Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#CarFreeCamping on Newcastle Island: How to Get There

Gear stacked on the #257 bus
If you follow me on Instagram, you likely already know we went camping on Newcastle Island on the long weekend. Other than taking photos with my phone, I was mostly unplugged from mid Friday through Monday. It was a great break--I even read an entire book from start to finish on the weekend.

Thought I'd share with you more of the details of our trip over the next few days in case you're thinking of Newcastle Island as a destination, or curious about how we made the trip work with no cars or bikes.

Newcastle Island sits in the waters just off Nanaimo--so close that you can easily canoe or kayak it. The entire island is a Provincial Park, about the size of Stanley Park, with campsites at the south end near the small private ferry that runs from downtown Nanaimo.

To get there we took a bus to downtown Vancouver at 9am, then walked a couple of blocks to the #257 Horseshoe Bay Express. We could have ridden the #19 bus all the way to Stanley Park & transferred at the same stop on Georgia near Denman, but on long weekends this bus is packed, so if you have luggage &/or children, it's much better to get on at the very first stop on Dunsmuir at Hamilton.

Off the ferry onto the tiny bus in Nanaimo
We arrived in Horseshoe Bay with plenty of time to catch the 10:40am ferry to Nanaimo. Once on the ferry, we snagged seats near the Kids Zone, which has a couple of tiny play structures in it & a TV playing children's shows constantly. It was a bit windy on our sailing, which the kids loved, until Bronte got blown down on the textured deck. Oops! We also came across a Bluegrass quartet playing on the solarium on the top deck.

Once the ferry arrived in Departure Bay around 12:30pm, we caught the bus to Maffeo Sutton Park, a ten minute ride. It's under 3km to the park & apparently there is a seawall path you could take if you are on bikes or feel like walking 30-40 minutes. I met up with an old high school friend at the park while the kids played & Oliver walked over to pick up the last of our supplies (wine, beer, hot dog buns, chips). There's a newish craft brewery just a block from the park, called White Sails, which does sell bottles, or you could bring a growler with you.

Not too busy on the Protection Island ferry to Newcastle Island
The playground is within sight of the ferry dock, so when we saw the next one come in, we packed up all our stuff & headed down. The boat reminds me of Vancouver's Aquabuses, only holding 20-30 people. The crossing is only a few minutes, weaving in between all the sailboats, yachts, & kayakers in the channel. It stops on Protection Island first, (where there's a pub, by the way) which you can actually walk to from Newcastle at low tide.

From the dock to the Newcastle Island camp site is only a few hundred metres' walk along crushed stone paths or across the dry field. All the camp sites--there are 18 single camp sites in a row along the path across the island plus five group sites in the grassy field closer to the water. We were in #8, in the middle.

Trekking across the field to our camp site
From leaving our house in the morning to arriving at the camp site took under five hours, not including the visit with a friend in Nanaimo. It's a really affordable way to travel too--the bus fare in Vancouver & Nanaimo was under $28 round trip total; the private ferry was $18 round trip, & BC Ferries there & back cost us $84. A grand total of $130 for a family of four to take six buses, two ferries, & two boat rides.

The route home was only slightly more eventful. We made all our connections, but the info I got from both the Nanaimo Transit mobile website & Google Maps failed to mention that the ferry shuttle bus might not be running on a holiday Monday--luckily we talked to another bus driver & caught a different bus.

Tired tiny backpackers on the last bus of our trip
Bronte also told us she'd pooped & needed a diaper change just as we were disembarking the ferry in Horseshoe Bay, which ended up being a false alarm (groan!), but we missed the express bus back downtown & took the next one, getting us home about a half hour later than planned.

We packed as light as possible (more on that in a post tomorrow) so all four of us had backpacks plus one small cart, which wasn't too hard to get on & off buses & ferries. I'd definitely do this again.




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