Beaches. Beaches upon beaches upon beaches. Nanaimo is called the “Harbor City” for good reason. Here, beaches stretch for miles. A gateway city, Nanaimo has not yet grown into the bustling metropolis of its nearby capitol. It still has the small town charm of locals waving to each other as they pass on the road.
In some cities, prime waterfront real estate like Nanaimo boasts has been so overrun by mega mansions that finding public access is all but impossible. Here, parks dot the landscape. Neighborhoods have been built around public waterfront access. Though narrow in some cases, a wide variety of these urban oases can seem to be all but untouched by modern man.
The landscapes aren’t packed with gawking tourists. (Thank goodness.) They are visited by locals. The exercising mom is as likely a sight as the grandparents taking their grandchild out for a stroll. You’ll see friends sipping coffee as they walk down the beach and lovers holding hands they sit quietly on benches.
Tides flow in and out, opening daily playgrounds of wet sand where curious minds to explore. Some parks are well marked. Others are less so. Each is beautiful. Most of the neighborhood speckled parks can be found on the north end of Nanaimo. Among the ones I visited, these were my favorite:
Blueback Beach Access
Blueback Beach Access starts near the edge of a steep hillside. Its entrance, tucked between homes, is marked by nothing more than two street signs (Blueback Rd. & Icarus Dr.) and the standard notice of city park regulations. The narrow stretch of public access takes foot passengers down more than 100 stairs, some carved into the ground and others built of wood. Occasionally, the towering canopy’s shade breaks, filling the pathway with bursts of sunlight shine. At its base, the rocky beach is strewn with driftwood. As the tide goes out, it gives way to soft sand that molds with your feet as you walk.
Neck Point Park
With more than 36 acres of waterfront, Neck Point Park offers stunning views of the ocean and mountains beyond. Named for it’s connection to a rocky “head” of igneous rock which rests in the water just off its shore, sea lions and sometimes even orcas can occasionally be seen from the tops of its small cliffs. Along its shore, you’ll find rugged rocks, pebble bay beaches and a few sandy ones too. Here, trails twist through Gary Oak groves and the heads of scuba divers can often be seen bobbing just off the coast.
The size of three football fields, Pipers Lagoon is so close to Neck Point Park they almost seem connected. Sporting the same stunning costal views, its shallow waters are frequently visited by sandpipers, horned grebes, loons, kingfishers, oyster catchers, great blue heron and more. Birdwatchers can often be found sitting silently, binoculars in hand. During low tide, the lagoon offers pedestrian access to Shack Island – a T-shaped slice of short bluffs ringed with cabins.