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Put this dream trip on your bucket list

My niece Kristine enjoys the aerial view of Georgian Bay. • Credit: Trish Manning
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Put this dream trip on your bucket list

Fly, Hike and Dine Adventure

Fly with Georgian Bay Airways to hike on Wreck Island where you'll be picked up by boat and go to Henry's Fish Restaurant then fly back to Parry Sound.
From $223.00 plus tax

fly, hike and dine: A day on the bay

Escape into the magical landscape of Georgian Bay, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

I look anxiously at my sister, my niece and her Brazilian boyfriend. We are all feeling a little nervous – but grinning from ear to ear as the noise from the plane engine grows louder and louder.

“Don’t worry, you’ve got the perfect day for flying” says the Georgian Bay Airways pilot as the 5-seat Found Bush Hawk float plane skims along the crystal clear waters in the Parry Sound harbor. 

Georgian Bay has always been a special place to me. When I was 17, I spent the summer driving a small motorboat while a geologist mapped the fascinating twisted, multicoloured ribbons of bedrock called gneiss (pronounced “nice”) that gives the 30,000 islands such a distinctive character.

Even those not interested in geology can’t help but be intrigued by this landscape. Over 1 billion years ago, the rocks at the base of the then Grenville Mountains were buried 20 to 30 km deep, heated to extremes of 500 to 750º C and squeezed so intensely that they were chemically and structurally altered. The minerals separated into parallel bands and became pliable enough to bend and fold like Plasticine. The Grenville Mountains eventually wore away, unearthing the billion-year-old rocks that we now see along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay.1

Like many others, I am drawn back to “The Bay”, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, year after year to paddle its turquoise waters but I had never seen it from the air.

Looking down on the labyrinth of islands epitomizing the quintessential Canadian Shield landscape of rock, water and windswept pines, I take a deep breath. Its grandeur is magnificent.

As we fly over Massasauga Provincial Park, I am amazed at its wild beauty. The Park’s islands, shoals and mainland provide a sanctuary for many endangered species, including its namesake, the massasauga rattlesnake. In addition, it provides excellent hiking, swimming, paddling and boating opportunities.

But thoughts of rattlesnakes and our upcoming 4-hour hike really didn’t cross my mind. I found myself, despite the excitement, quietly contemplative. I didn’t want the flight to end.

As we reach the Park’s outer fringes, the plane circles low around Wreck Island, the destination for our hiking adventure. On the north shore, close to neighbouring Bradden Island, we see the submersed hull of the Waubuno, a 41 m steamer that ran aground in a November gale in 1879. This favourite spot for diving and swimming intrigues us.

Although this is meant to be a “day-off” for me, my mind keeps thinking of story angles. Will this kind of day-trip really satisfy me – a kayaker used to multi-day expeditions? How will my companions, first time visitors to the Bay, feel about the experience? Can a fly, hike and dine adventure really connect them to the magic of the Bay?      

The plane descends smoothly, landing softly on the sparkling waters on the south side of the island. As the Park dock has no space, we are dropped off on a small rock shoal.

Instead of returning to the dock area to hike the 1.5 km Wreck Island Trail, we decide to “bushwhack” to the north side of the island to see the Waubuno. 

After an hour of tramping, we are rewarded with a spectacular landscape right out of a Group of Seven painting. We marvel at the fascinating rock-scape and the seemly endless array of islands.

Kristine was first to plunge into the water but it was so cold it took her breath away. We decide that swimming across the channel to the Waubuno wouldn't be wise so we eagerly start exploring the rest of the island. 

We follow the rocky northern shoreline until we reach a steep incline that forces us to navigate our way across the island through high grasses, ferns and dense shrubs to the south west tip, where the dock is located.

We laugh and feel like “celebrities” as we wait to be picked up by the boat to travel to the famous Henry's Fish Restaurant on Sans Souci Island. We are relaxed and content. After a delicous dinner, we are picked up by the plane. 

As we fly over the 30,000 Islands glowing softly in the late daylight, I feel that quiet contemplation come over me again but this time merging softly with a delicious sense of tranquility. My companions are quiet too, reflecting on our day’s adventure and the sheer beauty below us. Yes, they too have felt the magic of “The Bay”.

I lean back. The thrill of disappearing from our busy lives into such an exquisite landscape, and then reappearing 6 hours later feels like a dream, something the four of us will share for years to come.

The Trip At A Glance

Fly and Hike with Georgian Bay Airways – from $193 per adult (plus HST and fuel surcharge). Available May to October.  

Insights and Tips

Be sure to call out “shotgun” to get the seat next to the pilot.

If the weather is good, allow ample time to enjoy Wreck Island. 

Be sure to wear proper footwear, clothing and a hat for the hike. Bring your camera, water and snacks. I would recommend doing the Wreck Island Trail instead of bushwhacking to the north shore to see the Waubuno.

Recommended Reading, Terms & Regional Travel Information

This book has excellent detailed descriptions of 36 paddling and hiking excursions along the Georgian Bay coast. I used it as a reference for our hike on Wreck Island in Missasauga Provincial Park.  

Bushwack (v): travel/hike through dense growth, forest or overgrown area where no path exists.  

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