The second largest city on Vancouver Island, Nanaimo’s history goes back to the middle of the 19th Century when coal miners hacked their livelihoods out of the hard bones of the region. The city that Nanaimo has evolved into, one with an economy driven by education, health care and high technology would be virtually unrecognizable by those rustic pioneers. Home to no less than two BC Ferry terminals, the city is often viewed by visitors as a conduit to somewhere else, as they sprint away from the city to north or southbound Island destinations. But when new arrivals take the time to look around they quickly realize that Nanaimo isn’t a doorway to elsewhere but a rich destination in its own right.
No one entry can catalog the wealth of attractions and sights the Harbour City has to offer, but instead we present a cross section sampling of just some of the points that make the city so special.
The Bastion: certainly the most iconic structure in the city, the small fort that overlooks Nanaimo’s harbor is a living legacy of the region’s first settlers. Built by the Hudson’s Bay Company to shelter and protect the pioneer arrivals, the Bastion was the stalwart guardian that frowned across the waters in those far away days. Its cannons still adorn the neighboring park and occasionally sound like an echoed remembrance of a simpler time in the city’s history.
Newcastle Island: A few moments ferry ride from the downtown core, Newcastle Island is a lightly developed section of wilderness, perfect for camping, hikes and picnics. Originally developed as an entertainment destination for the elite, with its pavilion and snack bars, Newcastle Island is preserved today as parkland. Without vehicles or traffic the island features ample boat moorage, a few basic amenities, and acres of grassy camping space and rustic trails that circumnavigate its shoreline. Perfect for family fun or just to get away, Newcastle Island should be on your Nanaimo to do list.
Harbourfront Walkway: Developed in part due to the existence of it sheltered harbor, Nanaimo is known for the beauty and unique West Coast charms of its waterfront area. Decades to develop, the City of Nanaimo has created a beautiful paved pathway system that allows for breathtaking views of moored boats, proximity to the ever changing character of the water, and to the sights and sounds of transiting seaplanes. The walkway system meanders from the downtown core along neighboring Newcastle Channel past flotillas of pleasure craft, passing shops and eateries of all types.
Piper’s Lagoon: Just north of the city, reaching out from the shoreline and surrounded by some of the city’s finest homes is Piper’s Lagoon Park. Described as a hidden gem, the park is a pristine section of waterfront land noted for its curving treed landforms and pebbled beach. The perfect spot for a seaside picnic, the beauty of Piper’s Lagoon has featured in countless wedding and graduation photos. It is an ideal destination for those interested in a leisurely stroll along typically West Coast terrain. With loads of parking and numerous picnic tables, this no fuss section of the city is a perfect get away for the outdoor enthusiast.
Wildplay Element Park: Located south of the city along the Nanaimo River, Wildplay is a 17 acre park and outdoor entertainment venue noted for the opportunity it offers to let loose your wild side. Features at the park include the 140 km/h “Primal Swing” the Park’s world famous 150’ bungy jump, as well as the Monkido® Aerial Adventure, an exotic obstacle course that tracks through the parks stands of Douglas Fir – 60’ above the ground! Not for the faint of heart, Wildplay Element Park is a uniquely challenging experience for adventure seekers of any age.
This partial overview of some of Nanaimo’s best known local attractions will conclude in the following entry.