Touring Around Parksville & Qualicum Beach
In the community of Errington, roads run past an alpaca farm, petting zoo and a farm where you can buy sweet corn while looking at fish swimming lazily through a koi pond. On the north side of the highway to the west coast, you’ll find a barn jammed with antiques and collectibles. Along the road west from Parksville, you can pick juicy strawberries or lick an ice cream cone while you admire the goats perched on a grass-covered roof.
Neck Point Park is one of the more popular marine sightseeing and hiking parks in Nanaimo, with a system of hiking trails leading to sandy beaches, lookout platforms and rocky cliff viewpoints. The beaches in this area include Sunset Beach, Last Beach, Indian Beach and Finn Beach. The park is a popular destination for such activities as hiking, scuba diving, wildlife watching, kayaking, swimming, beachcombing and picnicking.
Pipers Lagoon is an 8-hectare hiking recreation park for sightseeing and beachcombing. The park provides views of the Georgia Strait, as well as the Coastal Mountains on the mainland, and is a great place to view sunrises and sunsets.
Accessible by foot-passenger ferry from Nanaimo, Newcastle Island was once the site of the Hudson's Bay Company coal mines. Today, the entire
Newcastle Island is a nature reserve, and a delightfully adventurous location for a picnic, with sandstone cliffs, forests, gravel beaches, caves, caverns and prehistoric Native middens. Newcastle Island is the larger of the two islands in Nanaimo Harbour.
The other is Protection Island, and you can walk to Protection Island from Newcastle Island at low tide! The Dinghy Dock is a floating pub on the city-side of Protection Island. You can take the Protection Connection Ferry, a converted BC Ferries lifeboat, from downtown (near Port Place Mall on the waterfront). The pub serves seafood dishes, as well as standard pub fare. There is also a family section and a fishing hole.
It’s just a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown Nanaimo, but those who live on Gabriola Island will tell you it’s another world away. The Queen of the Gulf Islands, as it is called, is the most northerly of the Gulf Islands. Gabriola is a haven for world-class artisans, including painters, novelists, sculptors, potters and weavers, and many of them sell their wares right from their studios. The Island’s three provincial parks all have beaches with tidal pools and oyster beds just waiting to be explored, and the waters are populated by sea otters, kayakers and scuba divers, drawn by the exceptional diversity of sea life and crystal clear dive conditions.
Jack Point and Biggs Park provides access to pristine beaches with excellent views of the Nanaimo River Estuary, dowtown Nanaimo and the nearby islands. This area is popular for wildlife viewing, and is an ideal spot to watch the sunset.
TO THE SOUTH
Midway between Duncan and Nanaimo, Ladysmith provides a fine base for exploring the backroads to the north and south. Just south of town, Chemainus Road leads east and south from the highway, meandering along the water past artisans’ studios and pubs to the small, quaint town of Chemainus, with its art galleries and antiques, plus restaurants and their famous theatre.
Just minutes south of Nanaimo and east of Hwy. 19, Cedar and Yellow Point Roads describe a ragged triangle through farmlands and along the seaside, past parks and roadside farm stands. In the fall, for family fun entertainment, check out McNab's Corn Maze situated south of Cedar on Yellow Point Road. In late fall and early winter, stop by Yellow Point Cranberries to discover just how many products can be made from the tart red berry. Year-round, drop by Hazelwood Herb Farm, for fresh herbs and a myriad of kitchen and bath herbal products. Also on Yellow Point Road, you’ll find the Crow & Gate, BC’s first neighbourhood pub. The Crow & Gate has an extensive selection of British pints, freshly-prepared, traditional English pub fare and a splendid garden setting.
Check out Roberts Memorial Provincial Park, off Yellow Point Road, for a pleasant picnic by the sea. Yellow Point Road leads to Stuart Channel and to Quennel Lake. The lake has seven arms and an island in the middle, making it a great place for canoeing. Fishing nets good catches of bass and trout. The usually calm waters of the channel are excellent for boating and a number of launches are available.
North and west of Highway 1 lies Cassidy, an old coal-mining town; you’ll still find evidence of the mines to the south of Spruston Road. Cassidy is home to the Nanaimo Airport with an array of commercial and charter air services, including aerial tours of the region. The Nanaimo Salmon Hatchery, on the Nanaimo River, is open the public, providing the opportunity to see juvenile salmon in their outdoor channels in the spring, and spawning salmon in September and October.
TO THE NORTH
Lantzville, just north of Nanaimo off Hwy. 19, began as a coal-mining settlement in the 1800s. When the mines closed, the waterfront miners’ shacks eventually found favour with Nanaimo residents seeking quiet cabins on the beach. In June 2003, Lantzville (population 3,500) became the 155th municipality in BC. Attractions include the Lantzville Hotel, which opened in 1924, and later became famous for its one-time ban on dancing in the bar because “it might cause trouble.”
The rural community of Nanoose Bay is a vacationer's paradise, offering a wealth of activities, including hiking, golfing, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and fishing. The Northwest Bay Trails, on the east side of Highway 19A in Nanoose Bay, offer a series of trails through the forest, suitable for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. For an outstanding ocean view, hike up The Notch, one of the most popular trails in the area with its Garry oaks and arbutus trees. The 18-hole Fairwinds Golf & Country Club, in Nanoose Bay, is one of the best golf courses on Vancouver Island. The area is also home to Nanoose Edibles Organic Farm, a certified organic farm, and proud supplier of certified organic produce to many local restaurants and food markets.
14.6 kilometres north from Nanoose Bay, on the Old Island Highway, Parksville is a popular choice for its tidal sand flats, coastal wildlife viewing and year-round golfing. 10.4 kilometres further, Qualicum Beach is a vast sweep of sand backed by a charming seaside village. At low tide, it’s a relaxing stroll across miles of flat and open sand, rippled by the wind and waves. Parksville and Qualicum Beach are part of the Oceanside region, which is one of the most tourist-oriented regions in the province, welcoming visitors with its strong tourist infrastructure. The Oceanside region also includes the community of Coombs, as well as the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve, the Horne Lake Caves, and the offshore Lasqueti, Sisters and Chrome Islands.
These are the joys of touring the Oceanside area: the surprises that you come upon as you drive in a leisurely fashion along the backroads and the old waterfront Island Highway. It’s been said that the new Island Highway—which slices inland and invites fast driving—is for the locals who want to get somewhere in a hurry, while the old highway is for visitors who have time to spare and the desire to explore. And it’s certainly true that having the fast traffic dash along the new highway makes touring the region by the slow route that much more relaxing.
South of Parksville, where the new highway cuts inland, the old highway begins its meander along the water. Through Parksville and Qualicum Beach, the road is lined with shops and restaurants, resorts and oceanfront hideaways. At French Creek, you can catch a glimpse of the fishing industry, with fishing boats, a fish processing plant and a seafood market. Offshore from French Creek lies Lasqueti Island. A passenger only ferry makes the one-hour cruise across the Strait several times daily (except Tuesday in the summer and daily Tuesday and Wednesday off-season).
A day trip to Lasqueti Island is unlike travel to any other Gulf Island. The Island is rich in marine and bird life, but the real fascination is its lifestyle: residents have chosen not to link to the commercial power grid and provide their own power through solar or other means, and only a few cars travel the gravel roads. The best way to see Lasqueti is by bicycle or by canoe/kayak. You can also walk along the roads or waterfront or arrange ahead of time for the Island’s only taxi to take you for a tour. A small commercial centre contains a hotel, a restaurant and a small general store, plus a few other services.
Farther north, the highway parallels the water, up close or running through forest and the occasional farm, with sideroads leading towards the ocean. Check out the fish hatchery on the Qualicum River at Qualicum Bay, and look for fish fresh off the boat at Deep Bay and oyster farms and fresh oyster sales just beyond the northern boundary of the region, at Fanny and Union Bay. North of Qualicum Beach, drivers can cut inland to visit Horne Lake Caves and the lakes and parks nearby.
The backroads, west of Parksville and south of Qualicum Beach, provide a pleasant circle tour. Use our convenient maps and head from the centre of Parksville on the old Highway 4A. Turn left off that highway to explore the roads that lead through Errington and back to Highway 4A. You can stop at Coombs on Highway 4A, or cross the highway and drive through Hilliers, continue north on Highway 4 to arrive at the centre of Qualicum Beach, then descend the hill to the waterfront, and return south to Parksville on the seafront highway.
The road west from Parksville to Port Alberni can be a day trip in itself. Follow Highway 4A from the centre of Parksville (or take the Errington-Coombs exit from Highway 19) seven kilometres west to Coombs. South of Coombs, seek out Englishman River Falls and the back roads around Errington. The road west passes through Cathedral Grove (MacMillan Provincial Park), one of the few easily accessible places on the Island where highway travellers can marvel at huge cedar and Douglas fir trees up to 800 years old and 75 metres (250 feet) tall.
The city of Port Alberni contains a multitude of attractions, from the Harbour Quay on the waterfront — look for shops, restaurants and a forestry visitor centre, as well as the steam-driven train that starts from here to a fine museum to the McLean Mill National Historic Site.
Beyond Port Alberni, the highway climbs through forest and along rushing streams and lakes (check out Sproat Lake Provincial Park) to arrive at the west coast 90 kilometres from town. Visitors can frolic on the long sand beaches of Pacific Rim National Park, follow trails through hemlock and cedar, investigate a bog, find fresh seafood, purchase Native paintings and crafts, and take part in a host of other activities before returning east to Oceanside.