The best way to get to parts of Nanaimo awash in beauty is on the water.
Exploring Nanaimo’s shorelines is best done from a kayak or stand-up paddle board, either of which can get you close to shore quietly without disturbing wildlife or drowning out nature’s subtle soundtrack with motor noise.
John Kimantas, owner of Nanaimo-based Wild Coast Publishing and author of numerous kayaking guides for the West Coast, says Newcastle Island is the obvious choice for local kayak forays, but often overlooked by locals.
“There aren’t many cities that have a provincial park like that just sitting out in the harbour,” Kimantas said. “The great thing about it is, once you’re out in the area, you can walk around or lie on the beach. There’s just so many things you can do there.”
Richard Antonchuk, owner of Alberni Outpost Outfitters, says paddling the east shore of the island, where there are no houses and few other signs of human presence, leaves an impression much like paddling Vancouver Island’s west coast.
Kimantas says a rewarding side trip while paddling around Newcastle is Jesse Island, which features the only paddle-through cave formation in the Gulf Islands.
“It’s a private island, but the shoreline is just spectacular,” Kimantas said.
Paddlers who chart a course northward are rewarded with Pipers Lagoon Park and Neck Point Park, which offer up visual feasts of rugged rock shorelines and cliffs, marine wildlife and spectacular views of historic Shack Island, where fishermen built small cabins that have been maintained and used as recreational getaways since the 1930s.
“There is a great run you can do down Nanaimo River,” Kimantas said. “If you launch at the [Island Highway] bridges, you can just meander your way down the current and go into the [Nanaimo River] estuary and then pop out wherever you want – and that’s a beautiful and safe stretch, too.”
The Nanaimo River brings paddlers out to Jack Point Park with its eroded sandstone shorelines and views of Nanaimo. People looking to build their core strength and get out on the water with a minimum of equipment are turning to stand-up paddle boards, now commonly known as SUPs.
“There is no doubt it’s the up and coming,” Antonchuk said. “It’s popular. We just had our demo days on Long Lake and we had probably more interest in the stand-up paddle boards than we did in the kayaks.”
SUPs are light, easy to carry – they weigh less than seven kilograms – are stable and are relatively easy to learn how to balance and manoeuvre.
“One thing we do notice, though, is it is very much a warm weather sport,” Antonchuk said.
SUPs will go most places you’ll see kayaks and they’re great for exploring inland shorelines, such as Westwood Lake.
“Kayak fishing is getting to be a very big sport right now and really starting to catch – wouldn’t you know it, down in the States it’s happening already. SUP fishing is starting to catch on and it’s going to catch on here too,” Antonchuk said.