Accessible by foot-passenger ferry from Nanaimo, Newcastle Island was once the site of the Hudson’s Bay Company coal mines before being purchased by the Canadian Pacific Railway, who turned it into a pleasure island that included floating hotels, tea houses, a dance pavilion and a soccer field.
Today, the entire Newcastle Island is a nature reserve, and a delightfully adventurous location for a picnic, with sandstone cliffs, forests, gravel beaches, caves, caverns and prehistoric native middens.
Part of the thrill of visiting Newcastle Island is riding the foot-passenger ferry to the island, which gives visitors a feeling for activity in Nanaimo Harbour. As you move away from Nanaimo, the Vancouver Island Mountains come into view as they rise above the town. Once on the island, you find trails leading off in many directions, including a trail to the well-organized picnic ground beside the Pavilion, a grand leftover from the dance-hall era.
Newcastle was the site of much commercial activity before it was turned into a park. Visitors can explore the old limestone quarry where the columns for the US Federal Mint in San Francisco were shaped. An unfinished one remains as an example of the work done here. Just as interesting is the site of a fishsalting plant nearby.
The public ferry to Newcastle runs during summer months only and can be reached from Maffeo-Sutton Park behind the Civic Arena, just north of downtown Nanaimo. Outside of summer months, visitors can catch a ride to Newcastle with one of the private water taxis that whisk travellers around the harbour.
Location: Newcastle Island is located offshore from Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island. The public ferry to Newcastle Island runs during summer months only and can be reached from Maffeo-Sutton Park behind the Civic Arena, just north of downtown Nanaimo. Outside of summer months, visitors can catch a ride to Newcastle with one of the private water taxis that whisk travellers around the harbour.
Newcastle welcomes visitors with a boat anchorage, picnic tables, campsites, recreational equipment rentals and great walking trails. Boat owners can simply tie up to the wharf at the entrance to Mark Bay. Berthing facilities for more than 50 boats are available at the island.
Sea Caves: Along the north and west shores of the island are sea caves once used for ancient ritual burials.
The Pavilion, built in 1931, has been restored – check the schedule for theatre productions, seasonal dances and other special events.
Camping: Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed, with toilets, showers, water and food concession. The entire Newcastle Island is park, with 18 walk-in campsites reached within a few minutes walk from the island’s ferry dock.
Canoeing and kayaking is permitted at Newcastle Island Provincial Park.
Regularly scheduled interpretive programs are featured in the park, normally during the summer season. Programs may include guided walks, slide shows, children’s programs and special events. Check at the Pavilion or on information boards at the dock heads for the times of walks, talks and other program details.
Facilities and Services: Newcastle Island Park benefits from excellent adjoining commercial facilities. Shopping, recreation and entertainment are available in the nearby city of Nanaimo.
Birdwatching: Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park is renowned as a bird-watcher’s paradise. Thousands of shorebirds throng its coastline year-round, including such hard workers as the red-billed black oystercatcher. For the best viewing, follow the Shoreline Trail from the ferry wharf counterclockwise around the island to Brownie and Kanaka Bays.
Hiking: Almost 20 kilometres of trails loop around Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park and lead to the grandest viewpoint at Giovanda Lookout. From the ferry wharf on Newcastle’s south end, follow the Mallard Lake Trail and then the Nares Point Trail. The lookout is located along the Nares Point Trail near the northwest tip of the island. Cliffs drop away dramatically in front of the lookout with views stretching across the Strait of Georgia to the Lower Mainland. Continue back to the wharf via the Kanaka Bay and Shoreline Trail.
Biking: Bicycles are allowed on both the Kanaka Bay Trail and Mallard Lake Trail in Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park. These are gentle, wide pathways shared with pedestrains.