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Nanaimo incorporates a huge number of possibilities for adventure options for explorers of the Salish Sea Marine Trail or the Gulf Islands Marine Trail, from scenic day and weekend trips involving the nearby destinations, or as a jumping-off point for longer trail expeditions. The latter is possible thanks to the many transportation connections that can be cherry-picked to facilitate any number of itineraries -- from simple kayak rentals for a day to complex expeditions originating from potentially overseas, thanks to the convenient air links.

The map above shows some of the features and services that combined make this such a remarkable location. And this just scratches the surface! A larger pdfnanaimo-adventure-map_1.pdf of this map is available for printing or viewing. 

Here's how to put it all together.

Troubleshooting transportation

Nanaimo's primary launch site is the Brechin boat ramp, which provides quick access to Newcastle Island as well as long-term parking for those arriving by car. However, thanks to the many transportation links, you can leave your car at home. Here are some options.

Walk-on, paddle-off: Part of the Salish Sea Marine Trail program with BC Ferries, paddlers arriving from the mainland can arrive at the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal by walking on at Horseshoe Bay, and walk off at Departure Bay to launch at the Brechin boat ramp. This is perfect for itineraries such as the North Salish Sea Route

Fly-in, paddle-off: Paddlers can fly in via float plane to Nanaimo's two terminals and then rent a kayak to paddle off. Here are details on the two options: 

  1. At Departure Bay next to the Brechin boat ramp, fly in via Seair and rent from adjacent Alberni Outpost.
  2. In downtown Nanaimo, fly in via Harbour Air and rent a kayak from them. In addition, Harbour Air can make arrangements so you can paddle in at Nanaimo and then drop your kayak off at any of their other terminal locations -- Vancouver, Sechelt or Victoria. This is the perfect way to plan one-way routes, particularly covering the Gulf Islands Marine Trail section of the Salish Sea Marine Trail between Victoria and Nanaimo.

Trip suggestions 

All these day trips can be enjoyed as one or combined as part of a weekend stay at Newcastle Island or any one of the nearshore accommodation options that dot the Nanaimo shoreline.

Easy day trips:

To Newcastle Island: From Brechin boat ramp, head south down Newcastle Island Channel to explore the wonderful sandstone shoreline of Newcastle Island, then head through Nanaimo Harbour and Mark Bay to Newcastle Island's beautiful southern beach. Visit the pavilion, wander the trails or head to the Dinghy Dock Pub set on the water off nearby Protection Island.

To the downtown: From Brechin boat ramp, explore Newcastle Island Channel, but instead of turning to Newcastle Island, continue along the Nanaimo shoreline to the downtown. The BC Marine Trails Network is working with the Nanaimo Port Authority on a project that would create a visiting paddlecraft dock in the Nanaimo downtown so you can paddle to the downtown and stop to explore the shops and have a bite to eat or a drink. Stay tuned for the official announcement on that!

Moderate day trips:

Circumnavigate Newcastle Island: This gem of a pristine island is located just a few moments by paddle from the Brechin boat ramp. Follow the amazing limestone and sandstone shoreline and picnic at the pocket beaches. This is an amazingly pristine wilderness location reached within minutes of leaving a Nanaimo launch site.  

To Shack Island: From Brechin boat ramp or Departure Bay, head around the north end of Newcastle Island then continue north to Jesse Island and follow the Vancouver Island shoreline past the wonderful beach at Pipers Lagoon to Hammond Bay. That's where you'll find unique Shack Island. Consider making your picnic destination the scenic tombolo at Neck Point (noting it disappears at high tides) or any of the other wonderful nearby beaches. Be sure to check out the paddle-through sea caves at Jesse Island!

Advanced day trips:

To Snake Island: Veteran kayakers may want to check out the incredible sandstone formations at Snake Island set out in the distant waters about 3 km east of Newcastle Island. It's an open water crossing, but the island sandstone is remarkable and there is a small but wonderful beach for a stretch of the legs. Careful, though, not to bother nesting seabirds. Pay attention to the signs!

Share you own favorite day trip:

Have we missed a good one? Let us know! Add your own Nanaimo adventure trip in the comments section below.

Expedition options

Because Nanaimo is a transportation hub, Nanaimo has many unique ways to explore the Salish Sea Marine Trail, particularly by leaving the car at home or on the mainland. Here are the main options:

The North Salish Sea Route: Leave the car at Horseshoe Bay. Walk on at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal and walk off at Departure to launch at Brechin boat ramp. From there you can head north into the most wild and scenic section of the Salish Sea Marine Trail. by heading through the Winchelseas then to the central Strait of Georgia islands of Lasqueti, Jedediah and Texada before crossing to the Sunshine Coast and across Howe Sound to return by paddle to Horseshoe Bay.  

The Coast Salish Heritage Route: Begin your travels of the Salish Sea in an adventure route through the history and magic of traditional Coast Salish land. This route joins Nanaimo with Ladysmith, Chemainus and numerous other interesting points along the way. The route is in development in partnership with Coast Salish communities to bring it to life through features and services. Stay tuned as this incredible marine trail takes shape!  

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