little resistance. Getting them up to 4 km an hour isn’t difficult. Steering and manoeuvring them is easy, and paddling for four to five hours per days is delightful, while also helping us cover the distances we need to.
As we marvel at the incredible light show that is a Georgian Bay sunset, we laugh about the storm cells that dissipate around us; at times we’re bordered by rain to the west and to the east, with a thin strip of blue straight above us. Although we’ve huddled beneath a tarp once or twice, it has never been for long. And summer is warm enough that we’re never uncomfortable.
My travel companions are avid sea kayakers that have done it all; they’ve paddled in Haida Gwaii, Mexico’s Baja, Greenland, Alaska, Peru, and beyond. But the simplicity of travelling in Georgian Bay is impossible to overlook; you don’t need a tide chart, a float plane, or a bottomless budget to get here. And if you’re from Ontario, this couldn’t be a more accessible trip. World-class scenery is a three- to four-hour drive from the GTA, and teaming up with local outfitters like Black Feather simplify the logistics of such an endeavour.
Legendary paddler and Black Feather's owner, Wendy Grater.
With night descending upon us, the sky fills with the bright light of a full moon and the landscape becomes just as gorgeous in the night as it was during the day. We climb into our tents grateful for the fresh air, the new friends, and this incredible landscape.
A landscape I will continue to return to year after year.