Sunday, July 8, 2018

Whiteshell, Winnipeg, Bears and Backpacking

We crossed the border into Manitoba and spotted a visitors centre on the highway. What a great decision to stop here, as we met Daryl who was totally passionate about Whiteshell Provincial Park and told us all the best things to see and do in Manitoba. We could have spent a month with all his ideas, as our conversation developed we learned he was from Zimbabwe and had lived in Perth, in fact his daughters just flew back the day before so he was super excited to meet us. On his recommendation we drove directly to one of Manitoba’s most famous hikes – the Hunt Lake Trial. This trial looked pretty straightforward around a lake that was created by a meteor, however it was really pretty challenging with significant undulations and rock scrambles but all the way we caught glimpses of the beautiful lake. It was a really rewarding hike that did challenge our knees a bit, even with our new poles on their first run out.
Hunt Lake

We came off the trial at about 6pm and were pretty exhausted, however the drive through the park to the camping area Daryl recommended on the river was enough to revive our spirits. We passed by lake after lake, with stunning marshlands and wide rivers until we reached the spot at Nutimik Lake. We quickly pitched the tent and went for a stroll to find the river. The sunset over the river from the bridge was a real highlight as the light was just amazing.
Whiteshell marshland

The next morning, we went off to explore. First stop was an incredible Petroform site just a few kms away – this is an aboriginal spiritual site where rocks are placed on flat surfaces. It’s hard for experts to date as the rocks have been moved and no relics have been found in the vicinity, but the first nation people still conduct ceremonies there and leave offerings. It really reminded us of rock etching sites in NSW and was pretty eerie.

The park is called Whiteshell after small white cowrie shells found in the park. They are not natural to the area but are sacred to the Obijway people, who may have brought them from the East Coast. The shells were once used as currency.


We then headed up to Pinawa and checked out the small town before going for a nice walk around the Pinawa Dam – now disused but was one of the first hydroelectric power stations operating from 1906 to 1951. It has recently been restored to show how it would have worked with great interpretive signs and was just fascinating and very beautiful. It was built by a commercial operator despite huge technical risks and with no end market in mind- pretty brave decision but it drove significant growth in Winnipeg, as electricity became part of normal life. Not far from the Dam was a fantastic suspension bridge that forms for of the trans Canada trial as it crosses the Whiteshell River

Pinawa Dam

After lunch we headed to the Forest Pines Trial for a lovely walk along the river passed a fantastic set of rapids and two waterfalls, I even took a dip on the way back – what more do you want? Oh, it didn’t stop there, as we came back to the camp ground we thought we’d check out the river for a sundowner. We found a perfect sandy beach. So we ended up making dinner out there and enjoying the view and a couple of beers. What a fantastic day in this beautiful park that we so nearly drove by based on some of the reviews and blogs we had read.

Winnipeg was on our hit list for the next day, we booked into the historic Fort Garry Hotel on a great Friday night rate. We were so impressed as we checked in, it really was beautiful and when we reached our room to find a huge squidgy king size bed it’s a wonder we left the room at all. We had some admin to do and then headed out and found Union Station – a beautiful building without any trains – not for at least 16 hours! We spent the afternoon at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and then took a wander through down town Winnipeg which has so much in common with Perth – on a hot afternoon we felt pretty at home. However, strolling over the bridge to a lovely French Café for a wonderful dinner reminded us just where we were in fantastic Canada. Back at the hotel a great band played in the lobby bar until late – more treats and a few drinks for us.

Canadian Centre for Human Rights - Winnipeg

Creme Brûlée - yuuuum!

It was another England World Cup Football match the next morning – so getting to watch that from bed with full commentary was such a treat for Andrew. The hotel brought coffee and biscuits to the room and we were so relaxed we so nearly stayed an extra night.
Great bar at Fort Garry Hotel
Leaving Winnipeg mid morning we had a pretty dull drive through to Mount Riding National Park – our first National Park and Manitoba’s oldest. The park was packed out in the main areas being one of the hottest weekends in the year. We however had different plans than most - my first backpacking hike to a backcountry camping area (all other long distance hikes I’ve done have had the gear transported – Andrew on the other hand has always hiked long distance with his own gear).

By the time we cleared into the park it was getting towards mid afternoon. On the drive through the park we came across a mumma black bear with three cubs, just a short distance from the road wow! Our drive through to the central trail took us through the bison enclosure where we saw bison grazing – what a shame that there used to be millions of bison in this area that is now virtually reduced to this small display heard.

We set up our packs and got underway – just over 10km to our camp for the night. 2 kms in and we spot a dark shape on the trail, we edge closer and yes it’s a bear. Wowzer who’d have thought it! Andrew grabbed the bear spray and we reviewed our earlier discussion about bears. As it happened, we came a little closer, maybe 30 or 40 metres and then Andrew shouted out for the bear to go away – it turned looked at us and then ran off – phew! Then we had to decide if we were happy to go on, we both felt it was okay as the bear was scared of us, however we made so much noise the rest of the way we saw no other wildlife. We also made such a great speed to the camp, even with our heavy packs; probably the adrenaline. Somebody was attacked in Whiteshell park whilst we were there so it was in our mind.

At the camp we found a perfect clearing complete with a wood pile, pic-nic tables, a drop toilet and a bore pump for water. What luxury. We were not expecting anything like this. I don’t think either of us slept much that night and we were awoken by something in the camp ground that sounded like an electrical clicking noise – we convinced ourselves it was a tag on a grazing animal but the bear spray was kept very close nonetheless. The next morning we hiked off to another camp ground on the Minnedosa River where we had lunch and decided we would continue on our journey rather than spend the night; after all we had tested the gear and ourselves and were keen to make it to make it to Saskatchewan to visit some very special friends.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Canadian Road Trip - the beginning

It feels like such a long time ago we hauled out Askari in Oxford as we've done so much, however it's only been a week. Askari was hauled out at 8am and we were packed up and on the road by 2pm and made it as far north as Williamsport, PA that night. We picked the town by random, after a beautiful drive along wide rivers and ravines. We were totally surprised to find a modern university town with a real buzz about it. We picked out a pizza restaurant in the centre of town and to our delight there was an open mike music event happening in the lovely courtyard. What a great first night away from the boat.
Great night out in Williamsport
Day two was super exciting as we drove to Canada! We crossed the border at Buffalo, NY and were welcomed 'Bonjour'. It was super quick and easy, although the customs officer did ask us a few more questions than the Canadian car in front.
Crossing the border
We headed straight to Niagra Falls. I hadn't seen the falls before and it was really impressive, even though the area around is a bit like a theme park. We walked the river front and then headed out to Niagra on the Lake for lunch.
Selfie at the falls

This was much more our sort of place. We stayed at the lovely Jourdan Valley Campground for our first couple of nights under canvas. We were told about the quality of the wine in this area and wow we were so impressed by the Pinot Noir we tried during some wine tasting and a favourite was definite Flat Rock. The trip onwards was delayed a England was playing in the world cup soccer so we found a pub in the village that agreed to put it on for us.
Flat Rock Vineyard

Not sure what George Bernard Shaw was doing in Niagra on the Lake

Old English Pub in Niagra on the Lake - dates back to 1789

 We had planned to spend Canada Day (1st July) in Toronto, however much of the celebrations were out of town when we looked into it. So we changed our points reservation at the Hyatt to just one night and spent a lovely hot day in the City a few days before, keen to push on West for more adventure in the parks.
Hot Day in Toronto

St Lawrence Market - dates back to 1845 and really is fantastic produce right in the city 

Mexican on a hot Friday night  fun!
Great Lakes beckoned early the next morning and we made our way across Ontario to Pancake Bay Provincial Park. Where we found lakeside camping right on the beach and clear water - how bizarre...

Beach - Lake Superior

Beer time on Lake Superior
The weather was so hot and stormy so we used the next day to drive on and get further west, stopping for a few opportunities for sight seeing along the way.

Pinguisbi - just a short hike off the main road

Wawa Falls

Miserable cloud on the road - should have been spectacular
Canada Day we arrived at the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and I think due to the weather a few people hadn't turned up so we snagged a camp right on the lake front. The sunsets were stunning. We spent a couple of days here and did a lovely hike out to see the Giant. Andrew had pulled an ankle so we were keen to test it gently before we get to BC and this was perfect.