What makes Nanaimo one of the most beautiful cities in the world? In my opinion, hands down, it’s the Nanaimo waterfront. You can stroll or cycle the 3.5 kilometer Harbourfront Walkway and watch sea planes take off and land; spy on sea birds, raccoons, and seals while they fish and play; sailboats, yachts and ferries; people of all ages fishing off the beach, swimming in Swy-A-Lana Lagoon, picnicking in Maffeo Sutton park and checking out the shops. But, my favourite way to enjoy the Nanaimo harbour and area is from a kayak.
Note: The Nanaimo waterfront area is busy with boats and seaplanes, and the water can be unpredictable. It’s best for experienced paddlers; be watchful and wear your PFD.
A great place to launch a kayak in the Nanaimo Harbour is from a small pebble beach just down from Newcastle Avenue, between Mt. Benson Street and Rosehill Street, next to the Nanaimo Yacht Club. There is often parking right on Newcastle Avenue. From there, you can paddle along the Walkway and out into the harbour. It’s fun to paddle by the Swy-A-Lana fishing peer and watch people fishing and throwing in their crab traps.
Careful with your generosity though. I once agreed to take someone’s trap a little ways out and was rewarded with a deck of slimy fish guts! There are also plenty of anchored pleasure boats to paddle around in the harbour, especially in the summer. You may sea a seal pop her head up, and you’ll definitely see a variety of sea birds.
If you get hungry while paddling and you didn’t pack a lunch, there are a couple of options offered on the two small Islands across from Nanaimo. One of them is the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island. You can pull your kayak up on a dock designated for kayakers behind the pub. The view of the harbour and city from the pub deck is amazing. And there is a section that is family friendly. After lunch, you may want to walk along the island’s gravel roads and soak in the sights and sounds of this piece of paradise for over 300 people who call it home.
Another venue for lunch is right across from Protection Island, on Newcastle Island, a provincial marine park. There is a café serving meals and snacks in the 1930s teahouse in an old restored wooden dance pavilion. During low tide, you can walk between the islands; but, those of us who spent some of our childhood on the islands can attest, you may be swimming back; the tide comes in fast.
Paddling the Newcastle Channel between Newcastle Island and Nanaimo offers a lot of action on the water, with plenty of boat traffic. There are several marinas on the main island side and lovely rugged shoreline on Newcastle itself. Mark Bay is near the Newcastle Island marina. It is usually quite calm and has a lovely beach. You may see racoons foraging for snacks on any of the shores.
Nanaimo’s waterfront offers so much outdoor fun. Above are some of my favourite places in the area, closest to the city. It’s year-round fun for experienced paddlers that offers a variety of fun sights and sounds, as well as more peaceful experiences where there is less activity.