A Private Pilot’s Trip to Tobermory
Tobermory is a small village surrounded by water – Lake Huron on one side, and Georgian Bay on the other. The area is known for being close to the Bruce Peninsula National Park which has great hiking, camping, and beaches. It’s also a hub for scuba diving as there are multiple shipwreck dive sites in the area. The small islands nearby draw in tourists for sightseeing boat tours. The real selling point for me – free bikes at the airport for people who fly in!
I had been to Tobermory before, to visit the national park and swim in the famous Grotto with crystal clear, blue water. So this trip was to explore the village with my significant other, and maybe sneak to a beach that was accessible by bike.
I checked the weather for the millionth time that week, headed to my flight school and did my walk around. I called for fuel to top up the tanks, and made sure I took some chocks for parking the plane in Tobermory. I used my ipad to figure out what route I wanted to take from St. Catharines (CSYN) to Tobermory Municipal Airport (CNR4). I made note of the frequencies I’d need to have handy, looked for any restricted airspace enroute, checked where to get fuel if Tobermory’s became unserviceable for any reason, the airport elevation, and NOTAMS. Then I filed my flight plan. This was one of my first big adventures since getting my PPL so I wanted my plan to be rock solid!
The flight was a smooth 2.5 hours and there was barely any traffic even though we flew through the GTA. I used the flight following service provided by Toronto Center up until about Owen Sound, where we became out of reach and radar service terminated. This wasn’t a problem though – we were the only ones in the area at the time.
Once we arrived in the Tobermory area, we did a little aerial shoreline tour to see if we could see a sunken ship but we couldn’t – probably because of the shine on the water due to the sun. We then located the airport and did a low and over to look for wildlife, as advised on the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) website and to check the windsock. The COPA airport listing also says to be aware of a local resident – an older man, who may be riding his bike on the runway. I found that it was quite turbulent on approach, so I prepared for it to be worse closer to the ground, as the runway is surrounded by trees on all sides. Luckily the landing was uneventful!
The airport is very small and there were a few planes parked outside already, so we knew where to go. The building was unmanned when we landed but there was a number on the door for us to call for fuel. We called ahead and set up a time for someone from the municipality office to come at 16:30, before he finished work for the day. We then surveyed the bike rack which is home to yellow painted bikes that have been donated by locals. Warning, these bikes don’t receive much maintenance at all but we were able to find two in our sizes.
Pro tip: bring a helmet and a bike pump! An adjustable wrench would also be handy to change the seat height.
Driving a semi-sketchy bike down the highway was a little nerve wracking but it also made the adventure. The ride to town was about 30 minutes, mostly downhill (keep that in mind for the way back). In town, you’ll find a candy and ice cream shop, gift shops, a few restaurants and cafes, a brewery(for your passengers), a lighthouse, kayak rentals, boat tours and a ferry port. We got some coffee, sandwiches, and ice cream, which we enjoyed by the boats. We contemplated the kayaks but ultimately decided to spend the afternoon at a beach instead. We rode our bikes to Little Cove Beach as it was close to the airport and within biking distance. The road there, from the highway, is dirt but it’s definitely rideable by bike. Since the beach is down a steep hill, we hid our bikes in the trees near the top and headed down. This beach is rocky so plan ahead and bring a hammock or two, like we did. Another option would be a blow up floaty/mattress, or small camping chairs
I highly recommend this trip! The flight and the airport are very straight forward. The destination is top notch but you definitely need to enjoy a good bike ride with some incline. This is definitely one of the more exciting places to fly in Southern Ontario to build hours, so add this destination to your summer 2021 plans!
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