Nanaimo appeals to many people from full time residents to day trippers looking for fun, adventure, nature, and something unique. Some come for the bungy jumping or the ferry to Vancouver, and if that is all they are doing, then they’re missing out on a really fun place to spend a day or two.
At about 114km north of Victoria, Nanaimo is conveniently located mid-Island. It is BC’s third oldest city and is fortunate enough to still have heritage buildings functioning in the community today. The Old City Quarter is in the downtown core of the city, overlooking the all-important harbour. There is also a connection to coal mining, which was a strong influence on Nanaimo’s early days as well.
Nanaimo’s Bastion Reminds Us of the Hudson Bay Company’s Early Days
The Bation Square on Front St is a good place to start exploring. The Bastion was first built in 1853 as an outpost for the Hudson’s Bay Company and now has a small but interesting museum inside. Plan to see the cannon blast off here too during the summer months Saturdays at noon.
Hopefully you will be here on a Friday so you can enjoy the Farmer’s Market, also in the plaza beside the Bastion. Open May 24th to Oct. 11, this market has all the great things you can expect to find at a market like baking, folk art, produce, farm meat, jewelery, spices, soaps and food vendors.
Explore Nanaimo’s Heritage on Newcastle Island
From the harbour area, you have a couple of options to expand your trip into something more; for example, taking the little water taxi by Maffeo Sutton Park to nearby Newcastle Island Provincal Marine Park to walk around or bike through the 22 km trail system. There is only tent camping allowed if you plan on staying over. Once you are here, you will notice a few entities still lingering from the past. A First Nations influence, a herring saltery, and a sandstone quarry, to name a few. I seem to remember the great Hall, filled with interesting old photos, and having a picnic in an old pavillion too. Good times.
Downtown Nanaimo is a Food-Lover’s Paradise
Also, just walking through the downtown area to get a feel of the city is a pleasant experience. Trendy new shops in an old heritage buildings entice anyone in. My favorite French bakery is on Commercial St, it’s called Mon Petit Choux and yes, I do feel as if I’m in a district of Paris while having my coffee and pastry! The do offer light lunches too, I’m usually on the run so I have yet to try this.
By now you should be getting hungry if you haven’t indulged in ice cream from one of the shops along the boardwalk. And you didn’t stop in at Penny’s Palapa, right under the boardwalk. I have a hard time walking past this place, I have always been uncomfortably close to licking my plate after an authentic tasting meal. But if you are still holding out for eating at the Dinghy Dock Pub, then walk to the south end of the marina and catch the ferry to Protection Island. It’s only a few minutes long, and you can bring a bike for a small fee. The fares are 9$ an adult return, 6$ a child 6-12 return, and under 6 kids are free. There’s an interesting spot on this Island on the south end called Gallows Point where criminals were hung, and there is an Edwardian lightkeeper’s cottage for you history buffs to soak up. The Dinghy Dock has fishing rods for all ages to try, though I have mostly seen kids using them.
Family Fun on Nanaimo’s Seawall Park
Another good place to take shorty is Maffeo Sutton Park on the north end. There is a big and well-built playground there plus a small cove/beach which is all sand. There is natural sea water “gardens” along the top edge of the cove and walkway where you can see and touch some a sample of ocean life.
If you have older kids or are just looking for something more adventurous on your own, the harbour has plenty of kayaking and diving opportunities. You can even snorkel with seals! A good place to start is by contacting the knowledgeable staff at The Buccaneeer Inn for more info on excursions, lessons and rentals. Then if you you need another day here, they can arrange a room for you.
There is a lot to do and see in just one section of the Port City, the heritage and history is still a big draw for visitors. And this page doesn’t even include about the ever popular Wild Play, the 17 acre adventure park with bungee, zip lines, swinging bridges, and tightropes.
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