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Point Pelee

Situated along the beautiful Lake Erie, Point Pelee is notable for being the most southern point in mainland Canada. As such, the area benefits greatly from the resulting milder winters and longer growing seasons in summer.

Point Pelee National Park, where the tip or point is actually located, has been a protected nature preserve since 1918. At that time, much of the park was inhabited by hunters and farmers, known as The Pointers. Today, no one lives inside the park boundaries and the area has become a safe haven for many wildlife species. Every year, thousands of song birds, butterflies, dragonflies and bats migrate to the area from locations further north. Somewhat hesitant to cross the open water of Lake Erie, they stop and make their home in the park. The Festival of Birds celebrates this amazing natural phenomenon each May.

To get to Point Pelee, travel west along highway 401 almost to Windsor and turn south on highway 77. This will take you into the town of Leamington. A more scenic route, though a little slower traveling, is possible by taking any of the smaller highways south after you pass London until you reach Hwy 3. Then travel west until you reach Leamington. This route will take you through numerous small towns and along the waters of Lake Erie in some places.

Leamington - The Tomato Capital of Canada
Where else but in the Tomato Capital of Canada would you expect to find the head office of Heinz Ketchup. You wonít be in Leamington long before you realize tomatoes are big business here. If youíre planning a trip in August, try to arrange it around the annual Tomato Festival.

Driving around the Leamington area, you will be astounded by the number of greenhouses. There are over 800 acres "under glass". Besides growing tomatoes, both cucumbers and flowers account for a large number of the greenhouse crops. But many other vegetables are grown here as wellÖ and grow well due to the southern latitude. Itís been said that if it doesnít grow in Leamington, it wonít grow anywhere else in Canada!

In addition to crops, the area is home to over 700 different plant species. Forming part of the Carolinian forestís northern border, many species of plants will not grow anywhere else in Canada. This is a naturalist paradise. Besides the abundant plant life, more that 300 species of birds have been recorded in Point Pelee. And in September, many naturalists from around the world flock to the area to witness the Monarch butterfly migration.

World Famous for Finding Nature
From my perspective, there are two reasons why you would want to visit Point Pelee, and the National Park in particular (though there might be other reasonsÖ you may really enjoy tomatoes as my wife does). First, there is something curiously fascinating about standing on the very southern tip of Canada. That youíre standing in the same latitude as places like northern California or Rome. The other reason you want to come here is to be one with all this nature. Whether you want to get involved in physical activity, relax under a tree or enjoy a nice picnic, there are many ways to explore, discover and connect with all the parks natural habitants.

Our adventure to Point Pelee began with a 10 to 15 minute drive from Leamington, through open country side, until we hit the shores of Lake Erie. From here to the entrance of Point Pelee National Park, the roadsides are lined with cottages. (Once inside the park, youíll no longer find any cottages as they were all removed from the park in the 1960ís in an effort to preserve the natural environment.) Being a national park, an admission fee is required. On entering, we are informed that today there is no swimming allowed in the park. Which for us was okay, as we werenít planning on swimming anyway. If you are planning on going to one of the many beaches to swim, you might want to call ahead to check that the beaches are actually open for swimming. You can reach the park at 519-322-2365 or visit www.parkscanada.gc.ca/pelee.

Once inside the park, thereís really only one way to go. We figured we would start out at the tip and make our way back up, stopping at the various attractions along the way. Of course, you canít drive all the way to the tip of Point Pelee. If everyone did, it would be awfully crowded there. The furthest one can drive is to the visitor center, which is about three kilometers from the tip. From here you can hike, bike or jump on one of the free shuttle trolleys going back and forth between the tip and visitor center every 20 minutes. We made it to the visitor center just as the shuttle was about to leave, so we hopped on. Itís a quick ride to the drop off point near the tip. From here, thereís a short walk out to the sandspit and the tip of Point Pelee.

Remember the Scoutís Motto - Be Prepared
Now hopefully, before youíve made it this far, youíve come prepared. This area is filled with little black flies, or Stable Flies. They look much like regular house flies, except theyíre a little smallerÖ and they bite! They are attracted to exposed skin and dark clothing, so wear light coloured clothing consisting of long pants and long sleeved shirts or jackets. Also, donít use insect repellent. They seem to be attracted to the scent rather than repelled by it. As you might imagine, our traveling companions were quite pleased I decided to wear black shorts and a short sleeved shirt. To top it off, I put insect repellent on as well. As a result, our traveling companions were hardly bothered.

So, now weíve made it out to the sandspit area and make our way to the tip. First thing you will notice is the difference in water current on both sides of the spit. The east side is exposed to heavy currents and appears more weather beaten than the west side just a few meters away. The water on the west side is very calm. However, on either side youíre not allowed to swim at any time. As with almost everyone who comes to the area, we made our way out to the very tip and snapped a few pictures of each other.

Back at the visitor center itís time to relax a bit and tour the short exhibit on the parks history. If you have any questions, the staff here are friendly and knowledgeable. Here youíll also be entertained by a theatre show on the park. Thereís a book store, the Nature Nook, where you can pick up some of the Point Pelee National Park nature series books. And for the kids, thereís a nature discovery room where I found an interesting display on solar and wind powered energy.

A Trail to Remember
From the visitorís center, you will find access to six or seven themed hiking trails covering over 12 kilometers of walking distance. From the DeLaurier House and Trail you will venture through cedar savannahs, drylands and swamp forests. The DeLaurier Trail features a restored house and barn with exhibits and artifacts dating back to an era long gone. The Chinquapin Trail provides access to an old cemetery and leads to the White Pine picnic areaÖ a great place to stop for lunch. Most of the trails are relatively short; about 1 kilometer for a return trip.

Making our way back up to the Marsh Boardwalk, we pass numerous stop off points providing ample opportunity for swimming (when allowed), hiking, picnics or just relaxing and discovering. Theirs West Beach, White Pine, Black Willow Beach, Sleepy Hollow and The Dunes. All situated between the visitor center and the Marsh Boardwalk.

The Marsh Boardwalk features a 1.4 kilometer long floating boardwalk which tunnels through a seemlingly endless forest of cattails. All along the walk, you will want to search for toads, turtles and fish in the waters underneath. There are two tall observation towers, one at the beginning of the boardwalk and another situated in the middle of the marsh. Here you will also find the Cattail Cafť. This is the only location in the park that serves foodÖ mostly canteen style burgers, or chips, pop and ice cream. You can also rent bicycles and canoes here. If this is your starting off point, why not rent a bicycle here and take the Centennial Bike Trail all the way down to the visitor center about 4 kilometers away.

Another popular location in the area is Point Pelee Island. It takes about 1.5 hours each way by ferry to access the island. The island offers more opportunity for biking or hiking. Given the time of day, we decided not to go the island this trip.

Point Pelee Winery
Still with plenty of time left in the day, we decide to make the trip into Kingsville, a short drive west of Leamington. Our mission was to get a quick bite to eat and check out the Point Pelee Winery. We arrived at the winery just as the tour was getting under way. If you like wine but have never been to a winery, Iíd recommend taking a tour at least once. Youíll learn lots about how wines are made and perfected. Essentially, they are all made the same way (though the wineries might disagree) so you really only want to go on more than one tour for the wine tasting at the end.

The Point Pelee Winery adds a nice touch by providing a souvenir wine glass with payment of the tour fee. The glass also acts as a way for the tour guides to identify those that just happen to tag along with the tour but didnít pay the fee. The tour itself last about 30 minutes, after which we entered the wine tasting room in the cellar to watch a short film on the making of Point Pelee wine. Interestingly, all the grapes are not grown on the property where the winery sits. The grapes are grown on Point Pelee Island. The instructional film will tell you why itís best to grown grapes there than anywhere else.

Following the film, you will be given the chance to taste five or six select wines. The tour guides will advise you on the proper way to hold your wine glass, inspect the wine, smell and finally taste the wine. If youíre like me, this is where you can actually learn to distinguish one wine taste from another. Soon, everyone has decided on which is their favorite of the wines tasted. The tour ends and we ascend back into the retail part of the winery. Sure enough, to purchase our favorite from the tasting just minutes before.

Colasantiís Tropical Gardens
Just before heading home, we wanted to stop at Colasantiís Tropical Gardens. The brochure we picked up at the hotel promoted a tropical wonderland for the entire family. And admission was free. Well, if you plan to make this one of your stops, donít be fooled by the free admission part. For sure admission is free, but this is not the botanical garden you are lead to believe. This is actually a retail nursery. Mind you, itís a huge nursery with a wonderful selection of tropical plants for purchase. Thereís also a petting zoo, pony rides for the kids, gift shops, restaurants and an 18 hole miniature golf course. All housed indoors under three acres of glass. Oh, and all these extras are not free. For more information, you can check them out at www.colasanti.com.

Locate Point Pelee with MapQuest.

 
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