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Newcastle Island

Newcastle Island
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BC Parks campsite, Pirates Cove Marine Provincial Park

From BC Parks updated Oct. 12/17:

Site Data

Please find site data for Newcastle Island on our main map.

About This Park

For an experience rich in history, culture and entertainment, do what people have been doing since the 1930s—hop a boat to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, one of the most intriguing parks in BC. Bring your own boat or take the passenger ferry from Nanaimo—a 10-minute ride that deposits passengers on Newcastle Island, located just a few hundred metres offshore from Vancouver Island. From a distance you’ll see an island shoreline dominated by steep sandstone cliffs and ledges, interspersed with sunny beaches – a marked contrast to the interior of the island, which is studded with mature Douglas fir, Garry oak, arbutus and Big Leaf maple trees.

Visitors to Newcastle Island can choose from an extensive network of walking/hiking trails that lead to various historic points around the island. Indian middens offer mute evidence of at least two Salish First Nations villages, which were deserted before the discovery of coal in this area in 1849. Subsequent decades saw the island’s fortunes rise and fall as it went through various incarnations while supporting a fish-salting operation, a sandstone quarry and a shipyard.

In 1931 the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company purchased the island and operated it as a pleasure resort, building a dance pavilion – now the visitor center – a teahouse, picnic areas, change houses, a soccer field and a wading pool. An old ship was tied to the dock at Mark Bay and served as a floating hotel. The island became very popular for company picnics and Sunday outings, with ships from Vancouver bringing as many as 1,500 people at a time. The advent of the Second World War, however, caused a decrease in the number of ships available for pleasure excursions and Newcastle Island suffered a consequent decline in popularity.

Today, park services and facilities include walk-in campsites complete with flush toilets and showers, as well as facilities for group camping and picnicking. The Pavilion can also be rented for dances, corporate picnics and wedding receptions.

Established Date: October 17, 1961

Park Size: 363 hectares (334 hectares of upland and 29 hectares of foreshore)

Special Notes:

A park interpreter is in attendance during the summer to provide visitor information and to interpret the 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.

The Pavilion may be booked for use by groups and organizations.

Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park benefits from excellent adjoining commercial facilities. Shopping, recreation and entertainment are available in the nearby city of Nanaimo. During July the annual Nanaimo- Bathtub Race departs from the Inner Harbour. Petroglyph Provincial Park, just south of the city, has some excellent native rock carvings. There are a variety of marinas offering boats and fishing gear to take advantage of the plentiful salmon in the surrounding waters. At Departure Bay is the Pacific Biological Research Station, which has public displays.

Campground Dates of Operation

All dates are subject to change without notice

Opening and Closing Campground Dates: (campground is accessible but may not offer full services such as water, security, etc.)      Year round

Campground Dates with Full Services and Fees:  April 1 – October 12

Campground Reservable Dates:  May 5 – October 8

Total Number of Campsites:        18

Number of Reservable Campsites: (all remaining sites are first-come, first-served)    18

Note: The above information is for the campground only. Park users can still walk into the park if conditions such as weather permit. Check the "Attention Visitor Notice" above for park alerts.

Reservations

All campsite and group site reservations must be made through Discover Camping. When reservations are not available all campsites function as first-come, first-served.

Campsite Reservations:

Campsite reservations are accepted and first-come, first-served sites are also available.

Group Camp Reservations:

Group campsite reservations are accepted at this park through Discover Camping for dates starting May 1 to October 8.

Location and Maps

Newcastle Island is accessible by boat only. Once you’ve reached Nanaimo (mainland visitors can ferry over via Horseshoe Bay), take the foot passenger ferry for the 10 minute ride from Maffeo-Sutton Park, just north of downtown Nanaimo on Hwy 1. The ferry schedule is available through the park operator’s website (a non-government weblink).

Private boat owners can simply tie up to the wharf or anchor at Mark Bay. Berthing facilities for more than 50 boats are available at the island. Boaters can reference marine chart #3447 (Nanaimo Harbour) for more information on this area.

Mooring (to buoy) Fee: $14.00 per vessel / night

Dock Facilities Use Fee: $2.00 per metre / night

Maps and Brochures

Any maps listed are for information only – they may not represent legal boundaries and should not be used for navigation.

Park Map [PDF 74KB]

Brochure [PDF 71KB]

Nature and Culture

History: A brief walk around Newcastle brings you to the site of Saysetsen Village, where recovered native artifacts bear silent witness to the life of a Salish Indian village that was deserted some time before coal was discovered in 1849. For centuries the Salish had occupied this village between the months of September and April, leaving every spring in order to fish for cod and gather clams and tubers on Gabriola Island. Although the Salish were among the island’s first coal miners, they were soon “supplemented” by boatloads of British; these men christened the island after a famous coal town in northern England and diligently worked the mines until 1883. Newcastle Island’s supplies of sandstone lasted longer than did the coal: this attractive building material, used in many constructions along the west coast, was quarried from 1869 until 1932.

Newcastle Island also played a role in the fishing industry of the province. By 1910 the Japanese, who dominated fisheries, had established a small settlement just north of Shaft Point on the west side of the island. Here they operated a saltery and shipyard until 1941 when all the Japanese-Canadians who lived along the coast were sent to internment camps in the Interior in the interests of national security during wartime.

In 1931 the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company purchased the island and operated it as a pleasure resort, building a dance pavilion (now the visitor centre), teahouse, picnic areas, change-houses, soccer field and a wading pool. An old ship named Charmer (later replaced by the Princess Victoria) was tied to the dock at Mark Bay (Echo Bay) and served as a floating hotel. The island became very popular for company picnics and Sunday outings, with ships from Vancouver bringing as many as 1,500 people at a time. The advent of the Second World War caused a decrease in the number of ships available for pleasure excursions and Newcastle Island suffered a consequent decline in popularity.

Cultural Heritage: Newcastle Island provided a home to the Coast Salish native peoples prior to the discovery of coal in 1849.

Conservation: The Park offers an island shoreline dominated by steep sandstone cliffs and ledges punctuated by beaches and provide a marked contrast to the interior of the island studded with Douglas fir, arbutus, Garry oak and Big Leaf maple trees.

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