Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Newcastle Island! Car-free holiday No. 2!

Feel like some camping? Don't want to rent a car to do it? Then check out this easy-access and little-known jewel just outside of Nanaimo: Newcastle Island.

You can see this island from the Horsehoe Bay - Departure Bay ferry; it's the one you pass closely on the ferry's left side, after you pass the lighthouse island and just prior to docking at Departure Bay. It's so close to the main Island that you can practically throw a rock to it.

[forest walk, Newcastle Island. All photos mine.]

 To get to Newcastle Island, you walk off the ferry and along the shore, keeping to the left (you can take the TransCanada Trail, which follows a nice boardwalk through the various marinas and condo developments) to Maffeo Sutton Park.  Hit Google Maps for a detailed route. It's probably a 30 minute walk or so. We biked it and it takes about 15 minutes.

Maffeo Sutton is a nice park in itself; a huge playground and a swimming area as well as a bandshell where there are frequently activities. Anyways, the ferry to Newcastle Island leaves from the tip of the park. It's a small ferry (like those that ply the waters of False Creek) and it takes about 10 minutes to get to Newcastle Island. The ferry operates until 8:45pm or so during the summer. Click the link for rates and schedules.

[one of the Newcastle Island ferries]

[view to Protection Island from campsite]

[campsite, Newcastle Island]

The whole of Newcastle Island is a provincial park, standard camping rates apply. There are no cars or houses on the island. This means: no RV's. Only old-fashioned tent-camping, a 5 minute walk from the docks. There's a historic dance/concession pavillion, and an up-to-date wash-house with flush toilets and hot showers ($1 for 2 minutes). The campground and concession are run by the Snuneymuxw band. You can take your bike onto the Island, it takes about 45 minutes to bike all the way around. There are lovely forest walks and some nice sunny pebble beaches, which look out over to the mainland. There are historical sites to see and some native legends to read about. The island has a purple martin colony, lots of deer, and raccoons; these come out at dusk so keep your food out of your tent! There are special lockers for food storage at the campsites.

[pulpstone quarry, Newcastle Island.]

[view from Newcastle Island to Gabriola and the mainland.]

 [Mr. Purple Martin at his apartment door]

We've been going to Newcastle Island every June for the last few years; it's always very quiet and never full. The weather is usually a little better than on the mainland! It's a relaxing trip, suitable for families with kids. Try it, you'll like it!