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Saturday, 20 August 2011

Ontario's Nature in Style

Written by Jonathan Hiltz
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Having one of the world's biggest backyards means that nature and Canada go hand in hand. Every season in this massive country trumpets a new outdoor adventure, due to the ever changing climates in various regions.  The glorious days of summer are no different as many Canadians (and thousands of travelers) take advantage of the hot weather by entering the wilderness and enjoying rugged or upscale styles of getting back to the simple things.

In Ontario, there are a variety of small lakes where picturesque cottages, hotels, children’s camps and the great outdoors live together.  We stayed at the first ever J.W. Marriott Resort in Canada, located on Lake Rosseau in the Muskoka region about 2.5 hours outside of the city of Toronto.

Ontario Muskoka 9The resort balances the wild outdoors and amazing comforts. Each day a complete schedule of activities is available; many of these are complimentary. Between the power walks in the early morning and the guided wilderness hikes and boat cruises, one has to remember to slow down, take in the fresh air and enjoy the natural beauty. Remember to bring some bug spray for the mosquitoes, which are always higher in numbers around lakes.
One popular activity is bird-watching. Throngs of people can be seen throughout back trails and forests armed with several types of binoculars and cameras, looking for the many species that call Canada home during the warmer months.

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For those who want to see unique birds in action without the effort of forest travel, the resort offers a show called ‘Birds Of Prey’ where a Naturalist brings various species of our winged friends.  Our show had three incredible owls and one hawk and we watched as each of them took turns flying around, squawking and entertaining the kids.  The owls each ate a mouse whole and flew to the outstretched arm of any audience member wearing a thick protective glove provided by the Naturalist.

Ontario Muskoka 6Lake Rosseau is one of hundreds of bodies of water in the Muskoka region, but it has garnered a lot of attention in particular due to the preservation of the area. Over-development is an issue currently affecting many of Ontario's natural getaways but this lake has managed to find a balance between nature and its visiting population.  It is also home to many upscale cottages owned by wealthy people which makes 'cottage gazing' on the water a regular activity.  NHL hockey players and film actors such as Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Martin Short can be seen on a regular basis at the various restaurants around the area or even waterskiing on the lake itself.

If you want to kayak, learn how to water-ski, rent a sea-doo, or take part in other types of water activities, you don't need to have celebrity status: there are various vendors and docks to visit.  The JW Marriott, for example, offers guided boat cruises and personal watercraft rentals of almost every kind.  From the water you can see people sitting beside camp fires, cooking up food and generally having a great time.

If cooking with a pot over a fire is not your 'cup of beans', there are various ports offering local restaurants such as Kai Restaurant in Port Carling and a few chain eateries like Turtle Jacks.  The resort provides some excellent culinary options as well. Teca is their fine dining experience; aromas from the open kitchen make your mouth water through the whole meal.  For more casual fare, the restaurant Cottages or the pool side snacks also feature signature dishes using local produce, meats and other goodies found in Ontario.  We found the blueberry muffins and stuffed French toast to be especially good.

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Gourmet food aside, an outdoor adventure is never complete without S’mores. For a small fee we purchased a s’mores kit from the front desk which included all the necessities. There is a constant fire going just outside on the property until eleven o’clock at night. This is probably the yummiest way to end a refreshing day outside; but once the day ends, the real fun begins, with the greatest spectacle available to humankind, the night sky.
Ontario Muskoka 5Without the 'light-pollution' (or regular pollution) provided by the city a couple of hours away, the night sky in Muskoka shines brighter than Times Square.  The constellations provide a show that is free to everyone on the planet, but all too often ignored in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  With a trained guide (and an eight-thousand dollar telescope) we could see the rings around Saturn and the moon seemed so close, that each crater had its own defining features.  Any closer and we would have seen the American flag on its surface.  We even witnessed a satellite slowly moving across the sky just outside of Earth’s atmosphere. The star-gazing experience is unique and whether or not done here, should at least be done once in everyone's lifetime.

One of the most enjoyable things about the Muskoka region is that is has no shortage of spas and health retreats.  After all, whatever crowded, noisy city you may be coming from, it always helps to slow down with the assistance of a massage. The Spa at Rosseau is spectacular with a menu full of options for women and men alike.  The best thing about it is that with any treatment includes a full day of locker room facilities which includes hot tubs, steam room, sauna and access to a private swimming pool.

Ontario Muskoka 1Whether you want to go camping under the stars with a fire and a pack of hot dogs or a little less rough at a resort and spa, Muskoka has everything for the perfect Ontario getaway.  Canada has been blessed with thousands of kilometers of nature and all are welcome to enjoy it.

©Jonathan Hiltz

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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