Jonathan catches up with Rob Hawkins, who savoured a once-in-a-lifetime Canadian wilderness experience after winning a competition he entered on timeoutdoors.
Jenny and Rob Hawkins were all smiles throughout their Ontario adventure
Guildford-based Rob Hawkins enjoyed what he described as an "awesome" trip after winning the Ontario Tourism competition which featured on timeoutdoors last year.
Enter the 2017 competition
Rob and his wife Jenny journeyed deep into the spectacular backcountry of Northern Ontario where they were immersed in Canada's canoe culture while camping, fishing and learning survival skills from bushcraft legend Ray Mears.
Rob entered the competition after receiving a promotional email from timeoutdoors, and on his return, I caught up with him to hear about his once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
"It all still seems like a bit of a dream really," he told me. "Awesome is probably the best way to describe it. It was incredible experience from start to finish.
"Ray met us at the airport, and he was with us the whole time; he was one of the group. We were so well looked after throughout - right from our initial base at Smoothwater's Eco Lodge.
"There were so many highlights - meeting the elders at Bear Island, a First Nation reserve, was an incredible experience and helped us learn about the region's history and gain a better understanding.
"The canoeing adventure started the following day. We got a boat plane, flying over amazing scenery before landing on this almost-private camp.
The group had a spectacular start to their canoeing trip
"Ray did some bushcraft which was pretty cool! We learnt how to light fires - I can do all that now!
"The following night we set up camp on this cliff top overlooking a lake; they were simply the most amazing views. And all the time we were learning so much. Ray and the others were so knowledgeable and keen to help us. If you had any questions at all, Ray would always answer them so well. He was just a very nice guy, with a real passion for the area.
"It meant that I was able to do the whole fishing cycle; I caught a fish, got to shore, gutted and filleted it, then lit a fire and cooked it."
Rob was soon lighting fires and cooking the fish he'd caught
And when asked about his overriding impressions of Ontario, Rob admitted he was surprised that such a different world is so easily accessed from the UK.
"It's a proper wilderness - you're off the grid - which was brilliant, I loved it.
"Yet the flight was only seven hours and didn’t feel like long haul at all. We did so much in a week, but we'd love to go back in the future, it's such a beautiful place with so much to discover."
In this year's competition, there are no fewer than four different types of all-inclusive trips to choose from, from exploring landscapes made famous by Canada's most celebrated artists through to fly-in wilderness canoe adventures and whitewater rafting.
So if you want to follow in Rob's footsteps and paddle strokes then click here to enter.
It could be you in 2017!
[All photos ©Gary McGuffin]