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Newcastle Island, BC

Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) Marine Provincial Park

A short passenger-only ferry ride from Nanaimo brings you to Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) Marine Provincial Park, a place perfect for rest and relaxation. The island, part of the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) First Nation people, has a rich history and spectacular setting that is well worth spending a day or two exploring.

Welcome to Newcastle Island, BC | Photo: Kim Walker

The island has long been used by the Snuneymuxw peoples as a place of physical and spiritual healing. The island is home to many plants used as traditional medicines and was also used as a grieving location when someone from the community passed away. By the mid 1800s, coal had been discovered in the area and over the next century the physical and social landscape of the island was irreversibly changed as mining, a sandstone quarry, a shipyard, and a fish saltery sprung up on the island. In 1931, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company purchased the island, turning it into a resort that included a pool, picnic areas, a floating hotel, and a dance pavilion featuring a spring floor which remains today and is the only one of its type left in British Columbia. When World War Two arrived, pleasure trips to Newcastle Island became mostly a thing of the past, and the island experienced a significant decline in popularity. In the early 1960s, the island was established as a 363-hectare Marine Provincial Park and today operation of the park is in the process of being transferred back to the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

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A trip to Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) begins with a ten-minute water taxi trip from Maffeo Sutton Park in Nanaimo. When you first arrive on the island, make a point to stop at the welcome booth operated by the Snuneymuxw First Nation for a map and an introduction to the island. For those interested in the cultural and industrial history of the island, local Snuneymuxw guide Dave offers excellent walking tours that take approximately an hour and a half and are full of fascinating history, cultural teachings, and personal anecdotes.

Newcastle Island, BC | Photo: Kim Walker

If you are a more DIY traveller, arm yourself with a map of the island and set out on one of the many walking trails that criss-cross the island. From the spectacular Shoreline Trail that passes picture-perfect swimming locations, including Brownie Bay and Kanaka Bay (complete with its very own ghost story!), to the Channel Trail that allows you to step back in time as you walk through the old Sandstone Quarry, Newcastle Island is a walker’s paradise. Looping the entire island is about eight kilometres but give yourself plenty of time as picture opportunities are plentiful and it is well worth poking around some of the former industrial sites including a mine shaft and an air shaft.

Newcastle Island Trail | Photo: Kim Walker

Saysutshun has no large wildlife to concern yourself with, but it is home to a truly unique wildlife viewing opportunity, nonetheless. A stop at the information kiosk near the pavilion tells the tale of how the island became home to a rare breed of white raccoon. Raccoons are abundant on Newcastle Island, but for best white racoon viewing opportunities, walk around the island (particularly on the west side) and keep your eyes open. Always keep in mind, however, that raccoons are wild animals and under no circumstances should they be approached or fed. While they may look cute, the Newcastle Island raccoon population is becoming a real problem and it is extremely important to store your food and dispose of your garbage appropriately.

Newcastle Island | Photo: Kim Walker

Saysutshun makes an excellent daytrip or walk-in camping location. For those wishing to stretch their trip to multiple days, 18 well-maintained walk-in sites are available (reservations can be made through Discover Camping) and group camping is also available. The Snuneymuxw First Nation also operates a concession in the pavilion serving up breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

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Newcastle Island | Photo: Kim Walker

No matter how long you intend to stay, Saysutshun Island offers plenty of opportunities for exploring and relaxing and is well worth adding to your BC bucket list.

For campgrounds in the area and elsewhere in British Columbia go to the Camping Map.

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Published: March 13th, 2020

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