Nanaimo - It's Amazing What You Can Do Here!
We often start our guests tour of Nanaimo by heading north along scenic Hammond Bay Road past Neck Point Park and Piper's Lagoon Park both wonderful marine Parks . Piper's Lagoon is host to a fabulous tidal pool, great views of Shack Island and a fantastic spit beach facing the Strait of Georgia. At the end of the spit is a great point that is fun to hike and is home to the indigenous "Garry Oak" and "Arbutus" tree.
Heading south toward Departure Bay, you can see the ferries come and go and catch a great view of Newcastle Island. Newcastle Island is the perfect day trip within Nanaimo. Visitors can leave their vehicles at Maffeo Sutton Park and walk down to the Newcastle Island ferry terminal, located at Swy-A-Lana Lagoon Park. Newcastle Island has many hstorical features; it's been home to sandstone quarries, a fish packing plant, generations of First Nations residents, and coal mines. All of these facets are visible today as park installations and leavings. Newcastle Island was acquired from the CP Railway by the city in 1955, then passed on to the Province in 1961, at which point it was made into a park. It is quite large, especially considering its proximity to downtown Nanaimo; a walk around the circumference covers more than 7.5 kilometers. The hiking is easy. You can also rent kayaks and paddle around the island. The island has a great beach area with tables and amenities. Take a picnic and enjoy the day.
Next you can stroll a long the 4.5 KM seawall that extends from Swy-A-Lana Lagoon Park to Cameron Island, along the waterfront. Here you can watch seaplanes take off and land, see the many boats in the harbour, maybe even a cruise ship. You may wish to try some local cuisine or have a pint at the waterfront pub - Lighthouse Bistro. A great experience is the ferry ride from the docks to Protection Island - adjacent to Newcastle Island. This quaint island is accessible only by the " Protection Connection " a foot passenger ferry. The famous floating Dinghy Dock Pub is also situated on this island and is a great outing for lunch or supper.
Our downtown core is home to the Bastion (a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, built in 1853), Arts District , China Steps, Port Theatre , the Museum and Bowen Park . Shops, galleries and eateries dot the downtown scene. Bowen Park is a hidden gem within the inner city; great trails and a set of falls are its features. Heading west on Fitzwilliam Street you will pass the " Old Quarter " shopping district and make your way past the Aquatic Centre toward the Parkway. Cross the Parkway and you are back on Jingle Pot Road where you will find Westwood Lake . Westwood Lake is an ultimate destination for many kinds of Nanaimo-ites, owing to its kilometres of springy pathways for runners and walkers, beaches for swimmers, fish for canoers and a great place to sit back and relax.
Heading north on Hwy 19 you start our mid island exploration. Take the 19a exit to the Ocenaside route to Parksville. If you like to beachcomb, try out Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, one of the premier oceanfront’s on Vancouver Island. Majestic old growth trees, beautiful ocean sunsets and an inviting, wide sandy beach with campsites nestled amongst mature Douglas fir trees makes Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park in Parksville one of the premier vacation destinations on Vancouver Island.
At low tide the ocean recedes almost a kilometre, providing an ideal place for visitors of all ages to play in the sand and explore the shoreline. When the tide rolls in over the sun-baked sand, the warmed water is unbeatable for swimming and salt water fun.
Parksville has a wonderful Community Park off Corfield. It has lots of parking, kids waterpark , volleyball sand courts and nice boardwalk. The tide goes out and leaves wonderful beachcoming sand to walk on. When the tide comes back in over the hot sand, it makes the shallow water warm and great for kids to play in.
Following along the coast on 19a, stop at the clock on Memorial drive ( highway 4a ) in Qualicum Beach . From here you can walk around the town looking at the small independant stores that thrive in the absence of big box stores and franchise outlets.
Follow 4a on the road to Port Alberni and stop at MacMillian Park where the huge trees are in an area called Cathedral Grove. Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here visitors can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees – some more than 800 years old.
Trails on either side of the highway lead visitors through the mighty stands of this coastal forest. On the south side you will find the largest Douglas firs – one measuring more than 9 metres in circumference. On the northern side of the road you’ll find groves of ancient Western red cedar standing sentry over nearby Cameron Lake.
Turn around and head back down 4a and take the turn to the village of Coombs. Here you can browse through the many shops and view the goats on the grassy roof of the " Goats on the Roof Market". The bakery , ooohhh the bakery ! Stop in at Fengi's and pick out a nice colorful bamboo blouse and marvel at the wooden sculptures.
Depending on the activities you choose, you may need to make more than one circle trip to cover the activities outlined here – that’s why we say we are the perfect place to base your island tour…there is so much to see and do on Vancouver Island!
If you like cave adventure , try spelunking at Horne Lake Caves , north of Qualicum. Guided tours are available. The best in Canada! That is one way to describe the cave resources of Vancouver Island, home to more than 1,000 caves. At Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park you can experience the magic of the underground world in the many caves protected within this unique park. The park was established in 1971 at the request of public caving groups on Vancouver Island who were concerned about the potential damage of the caves and the fragile crystal formations they contained.
Spelunking is the art of cave exploration and Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park is the perfect place to discover this unique activity. From educational family-oriented tours to deep, dark adventure, the caves protected within this park offer something for everyone. Knowledgeable guides can lead visitors through the caves to discover this magical world of crystal formations and ancient fossils firsthand.
Wind up scenic Hwy 19A to Courtenay and Comox (approx 1.5 hours) north of Nanaimo or take the interior island Hwy 19 (approx 1 hour). If you happen to be in the area August Long Weekend you just can’t miss out on the “ Filberg Festival ”. At Mount Washington take a gondola ride to the top of the mountain and get a bird’s eye view of the island or explore its extensive hiking/walking trails and bike trails as this is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. Mount Washington also offers fabulous winter skiing conditions and has the highest accumulation of snow in North America.
While in Campbell River, visit the local museums and galleries, enjoy the ocean-side walkways, or go bear and whale watching – an adventure of a lifetime. While here, a scenic 10-minute ferry ride takes you to Quadra Island where you will find a community full of arts, culture, and adventure recreation.
Telegraph Cove is tucked away on the eastern coast of Northern Vancouver Island in one of the last virtually untouched areas of the North American continent. This tiny sawmill and cannery community was important to the development of the North Island and has a rich and colourful history. From the 1920's to present day, residents of the Cove continue to maintain their firm hold on the area and take pride in being able to present it to the general public in as close to its original condition as possible. Not only is it historically significant to the area, it is home to Stubbs Island Whale Watching , the oldest and most well-known Orca (Killer Whale) whale watching company on the pacific coast.
Robson Bight. a part of Johnstone Strait , is frequented by Orcas each summer to rub themselves on the barnacle-encrusted rocks and gravel seafloor. As the top predator on the inland-water food chain, they are also attracted by the annual salmon runs that funnel through the strait beginning. There are few sights more thrilling than a killer whale in the wild breaking the surface and do a breach or spyhop. The marine portion of Robson Bight Ecological Reserve was established in 1982 in recognition of the importance of this area to killer whales.
Arts, culture, food and drink – a day that won’t disappoint. Heading south on #1, take a leisurely drive toward to Ladysmith. Ladysmith is famous for its Christmas "Festival of Lights". Ladysmith also has great shops and sheltered water on the Salish Sea – great for kayaking.
Our favourite drive is old Hwy #1 meandering past the Saltair Pub and entering Chemainus. Chemainus is home of the arts from theatre to murals. A great place to experience the history of the area and take photos.
Chemainus . . .
Protected by the ocean and mountains.
Made world famous by our outdoor gallery of murals
Made world famous by sinking a Boeing 737 for scuba divers
Yet so quaint and quiet you will not want to leave
Further south is the city of Duncan. While there you can visit the Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives, the BC Forest Discovery Centre and the Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre.
Native history and culture are apparent throughout Duncan, the "City of Totems." A short stroll south from the museum, there are 41 intriguing totem poles to see on the self-guided walking tour - just follow the yellow footprints on Duncan's sidewalks, which provide a path through the sites - and the fascinating world of totem poles. The Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre , in downtown Duncan, recreates the history and traditions of the coastal people in its buildings, displays and excellent presentations. Under the roof of a large carving shed, totem poles take shape; visitors may view work in progress.
Next is Cowichan Bay , a gem nestled by the water. Great shops including a cheese works, bakery and sea faring restaurants. Try clam strips or our famous halibut. Whale watching tours at Ocean Ecoventures also depart from these docks. Another fabulous treat are the wineries that dot this fine area. Tours and tastings are available. One of our favourites is Merridale Estate Cidery , a great view, great cider and great food. Now it’s time to make your way back home. Whippletree Junction has an eclectic group of unique shops.