We have SO much coastline to explore! Nevermind those flat, long, sandy beaches you'll find at the resorts. In Nanaimo, you can kayak or canoe the many rocky bluffs, deep coves, and seaweed beds. There are old artifacts and boat-access-only beaches. This page lists some of the best areas to explore in a little boat, whether it's a rowboat, inflated dinghy, kayak, canoe, etc.
Tip: The tides play a major role in what kind of landscape you'll find at each location. Get used to checking the tide tables! Here's one source: dairiki.org
Nanaimo River Estuary
There are lots of channels and currents, litte grassy "islands", and strange driftwood pieces washed down the river or left by the tides.
Check out the area close to the Living Forest campground. There are some nice bluffs, lots of big trees with eagles, a big industrial artifact, and Chase River Estuary Park (under the train trestle).
Launch from: End of Raines Road (off Cedar Rd) ; Chase River Estuary Park (water access is tricky) ; Duke Point
This is the most popular place in town for exploring in a small boat. Newcastle Island is historic and very pretty, with lots of different beaches: some are sandy, some pebbly, and some are sandstone shelves with lots of interesting nooks and crannies. There are some very cool formations and overhangs at the north end of the island, but you have to watch for the huge BC Ferries and their wake.
The island is about 8.5 km around by boat. There's more info on my Newcastle Island page.
Launch from: Nanaimo Harbour Marina (downtown) ; Brechin boat ramp ; Maffeo Sutton Park ; Queen Elizabeth Promenade (near the Yacht Club) ; Departure Bay Beach ; Stephenson Point
It's only 1.15 km from the marina in downtown Nanaimo to the floating Dinghy Dock Pub and restaurant at Protection Island.
After you fortify yourself at the pub, you can paddle the 4.5 km around the island. Be sure to stop at Smugglers Park on the west side, and the beaches around Gallows Point at the south end.
Watch the tide tables to make sure you'll be able to get through "the Gap" between the north end of the island and Newcastle Island.
Launch from: Nanaimo Harbour Marina (downtown) ; Maffeo Sutton Park ; Queen Elizabeth Promenade (near the Yacht Club)
I Used to Commute from Protection Island
I spent two years living on Protection Island, paddling to downtown Nanaimo for my 9-5 job. Even in the dead of winter. I loved it, and so did my young son.
I can hardly describe the lightheaded feeling I got as we paddled home with the sunset behind us, its light on the arbutus groves ahead - and a great blue heron flew slowly above...
This is a big bay with great views all around. But it can be pretty busy with the BC Ferries terminal, and a lot of boats moving to and from the marinas in the Newcastle Island channel. So be careful! Most paddlers prefer to stay in the northern areas of Departure Bay, near Jesse Island and Stephenson Point. Or they go to the Saltery Bay area of Newcastle Island. It's a quick jump from either of these spots to the Hudson Rocks (see below).
Launch from: Departure Bay Beach (Kin Beach Park) ; Stephenson Point ; Brechin boat ramp
Hudson Rocks, Five Finger Island & Snake Island
These are smaller islands out in the open water, but close enough to the shores of Nanaimo that they can be accessed by adventurous paddlers.
Launch from: Nanaimo Harbour (downtown) ; Brechin boat ramp ; Pipers Lagoon ; Departure Bay Beach ; Stephenson Point
Pipers Lagoon & Neck Point
There are some rocky nooks to explore around here, as well as the locally famous Shack Island. Pipers Lagoon itself may be a good sheltered place to practise wet exits from your kayak, as long as the tide is high enough.
Neither Pipers Lagoon nor Neck Point offers a long coastline to explore by kayak, so you would probably extend your experience by paddling between them, or to the Hudson Rocks and Five Finger Island to the east.
Launch from: End of Lagoon Road (off Hammond Bay Rd) ; Neck Point Park parking lot
Winchelsea Islands / Ballenas Archipelago
The Ballenas-Winchelsea Archipelago includes 19 islands, from Maude Island off Lantzville, up to the two big Ballenas Islands a few kilometers north of Parksville. Some of the islands are privately owned, some are crown land, and South Winchelsea Island is owned by a land conservancy as far as I know.
Launch from these Nanoose Bay locations: Brickyard Beach, accessible via Amberwood Lane (off Andover Rd) ; Dolphin Cove (where Blueback Rd meets Tyee Place) ; Schooner Cove Marina
Mudge, Round, Link, Decourcy, Ruxton Islands
There are tons of islands off the shores to the south of Nanaimo and Gabriola Island - you can see them from the shores of Cedar and Yellow Point. The closest public boat ramp is the "Cedar Boat Ramp" at the end of Nelson Road in Cedar By The Sea - pictured below.