Travels: Algonquin National Park

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We left on a Wednesday afternoon. After our last exams we had to move out by 3pm the next day, a rule that makes sense in theory but actually causes quite a lot of stress for students living in residence rather than prevent crazy post-exam parties. I traipsed off downtown to collect the hire car for the weekend (a Dodge Avenger), credit card and passport in hand. Driving back to campus required the help of a Canadian friend to guide the way through the treacherous one-way system of Hamilton.

Eventually arriving in one piece, we set to packing the car with all the years belongings of four people. We realised after two that there was no way everything was going to fit – so we dropped off a bag or two at our “traveling buddy” Brandon’s house to pick up later.

Driving to Algonquin was incredibly scenic and it was great to catch up with the girls en route (Susannah, Perlina and Rhiannon), armed with all the road-trip playlists on Spotify. We drove until it was dark, and were surprised to arrive an hour earlier than the GPS suggested. I guess that says something about the expanse of the Canadian countryside.

We pulled up by a log cabin and were greeted by a bearded man dressed in orange overalls donning a big friendly smile on his face, and a torch on his head. This was Bongo Mike, our AirBnB host for the next few days.

On the website the cabin boasted “retro” decor and that was a very fitting description. They charged a very reasonable price of CA$96 for 2 nights for 5 people (unfortunately Lauren was not well enough to travel with us on the trip). It had 2 double rooms (one decked out wall to wall with NHL collectable cards, and the other film posters), a sofa bed in the kitchen/dining area, a gas fire, a record player with full collection of LPs and a vintage TV decked with a VHS player and a Nintendo 64. After an in-depth tutorial on how to operate the vintage devices we ate dinner and sat in front of the fire listening to Bob Dylan and The Beatles. We even managed to tag-team a 50cc competition on MarioKart.

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We awoke the next day to bran flakes and beautiful views of the lake outside that we hadn’t been able to see in the darkness of the night before. Unfortunately, the canoes that decorated the grassland were unable to be used yet this season because the water was too cold.

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Bongo Mike was a wedding photographer with a passion for fixing up log cabins, and the Lakers, from as much as we could tell from the cabin interiors. That morning he suggested some hikes for us, all of which were a short way along the main road (a 60km/hr speed limit).

We started with Lookout, one that was close and “an easy warm up”. Laden with packed lunches and plenty of water we set out for the day, amazed by the scenery we missed in the dark. Lookout was a 15 minute incline up to a beautiful ridge that looked out over a never-ending, untouched, expanse of trees and wildlife which reached as far as the horizon ahead. After lunch we followed the loop back down following the ridge and beautiful views.

Setting off again we began our longer hike of the day, called Track and Tower. On Bongo Mike’s recommendation we attempted an extra 1km loop, which unfortunately was frozen solid and ran by the side of very fast running water. Hence, we decided to give it a miss, even though the views were meant to be second to none. All through the trail there were patches of ice which made the hike more exciting, if not a little painful.

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However, the day was saved by a lovely trip to Beaver Pond, a tranquil and relaxing set of lakes moulded by beaver dams and full of wildlife. A few games of “tag” later, we finally set off home to sit by the record player and enjoy a bonfire set up by Bongo Mike himself. We had planned to visit the local pub across the street, but missed the opening hours as it closed at 8pm (true country hours).

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Around the bonfire we had the delight of meeting Bongo Mike’s Wife, Andrea, and they shared with us their “yearly tradition” of burning their christmas tree which was surprisingly spectacular. Later she shared with us a story from her childhood about a personal encounter with the ghost of an old indigenous lady back on her family farm. Both her and her cousins saw the lady, and after telling their Granddad what had occurred, were advised by him to return the arrowheads and artefacts they had dug up early that day to the ground. This spurred a discussion about our beliefs about ghosts and other interesting topics.

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We also enjoyed stargazing for a while, bewildered by the lack of light pollution, and making the most of the clear country night. Andrea shared with us that if were to stay another night we might glimpse the Northern Lights, but with all individuals setting off on flights the following day we were unable to extend our stay.

Overall, a brilliant trip with some wonderful “true Canadian” experiences. Bongo Mike was a fabulous host, and I recommend anyone visiting the Algonquin National park area consider his cabins for your stay.

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