To help celebrate I love transit week, Lisa – also known as Spokesmama, is guest posting and sharing with us how her and her family use transit on their weekend adventures!
This summer we tried something new to us: camping by transit. We don’t own a car, so we generally rent or use Modo car co-op vehicles, or bike to camp. We heard that Newcastle Island was a great destination, and quickly realized that transit was the best way for us to get there. Taking the bus meant carrying nearly everything on our backs except for a small cart that held our cooler and some of the heavier items; planning what we’d bring was a fun challenge.
If you haven’t heard of it before, Newcastle Island sits in the waters a stone’s throw from Nanaimo—almost literally. The entire island is a provincial park, about the size of Stanley Park, with campsites at the south end near the small private ferry that runs from downtown Nanaimo.
Our journey started off with a 15-minute bus ride on the #19 to downtown Vancouver at 9am. We then walked a couple of blocks to the #257 Horseshoe Bay Express. We could have ridden the #19 bus all the way to Stanley Park and transferred at the same stop on Georgia near Denman, but here’s a pro tip for you: on long weekends the #257 bus gets quite full, so if you have luggage and/or children, it’s much better to get on at the very first stop on Dunsmuir at Hamilton.
We arrived in Horseshoe Bay with plenty of time to catch the 10:40am ferry to Nanaimo. Our children spent some time in the Kids Zone, on the tiny play structures in it and watching some TV. Once we’d caffeinated a little, we headed outside for the best part of ferry travel: walking around on the outside decks. The kids loved leaning into the wind and looking for sea animals. We also came across a Bluegrass quartet playing on the solarium on the top deck.
Once the ferry arrived in Departure Bay around 12:30pm, we caught the bus to Maffeo Sutton Park; a ten minute ride. The kids had a play break while one parent headed a few blocks away for the last few items of food and drink that we wanted for our trip, including a few bottles from the newish craft brewery just a block from the park, called White Sails.
After purchasing the last of our supplies, we packed up all our stuff and boarded the ferry to the island. The boat is a stout little craft, holding about 20-30 people, luggage and the occasional bicycle. The crossing is only a few minutes. We stopped on Protection Island first, (where there’s another pub, by the way).
The walk from the dock to the Newcastle Island camp site is only a few hundred metres. All 18 camp sites are reservable online, however, unlike many BC provincial campgrounds, Newcastle was not booked up months in advance. We reserved our site about two weeks before our trip and noticed a spot or two still available a week before.
Newcastle Island is really lovely to camp on—but unlike most provincial parks, you can’t drive there—it’s water access only—so you really feel like you’ve gotten away from the city. The island is very family friendly with lots to do. We explored three beaches, which was only a few of them. There are a number of wide, well-maintained trails looping through and around the island. There are way finding maps at each trail junction, but note that they don’t include a few recent trail closures. There are also a few interesting ruins of former canneries, salteries, and quarries to poke around, most of which include signage with historical information.
From leaving our house in the morning to arriving at the camp site took under five hours, not including the shopping/park play time in Nanaimo. It’s a very affordable way to travel–$130 for a family of four to take six buses, two ferries, and two boat rides. We really enjoyed our trip and I highly recommend taking transit to camp on Newcastle Island.
If you’d like to read more tips for car free camping, please visit Spokesmama.