A visit to Nanaimo can be complemented by trips to three surrounding islands. Gabriola, Newcastle and Protection islands are all a stones throw away from Nanaimo’s harbour and some island hopping can enhance your stay.
A 20-minute ferry ride away, Gabriola Island is known for its thriving arts community and is aptly nicknamed “Isle of the Arts.” However, Lisa Rey, manager of the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce, said there’s more to Gabriola.
“Our island is kayakers, hikers, beaches, weekend getaways, just the whole beach atmosphere and water sports and fishing and all those real recreational things … this is a major draw to our island,” Rey said, adding that Gabriola’s population doubles in the summer.
Golfers can tee off at Gabriola Golf and Country Club and there is the Concert on the Green, which takes place on Aug. 7.
Snuneymuxw First Nation influence can be seen on Gabriola with petroglyphs (rock carvings). Some genuine petroglyphs can be viewed at the island’s United Church and replicas can be seen at Petroglyph Park, near Gabriola Museum.
Malaspina Galleries isn’t a gallery per se but rather limestone formations caused by over a thousand years of erosion. People can stroll through the tunnel-like area and view Nanaimo in the distance.
Rey said there are events taking place almost every weekend between May and October. Some notables are the farmers’ market, from Victoria Day long weekend until Thanksgiving, the Gabriola Theatre Festival and Street Fair from Aug. 15 to 17 and the Thanksgiving Studio Tour from Oct. 11 to 13.
Newcastle Island Provincial Park
Outdoors enthusiasts may be inclined to ferry or boat from Maffeo Sutton Park to Newcastle Island Provincial Park for camping. The campground is run by the Snuneymuxw and has shower and washroom facilities. People can hike, swim, canoe and kayak on the island as well.
According to Susie Sirri, director of operations for the Grand Hotel, which looks after the Newcastle pavilion, a swim at Mallard Lake is breathtaking, with scenery comparable to the film Lord of the Rings.
“It’s really beautiful, it’s very mystical. Lots of moss hanging off the trees and it’s very serene,” Sirri explains. “There’s never usually anyone around so you feel like you’re the only one there on a movie set.”
Typically, the season runs from May until the end of September.
The round-trip ferry fee from the wharf in downtown Nanaimo to Protection Island is worth it, especially on a summer evening. The sunset on the skyline is the perfect complement to a meal on the Dinghy Dock Pub and Restaurant patio, the only registered floating pub in Canada.
Life exists past the Dinghy Dock, according to long-time islander Larry Iwasko, including recreational activities.
“There’s volleyball on Sundays at [Pirates Park] and there’s a hard surface playing field at the centre of the island that has basketball hoops and hockey nets and we have the ocean and we have the beach, great recreational facilities,” he said, adding birdwatchers can also observe herons nesting near the ferry dock.