So you'd like to get-away-from-it-all but don't know where to start. Start off slow with a visit to Newcastle Island Marine Park.
Just off shore from downtown Nanaimo, it's the perfect spot for a day trip or even an easy going overnighter. Unlike so many other wonderful places, it's easy to get to Newcastle Island using public transportation, faster and cheaper in fact than taking your own dinosaur along. Hop a Nanaimo-bound ferry in either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen, then grab a cab on the other side. [See Appendix Getting to Horseshoe Bay or Getting to Tsawwassen.]
Newcastle Sunrise: A stout Garry Oak silhouetted against the dawn.
From Departure Bay, an $10 taxi ride will take you to the Newcastle Island ferry dock in a matter of minutes. The Nanaimo Seaporter will whisk you from ferry terminal to ferry terminal for slightly less when it is available. Look for the shuttle bus when exiting the terminal or call in advance [250-753-2118] in order to have it meet you on arrival.
As an alternative you can either take a bus or walk between the two ferries. The #2 Hammond Bay bus runs at half-hour intervals from Departure Bay ferry terminal to downtown Nanaimo. Get off at the corner of Wallace and Comox Streets and walk back towards the civic arena behind which you'll find the Newcastle Island Ferry dock.
Arbutus: Called madrona south of the border, arbutus is is the only broad-leaf evergreen on the coast. Rather than losing its leaves every autumn the arbutus sheds its bark instead.
Nanaimo's Harbourside Walkway leads directly to your destination along the waterfront. After arriving in Departure Bay you'll find the start of this pleasant seawall route at Sealand Oceanarium & Market just east of the ferry terminal entrance. Total walking time is about 45 minutes.
The Newcastle Island foot passenger ferry runs regularly in the summer months so if you miss one stay cool, there will be another one along in a few minutes. Kind of like dating, isn't it? And speaking of dating, romance could be high on your list in this tranquil, idyllic setting.
Ship to Shore: Being a Marine Park, Newcastle Island attracts vessels of all sizes.
As you step off the ferry you'll find plenty of picnic tables and wide grassy fields perfectly suited for frisbee, football or other fun. At the edge of the forest there is ample camping so set up that tent and set out to explore the many wonders of this small isle. Newcastle Island is rich in history. Middens, essentially stone age garbage pits made up of clam shells, fish bones and wood fire ash, bear testimony to the prehistoric Indian villages that once flourished here.
Newcastle Quarry: Explore the grindstone quarry with the original sandstone cookie-cutter still in place.
In the mid-1800s frenetic coal mining activity threatened the island's tranquillity. Bits of coal can still be found littering the beaches and airshafts that extend deep into the gloom of yesteryear attest to Nanaimo's colourful coal mining past.
From 1910 a small fishing community was established by Japanese-Canadians on Newcastle Island until, well, you know what we did to them at the time of World War II.
And for many years the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company operated a holiday resort on Newcastle Island, the main pavilion of which still stands as a visitor centre complete with cafe.
An adjacent building houses the island's only flush toilets and hot showers. The facilities are pretty primitive but most welcome.
You'll also find an old sandstone quarry that at one time supplied grindstones for pulp mills throughout the Pacific Northwest. Yet with all that past activity, Newcastle Island is still an excellent example of the unique west coast island environment characterized by mixed deciduous and coniferous forest, with Garry Oak and Arbutus predominating near the foreshore.
Newcastle Trails: Whether jogging the island circuit in fast forward or exploring at a more leisurly pace, you'll find the trails well-marked and well-maintained.
Expect to find lots and lots of feral bunnies hopping about. Could it be they too have been seduced by the island's romantic charms? Black-tailed deer have also proliferated. The best time to see these shy, gentle creatures is early in the morning. While campers sleep the dog-sized deer sneak out to graze the dew damp grass.
As you explore the forests and seashore of Newcastle Island be sure to keep a sharp eye out for bald eagles perched high in old fir snags. You'll have to call for a cab on the return journey. There is a pay phone on Newcastle Island so you can call just before boarding the ferry and have your ride waiting for you when you reach the other side. If vandalized, you'll have to wait, then cross the Island Highway to use the pay phone at the beer and wine shop.