Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in British Columbia, Canada, Gallery, Travel | 28 comments

Canadians spell it “harbour,” we write “harbor.” It doesn’t sound any different, but that extra “u” certainly gives the word more panache. Noah Webster didn’t think so, though. When he compiled the first American dictionary in 1828, he ditched the extra “u” in color, flavor, humor, neighborhood (and many more words) in favor of spelling words like they sound.

Seeing words spelled differently in our travels on Vancouver Island was just one of the reminders that we were, indeed, in a foreign country. Another reminder was the road signage. We were delighted to realize that Nanaimo was only 80 miles from Sidney (the sign said 130 kilometers); not so thrilled when we realized that we were speeding along at 60 miles an hour when the speed limit was actually 60 km (37 mph).

After our half-day enjoying the farmers market and totem tour in Duncan, we continued on another 31 miles to Nanaimo, also known as the Harbour City.

With two nights, but only one full day in Nanaimo, we spent the next morning strolling several miles of the beautiful walkway that borders the scenic waterfront and harbor. Along the way is a random but entertaining assortment of artwork. The pieces include an enormous gilded picture frame, an orca made of recycled metal parts, a giant crab carved from wood, and a statue of the former long-time mayor of the city, Frank Ney, in pirate regalia.

Apparently Ney was quite a colorful character. He enjoyed dressing up as a pirate for civic events and initiated bathtub races in the harbor. Also a real estate developer, he allowed his eleven kids to name some of Nanaimo’s streets. If our address was Dingle Bingle Hill or Tiggly Wiggly Road, it would be hard to say it and feel like an adult. Which may not be a bad thing.

An orca made of all kinds of recycled metal stuff

An enormous wooden crab on the Nanaimo waterfront

Swashbuckling Frank Ney, long time pirate mayor

The lovely Nanaimo waterfront walkway

The downtown area of Nanaimo is undergoing an appealing revitalization. We found an excellent little café for lunch, where the chef’s salad was made right: smoked chicken, roasted tomatoes, beautiful greens, and most important, eggs cooked perfectly with no green ring around the yolk.

Downtown Nanaimo, small but interesting

Hopefully the new buildings will be this colorful

The Modern Cafe, with a very cool retro vibe

Two Chefs Affair, down the street and owned by the chefs of Modern Cafe

A perfect chef’s salad at Two Chefs Affair

Piper’s Lagoon and Neck Point are two favorite local spots for hiking, and were recommended to us by our server at the café. We headed there after lunch and enjoyed the trails at both. The one-mile loop trail at Piper’s Lagoon involves a leisurely walk down a lovely spit, followed by some rock scrambling at the headland, where there’s a great view of historic Shack Island and the southern point of Neck Point Park.

At Piper’s Lagoon

Just up the road is Neck Point Park. It’s easy to see how the park got its name when you see the gravel bar that connects the park to a large rocky outcropping at low tide.

On the trails at Neck Point

Boardwalk trails and great views at Neck Point

Easy to see how Neck Point got its name

Shack Island separates the two parks and can be walked to at low tide. Despite their rustic appearance, the small buildings are not abandoned but are summer cabins originally used by fishermen in the 1930’s before motorboats were common.

A view of Shack Island

Colorful shacks on Shack Island and a reminder that we’re in Canada

About the campground:
We scored a perfect site at Living Forest Oceanside RV Park in Nanaimo. The expansive views of the estuary from our site were gorgeous. It would have been an easy place to stay longer.

A very good campsite at Living Forest Oceanside RV Park

The sites are relatively spacious with trees and shrubs for privacy. Sites vary dramatically—apparently some people prefer being deep in the forest, which looked depressing to me. If you want a waterfront view, book early. Because we were traveling after Labor Day (that would be Labour Day in Canada, also celebrated the first Monday in September, just with that extra “u”) we were able to get a waterfront view site with just a few days advance reservation.

The park offers full hookups, very nice tiled coin operated showers, and wifi at a central location. No Verizon here, though. There’s lots more to do in Nanaimo, but we needed to head north on our mission to find whales.

Views of the estuary from our campsite; it really couldn’t be better

Next Up: Campbell River and Quadra Island, BC