The rural community of Nanoose Bay is a hot spot for golfers, clam diggers and water sports enthusiasts. Nanoose Bay enjoys a country atmosphere while being close to the city amenities of Parksville and Nanaimo. The peninsula’s large, protected harbour is a popular destination for visiting boats from around the world, and is home to an assortment of marinas, one as large as 400 berths. The Nanoose Bay area is a vacationer’s paradise, offering a wealth of activities, including hiking, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and fishing.
Nanoose Bay is named after a First Nations band related to the Nanaimo Indians. The theory locally is that the word means ‘pushing forward’, referring to the shape of Nanoose Bay, a six-kilometre long deepwater bay formed by the peninsula.
Nanoose Bay is the site of the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range, chosen for easy recovery of the unarmed torpedoes from the ocean bottom. The torpedo testing range in the Georgia Strait off Vancouver Island has been operating since 1967, testing torpedoes, sonar, sonobuoys and other maritime warfare equipment. The federal government owns the land used for the range. The foreshore is owned by B.C. and used by the federal government under a sixty-year agreement signed in 1988. The Nanoose Bay seabed was also owned by British Columbia and leased to Ottawa.
Ottawa allows foreign governments – principally the U.S. Navy – to use the facilities. Nanoose Bay has four test ranges, the most important of which is called Whiskey Golf, measuring 24 kilometres long by eight kilometres wide. This range is used to test air, ship and submarine-launched torpedoes, usually between 500 and 800 each year. In 1996, the U.S. Navy indicated that it had saved $2 billion over 30 years by using the Nanoose Bay range. Unlike test ranges in California and Hawaii, Nanoose Bay’s average depth of 410 metres, and the unique seabed, makes it easy to retrieve torpedoes.
To protest U.S. overfishing of B.C. salmon, British Columbia issued a 90-day notice of cancellation of the licence in May 1997, unless the U.S. agreed to sign the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Only the federal government has the authority to evict the U.S. from Nanoose Bay, but B.C. owned the seabed, and without the seabed, there is no testing range and no base. This initiated a series of court challenges, culminating in Ottawa’s announced expropriation of Nanoose Bay in May 1999, the first hostile expropriation of provincial land by Ottawa in Canadian history.
In September 1999, the Government of Canada completed its expropriation of 217 square kilometres of Georgia Strait by filing papers in the Land Title Office. BC was offered $1.88 million in compensation. Three months later, Canada announced a ten-year extension of the agreement with the United States to allow the U.S. Navy to continue being the primary user of the Nanoose Bay testing range. All this in little Nanoose Bay!
Population: 4,820 (Nanoose Peninsula)
Location: Nanoose Bay is located north of Nanaimo, just off Highway 19 on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
Follow the Art Loop and Scenic Drive and take an inspiring look into the working studios of local artisans.
The Qualicum National Wildlife Area (Nanoose Unit) is located at the western end of Nanoose Harbour. Two small streams, Nanoose and Bonell Creeks, run through the area and enter the bay. At low tides extensive tidal flats are exposed over which the waters of the two creeks fan into many channels. The sheltered bay winters large numbers of waterfowl and is an important year-round resting and feeding area for migratory birds. The wildlife area itself has a varied habitat of mudflats, marine spits, saltmarsh, wet meadows, and riparian vegetation. More than 200 species of plants and more than 190 species of animals, of which 131 are bird species, are found here. Most birds can be seen throughout the year, but large numbers are only present during migration and winter. Large concentrations of diving ducks and gulls occur in early spring, coinciding with the herring spawn. Bald Eagles are abundant in January when salmon spawn in the coastal streams and rivers.
For an outstanding ocean view, hike up Nanoose Hill, a very popular hiking trail with burnished arbutus trees and magnificent Garry oaks. Located on the southern shoreline of the Nanoose Bay peninsula, on the north shore of Nanoose Harbour.
Mountain Hiking: Mountain bike enthusiasts enjoy the challenging trails at the Hammerfest Race Course. Neighbouring Parksville is the site of one of the major mountain-bike competitions on Vancouver Island, the annual Hammerfest mountain bike race, held at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park each May. In addition to the difficult race course, the Arrowsmith Mountain Bike Club has created the Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park, where more moderate adventuring awaits. To find the park, turn west off Hwy 14 at the weigh scales at Kaye Road, 3 miles (5 km) north of the Nanoose Bay turnoff, then turn onto Chattell Road and follow it to its end, where the fun begins. Skateboarders can attempt the challenge of the new skateboard park, ranked among the best on the Island.
The Northwest Bay Trails on the east side of highway 19A in Nanoose Bay offers a series of trails through the forest, suitable for hiking, horse riding and mountain biking. Horses are available at nearby stables, where you may ride through the peaceful forest. For an outstanding ocean view, hike up the Notch, one of the most popular trails in the area with its Garry oaks and arbutus trees.
Golf: The 18-hole Fairwinds Golf and Country Club in Nanoose Bay is one of the best mountain golf courses on Vancouver Island, and one of Western Canada’s finest golf facilities. The pristine natural setting, breathtaking ocean vistas, and abundant wildlife provide an unforgettable golf experience. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Outdoor Adventure: Nanoose Bay is a popular area for kayaking, fishing and sailing. Local outlets offer instruction, rentals, and guided tours. Wildlife and adventure charters are also offered allowing to experience and enjoy the scenery of the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf islands.
Clams: Nanoose Bay is a popular clam digging area on Vancouver Island. Check for shellfish closures.
Boating excursions to the tiny, lush Jedediah Island Marine Provincial Park are available from the marina at Nanoose Bay. Part of Jedediah Island’s charm is that it is not easy to reach, and Jedediah’s isolation and tranquility make it an excellent destination for kayaking and wilderness camping, and the island makes a perfect picnic spot. Informal campsites abound around the sheltered shore of both Long and Home Bays.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, northwest of Nanoose Bay near Parksville, offers a fabulous swimming beach, and over 150 different species of birds. So vast is its sandy, shallow shingle, particularly when the tide is low, that you can spend hours beachcombing and bird-watching here beneath the wide-open sky. The waters of the Strait of Georgia warm up quickly when the tide rises over these sun-baked expanses. Seals often approach the beach, following the salmon that follow the needlefish that follow the zooplankton. Join the chain!
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park has acres of campsites to match its 1.3 miles (2.1 km) of beaches. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling in the off-season (September to June) you’ll have plenty of choice from among the vehicle/tent sites. Otherwise, phone ahead for reservations, particularly on weekends. So good does the living get here that some families spend their entire vacations at Rathtrevor Beach, where the maximum stay permitted is 14 consecutive days. Small wonder, when all the comforts of home, such as hot showers, gas barbeques in covered beachside picnic shelters, and firewood, are included in the camping fee.
Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, situated along the Englishman River, features a spectacular canyon between two beautiful waterfalls cascading along the descending riverbed. This 97-hectare park offers several walking trails that meander through lush old-growth forests of cedar, arbutus, fir, maple and hemlock along the Englishman River. Gaze up among the tall timbers where fingers of sunlight slant down to the ferns below. You’ll find 105 vehicle/tent sites and there’s great picnicking, summer swimming and a 2-mile walking trail that passes through a stand of maple trees to an impressive waterfall and gorge. Located 3.5 miles (6 km) south of nearby Errington.
Neighbouring Nanoose Bay is the seaside resort town of Parksville, favoured as one of the most popular summer family vacations destinations of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. This enchanting oceanside playland is sure to capture your heart. With its long sandy beaches and eastern exposure, Parksville is an ideal spot to spend a few days, or the whole summer, basking in the sun and swimming in warm waters.
East of Nanoose Bay is the picturesque seaside community of Lantzville, once a coal mining town. When the mines closed, the waterfront miners’ shacks were rented out to city residents in search of a quiet cabin on the beach. Modern day holidaymakers in Lantzville still enjoy the same mild climate and gentle shores.