The sculpted islands and quiet passages of northern Georgian Bay offer Toronto-based professional photographer, Henry Liu, a refreshing escape from his hectic schedule of teaching landscape photography workshops in the city.
Few stretches of water can rival the diversity of the North Channel. At the top of Lake Huron, nestled behind Manitoulin Island, the 150-kilometer-long Channel showcases geology from three distinct landforms: the glacier-smoothed whalesback of the Canadian Shield, the startling white quartzite of the La Cloche Mountains, and the fossil-filled terraces of an ancient limestone seabed.
Combined with the northern edge of Georgian Bay, this is some of the best kayak touring the Great Lakes has to offer. “The coastal area from Killarney to French River, with its thousands of small islands, is like a playground for me as a photographer and paddler,” says Liu.
Just before Huron’s shoreline turns abruptly south, the braided passages at the mouth of the French River mark the historic highways of the intrepid voyageurs. More recently, the polished pink granite campsites and windswept pine points of Killarney Provincial Park welcome kayakers in greater numbers every year. Still, many coves and islands remain unfrequented, their quiet shores offering adventurous paddlers the chance to savor a sublime sunset or discover a 445-million-year-old cephalopod fossil just above the waves.
“My most memorable nights have been spent on the tiny islets near West Fox Island,” says Liu, “where I could stargaze the Milky Way hanging over my head without worrying about light pollution. The midnight aurora shows were a totally unexpected bonus.” VIRGINIA MARSHALL
If you have a half day launch from the end of Weegwas Road near the community of Cutler and explore the pretty islands of Whalesback Channel.
If you have a day paddle out Killarney’s Chikanishing Creek and aim for lunch on West Fox Island, where the lofty views south over the bay and north to the La Cloche will take your breath away.
If you have a weekend put-in at McBean Harbour near Massey and tour out to the popular Fox and Benjamin islands. Head east to Matheson Island to score solitude and spectacular stargazing.
If you have a week tour east from Chikanishing along the south shore of Philip Edward Island and onwards to the mouth of the French. Take time to explore the lonely range lights and sheltered channels of the Bustard Islands, and the tigertail rocks of the Outer Fox Islands. Paddle up the Key River to take out.
WILDLIFE: Black bear, fox, beaver, otter, bald eagle, sandhill crane, snapping turtle.
TERRA: Mainly bald-rock camping with scattered pebble and sand beaches—leave your tent pegs at home.
EXPOSURE: Prevailing fair-weather westerlies aid eastbound paddlers; expect crossings of up to five kilometers to reach more remote islands.
DIVERSION: Hike up The Crack in Killarney Provincial Park; learn voyageur history at the French River Visitor Centre; or experience the Sagamok Traditional Pow Wow, held every July near Massey.
OUTFITTERS: Caribou Expeditions—six-day North Channel kayak tour; www.caribou-expeditions.com.
Black Feather—five days kayak camping in the North Channel; www.blackfeather.com.
Ontario Sea Kayak Centre—multi-day skills courses and kayak yoga trips out of Killarney; www.ontarioseakayakcentre.com.
MUST-HAVE: Jedi tarpology skills (for shade, and rain); star charts.
This article was originally published in Adventure Kayak, Volume 16 • Issue 3. Read this issue.