A 10-minute boat ride across Nanaimo’s harbour brings you to a beautiful Provincial Park. Newcastle Island, or Saysutshun, as known by Snuneymuxw First Nation people, is truly a unique destination.
The 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 west side of the island. 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 in order 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 along with BC Parks, offer the island to visitors wishing to experience a bit of history, culture and beauty.
The Newcastle Island Experience
As mentioned above, Newcastle 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 March 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 your own boat, you are in luck! There are berthing facilities for more than 50 boats available at the island, and prices are extremely reasonable. Moorage is on first-come-first-serve bases and they don’t take reservations.
There are 18 walk-in campsites and five group campsites (that accommodate up to 50 guests). The island has flush toilets and hot showers. Potable water and food lockers (to keep out the racoons) are also provided.
Campsites are open between May and October and can be reserved through BC Parks.
An onsite concession serving pub-style food is open during Spring and Summer.
If you have a group of 20 or more, you can book a Traditional Salmon BBQ, which includes rice, seasonal vegetables, and fry bread.
Newcastle has over 22 km of trails suitable for walking, running or biking.
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 a great trail to view ducks and 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. You can download a trail map here:
For those who geocache, you’ll be happy to know many treasures are hidden on the island.
You are welcome to bring your dog to Newcastle Island (and on the ferry), but they must be leashed at all times.
- Picnic benches, all with incredible views
- A pavilion, rentable for dances, corporate picnics and wedding receptions
- Adventure playground
- Large fields perfect for playing outdoor games of all kinds
- Interpretive signage throughout the island
- Kayak rentals (seasonal)
Have you visited Newcastle Island? What are your favourite things to do while there? Let us know in the comment section below.