Exploring Snake Island

Posted by Gerry Thomasen on Monday, February 18th, 2008 at 6:37pm.

Snake Island location thumbnailFour of us went to Snake Island in a couple of canoes. It's a long way: 6 km from Downtown Nanaimo. The waters were calm that day, which was very good because Snake Island is out in the bigger waters of the Georgia Straight, and canoes aren't good for that.

It took an hour to inch across that expanse of ocean, safely out of the way of freighters and the three BC Ferries routes. As we got farther out to sea, Nanaimo opened up behind us, and the mountains got a lot bigger.

Paddlers approaching Snake Island

As we approached the island, we could see there were already tons of mammals already occupying the beach, and they were staring right at us. Were they murderous, two-tonne sea lions bent on our destruction? Or, just cute seals the size of golden retrievers? It was hard to tell until we got closer, and these things were getting more and more interested in us. We saw a bunch of them coming into the water!

Of course, they were just seals. They stampeded (well, more like "rolled") into the water and then underneath us; we could see them like torpedoes under the water! Sorry I didn't get a picture of that – I think I was clutching my paddle at that point. I did manage to get this picture:

Four seals on Snake Island, 2007

Here's the beach where we pulled up. It looks beautiful in this picture, but it sure stunk like seal toilet!

The

We pulled the boats way up the beach, eager to explore the whole island. Then we went straight to these sandstone formations, and climbed around. It was a strange landscape from the moon, or from a Dr Seuss book.

Man hanging from sandstone formation on Snake Island

During the warmer months, people should stay off the meadows that cover the majority of the island's high points, because some delicate population of birds nests there. We were glad it wasn't a warmer month, as we cut through the long grass toward the Nanaimo-side of Snake Island.

Everyone who likes the Malaspina Galleries on Gabriola Island (dramatic sandstone overhangs and other formations) should also get over to Snake Island's west side. The big depressions carved into these walls offer nice comfy nooks for picnics and photography.

Sandstone amphitheatre on Snake Island

Making our way to the north end of the island, we discovered a little "lighthouse" (a beacon) and more gorgeous views of the Georgia Straight, Vancouver, and the mountains that occupy most of the horizon in this part of the world.

This was a good place to stop and sit on some logs above the deep water, and talk about what's happening in British Columbia, and have buns with tahini. There was coffee on the campstove, too.

To get to Snake Island, you'll have to do like we did, and use a boat. Nope, you can't drive there. What's that? You say you don't have a boat? Well, chances are you can rent or charter a boat from Nanaimo or Gabriola Island. It probably takes 20 minutes to get to Snake Island, in a motorboat.

There's great diving off of Snake Island, too, with an artificial reef created by the 1997 sinking of the HMCS Saskatchewan, a 111-meter decommissioned destroyer escort.

Lighthouse at north end of Snake Island

Leave a Comment