Nanaimo – not just a Harbour City

We had a lukewarm review of Nanaimo from our visit last summer and concluded that its main purpose was to serve as a “stepping stone to nearby attractions”.

But it turned out, to appreciate the Harbour City, one has to look away from the harbour.

We had a chance for a second visit this year, and again using it as a stepping stone before we go on to camp at Gabriola Island and Rathtrevor Beach, but I feel compelled to update our review of the city itself because we missed some of the most beautiful parts of it.

We stayed at an Airbnb with our friends Tom and Alison, in a new division in a northern part of the city called Hammond Bay. The neigborhood was quiet, the spanking new houses were somewhat cookie-cutter but also clean and modern. Most importantly, the views of the ocean was gorgeous!

Neck Point Park

One of the most beautiful views in Nanaimo can be found in Neck Point Park. It features panoramic views of the ocean and mainland mountains, looking across the Straight lies at the Sunshine Coast.

The beauty of the park at sunset seems to be widely known, as the small parking lot was sorely inadequate for the number of visitors flocking to the park.

Cars circling the small parking lot at Neck Point Park

But once we found a parking spot, the short walk through the park was breathtaking. We started at a very protected small bay at the east of the peninsula. The bay is well protected from the strong westerly winds, and made me want to launch my paddleboard for a quick crabbing session. But I resisted and stayed on the trail with the gang.

There were stairs and boardwalks to navigate through, but nothing too strenuous. At the northern tip of the park, there is a small isthmus of land that at low tide connects to a tiny little rocky mountain. At high tide, the land connection is cut off and only an eagle occupied the rock.

After getting to Sunset Beach on the western shore of the park, the power of the wind and waves were in full display. Due to optical illusion, photos below may look like we were precariously close to the crashing waves, but there were still a good 2 meters of beach.

Departure Bay Beach/Kin Beach/Kinsmen Park

There are several names for this 800m strip of sandy beach in Departure Bay. It’s reminescent of Davis Bay near Sechelt, where visitors driving through the neighborhood get ‘wowed’ by a sudden and beautiful view of the ocean in close proximity to the road. There are some limited road side parking here, but it was pretty crowded when we visited on a Saturday afternoon.

There is a small playground and a grassy area, with a public washroom.

We happened across a bathtub race that was just wrapping up. Some friendly race participants explained that they were just doing a small race that day, in preparation for the grand World Cup later in the summer. From their website, it looks like these are customer built, 10-hp motor equipped bathtub boats that race up and down the Straight in an epic 58km race.

Charlaine Boat Ramp

A quick note on a public boat ramp with free parking: the Charlain Boat Ramp is located between the popular Pipers Lagoon Park and above mentioned Neck Point Park. The concrete boat ramp is fairly steep on the way down, but for a paddleboard or kayak it’s more than adequate. There’s a portable toilet too. The bay faces north, so it’s sheltered unless there’s a northerly wind.

Clamming around Nanoose Bay

There are a few sandy beaches north of Nanaimo in and around Nanoose Bay that are famous for clamming. We had a friend staying in a private resort, so we just headed to their private beach for a morning of shore foraging. We checked the DFO website to ensure the beach wasn’t closed, and got our fishing licenses.

We had a massive surf and turf dinner with BBQ rib steak, oysters, and seafood fettucini with clams.

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