Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park is situated in Nanaimo Harbour, immediately north of Nanaimo and just a few hundred metres offshore, beckoning visitors to pop over and explore.
Much evidence exists of at least two Coast Salish native villages that were abandoned on the island long before the discovery of coal in 1849. Their protected shell middens are still visible at Midden Bay.
Named after the British coal mining town, the island was mined at Tyne and Shaft Points from 1853 until 1883, while sandstone was quarried from 1869 to 1932. From 1911 to 1941, Japanese fisherman ran a herring saltery, as well as a shipyard and repair shop. The Newcastle saltery was one of the largest in British Columbia. They were expelled from the coast in 1941 when Japan entered the Second World War.
The Canadian Pacific Railways purchased the island and operated it as a pleasure resort from 1931 to 1955, building a dance pavilion, tea house and other facilities. The pavilion, located near the ferry dock, has now been restored and is used for cultural entertainment, displays, a restaurant and equipment rental. The remains of the sandstone quarry can also still be seen.
The 336-hectare park offers an island shoreline dominated by steep sandstone cliffs and ledges, punctuated by beaches. Caves and caverns exist along the shoreline and provide a marked contrast to the interior of the island, studded with Douglas fir, arbutus, Garry oak and dogwood trees.
Visitors can spend the day walking, hiking or cycling along an extensive trail system. A park interpreter is in attendance during the summer to provide visitor information and to interpret the Newcastle Island’s unique human and natural history. Check at the Pavilion or on information boards at the dock heads for the times of walks, talks and other program details. Interpretive signage is also located at various points of interest along the trails.
Swimming, picnicking and wildlife viewing are favourite pastimes on Newcastle Island. The tidal stream is a favourite feeding ground for raccoon and river otter.
Explore the beaches, caves and bays or canoe around the shoreline.
The park is wheelchair accessible and has 18 walk-in campsites. These sites are located in the forest, approximately a 5-minute walk from the dock. Facilies include: toilets, showers, water, picnic areas and boat docking facilities. Open all year, fees are collected from April to October with full services, however during the winter months of November to March no services or facilities are available.
Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park is accessible by boat only. From downtown Nanaimo on Southern Vancouver Island, foot passengers can board the paddlewheel ferry at Maffeo Sutton Park for the 10-minute hop to Newcastle Island during summer. Water taxis can get you there during winter.
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