A 10-minute boat ride across Nanaimo’s harbour brings you to a beautiful Provincial Park. Newcastle Island, or Saysutshun, as Snuneymuxw people know it, is truly a unique destination. And a location one should not miss out on while exploring Nanaimo.
- Features: tent camping; historic site; cultural experiences; hiking opportunities; adventure playground
- Park Size: 363 hectares
- Trails: 22 km of well-developed trails
- Suitable Activities: camping, hiking, picnicking, swimming
- Accessibility: The Pavilion, the toilet building and some trails are wheelchair-accessible
- Park Use: Day-use park and walk-in campsites
- Washrooms: Pit toilets are located throughout the park and in the campground. Flush toilets are located near the entrance to the park.
- Pets: Dogs are welcome, but must remain on a leash at all times
This small island has gone through various industrious incarnations over the years. A coal mine operated from 1849 until 1883; a sandstone quarry from 1869 until 1932; and a fish-salting facility and shipyard from 1910 until 1941.
The Japanese were the operators of the saltery and shipyard, and they built a small settlement just north of Shaft Point on the island’s west side. During the war, they unwillingly left when all coastal Japanese-Canadians were sent to internment camps in the interest of national security.
In 1931, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company purchased the island and operated it as a pleasure resort for the wealthy. They built a dance pavilion, a teahouse, picnic areas, change houses, a soccer field and a wading pool. To accommodate prominent guests, a large ship tied to the dock at Mark Bay served as a floating hotel.
Ships from Vancouver were bringing over as many as 1500 people at a time to enjoy the festivities. Unfortunately, the popularity of the island was short-lived. The onset of WWII and the lack of ships available for pleasure use resulted in a dramatic decline of Newcastle Island visitors.
Before European (or Japanese) contact, the island was inhabited by the Snuneymuxw people. Each winter through early spring, they lived on the island to take advantage of the annual herring run. Saysutshun has also always been (and still is) a place associated with physical and spiritual healing.
Today, the Snuneymuxw people and BC Parks offer the island to visitors wishing to experience a bit of history, culture and beauty.
The Newcastle Island Experience
Newcastle Island is only accessible by boat, and the 10-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo is part of the experience.
The small passenger ferry runs every half hour between Maffeo Sutton Park and the island dock from May until September. During the ‘low’ and ‘shoulder’ seasons, hours are limited.
Please check the current ferry schedule and fees here: Saysutchun Ferry Schedule.
If you have a boat, you are in luck! There are berthing facilities for more than 50 boats available at the island, and prices are incredibly reasonable. Moorage is on first-come-first-serve bases, and they don’t take reservations.
This park has a large day-use/picnic area with plenty of options. You will find picnic tables, an information shelter, a playground, a swimming beach, toilets, horseshoe pits and a large grassy area perfect for group games. This popular day-use area is located within a short walk from the docks.
Interpretive Walking Tour
Saysutshun is rich with stories, and the Snuneymuxw people want to share them with you! For an immersive experience, take a leisurely nature walk with a guide who shares the island’s culture.
An experienced Snuneymuxw guide will introduce you to the sacred village sites, traditions and cultural history of Saysutshun. You will hear beautiful stories and practices handed down from generation to generation as you learn about Snuneymuxw medicines and observe historical objects.
The tour is approximately 1.5 hours and begins at the Totem Pole near the ferry dock. This tour has an extra charge and must be pre-booked by contacting them.
There are 18 walk-in campsites and five group campsites (that accommodate up to 50 guests). The island has flush toilets and coin-operated showers. Potable water and food lockers (to keep out the racoons) are also provided.
Campsites are open between May and October and reservable through BC Parks.
An onsite concession serving pub-style food is open during Spring and Summer. Cold water taps, provided through the City of Nanaimo’s municipal water system, are located throughout the park. Please note that taps are shut off during the off-season.
Newcastle has over 22 km of trails suitable for walking, running or mountain biking. Unfortunately, e-bikes aren’t allowed on the island and a few of the trails are designated for walking only.
The Coastal trail circumnavigates the entire island at a length of approximately 8 km. This trail is perfect for those wishing to beach comb or swim along the way.
The 2 km Mallard Lake Trail winds through mature Douglas fir and marshy areas to a small lake. This is an excellent trail to view ducks, other birds, and possibly the resident beaver. Another 1/2 km west will take you to Midden Bay, the site of the historic coal mine. And just beyond that is Saltery Beach, the former site of the saltery and shipyard (mentioned above).
The 1.5 km Kanaka Bay Trail leads from the day-use area to Kanaka Bay, where you will find a historic ventilation shaft for the coal mine. Kanaka Bay is also a well-known area of an eerie ghost story.
There are a few other short trails that are worth exploring and offer their own unique experience. Download a trail map before you go.
- Sit on one of the benches and enjoy the incredible views
- Check out the pavilion, rentable for dances, corporate picnics and wedding receptions
- Let your kids burn off some steam at the adventure playground
- Throw a football or frisbee on the large grassy field
- Take a self-guided walk reading the interpretive signage along the way
- Swim at either Kanaka Bay or Brownie Bay
- Try to spot the rare albino raccoons
- Go geocaching – the island is full of hidden treasures
- View the sandstone mine shafts
- Kayak around the island (must use your own kayak)
Have you visited Newcastle Island Provincial Park? What are your favourite things to do while there? Let us know in the comment section below.
If you are interested in learning about the many other parks, please read Provincial Parks of Vancouver Island.
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More things to see in Nanaimo
If you are looking for even more things to see and do in Nanaimo, please check out 48 Hours in Nanaimo.