Aug 8, 2012 8:57:10 AM
24 hours on Canada’s secret island
Canada’s southernmost point is an unassuming, excessively green little island in the shallow waters of Lake Erie. At first sight, Pelee Island appears to be little more than a flat slab of shrub-covered rock, sleepy and quiet. But poke around a little and you’ll discover why the island’s 150 residents love their home.
The island is only 10,000 acres and makes a lovely overnight destination for those seeking solace from Toronto’s summer heat and frenzy. Though a long weekend is the best way to appreciate the island, you can cover the bases in 24 hours here.
Absorb some culture
Begin your day with a visit to the Pelee Island Heritage Centre, which has one of the best natural history collections in Ontario. Here you can learn about the island’s human and natural history, including information about the Pelee’s role in Prohibition, the archaeology of its original inhabitants and visitors, and species of animals that call the island home.
Spot rare wildlife
Sign up for an island eco-tour with Explore Pelee. Run by the enthusiastic Anne Marie, Explore Pelee (explorepelee.com) specializes in mellow bike tours that showcase the island’s best: Fish Point Nature Reserve, where birders flock to catch sight of migrating birds; Vin Villa ruins, the grand estate of the original winery; and Lighthouse Point Provincial Preserve, where a restored lighthouse and rare species of salamander and turtles reside. Guides will also narrate the geological and cultural history of the island, providing details about Pelee’s canals, its Middle Devonian landscape, and island farming. Besides bike tours, bike rentals and tours that focus specifically on birds, geology and agriculture are available.
Hit the beach
Biking in summer heat can be intense, so relax post-tour with a swim off one of Pelee’s sandy beaches. Lake Erie’s shallow waters are heated to bathtub-water warm in the summer, and as you’re bobbing around in the warm blue water you might believe you’re in the Caribbean.
Tease your tastebuds
Pelee Island is the surprising home to a winery (the island is further south than half of the US states) and though the wines aren’t necessarily world class, the winery is a great place to unwind for a late afternoon snack. Pelee Island Winery (peleeisland.com) is the oldest and largest estate winery in Canada, with 600 acres of vines. Tours depart at noon, 2pm and 4pm daily, and are only $5 – with a wine tasting included. You can privately book special food and wine tours. For dinner, consider a picnic at one of Pelee Island’s many shore side locations. Sunset Beach, just north of the ferry terminal, is, as the name indicates, an excellent place to watch the sun sink into Lake Erie. Bring a bottle of Pelee Island Wine, and end your day relaxing on the warm sand. After a night in one of the excellent B&Bs, stock up on baked goods for the ferry ride home at Conorlee’s Bakery and Delicatessen. Homemade loaves, pastries and soups will have you fortified for the journey back to the mainland.
Make it happen
Sleeping: Pelee Island has several excellent bed and breakfasts, most of which are historic limestone homes. Try Stonehill B&B, on the west side of the island. With grey stone walls a foot thick, you won’t hear a sound all night, and the water views are magnificent.
Transport: ferry is the best way to reach Pelee from April to December; it is a relaxed one and a half hour ride each way from Leamington and Kingsville. There is also a ferry from Sandusky, Ohio (bring your passport). The schedule varies from day to day, but it is absolutely essential that you make a reservation. You can do so online at Ontario Ferries (www.ontarioferries.com). In the winter, there are regularly scheduled flights to and from the island’s small airport. Pelee is easily navigable by bike, which can be rented on the island. You can also drive a car on to the ferry.
Discover the best of Canada’s islands, wildlife and cities in the definitive Lonely Planet Canada guidebook.
Don’t need the whole guidebook? Lonely Planet’s online shop has a range of city guides, downloadable PDF chapters and region-specific guides on Canada – why not have a browse?