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Newcastle Island (Saysutshun), British Columbia: Complete Guide

Saysutshun, or Newcastle Island, is a little haven from Nanaimo’s city bustle. Located just across the water from the downtown area, it is remarkable that somewhere so tranquil exists so close to all of the ferry and city traffic.

With scenic beaches, gorgeous ocean views and historically rich walking/biking trails, Newcastle Island makes for a relaxing yet still adventurous day trip from Vancouver Island. It’s also possible to camp overnight!

Rock shelf beach at Kanaka Bay on Newcastle Island, calm ocean visible and container ship in background. Distant mountains can also be seen
Kanaka Bay

This post will share everything you need to know about visiting Newcastle Island in Nanaimo, including the best things to do and how to get there.

Saysutshun is one of our favourite places around Vancouver Island and we have visited a number of times over the years. I most recently spent a day on the island in June 2023.

This post was last updated in July 2023.

Ferry view of Newcastle Island, a low forested island with boat dock on right hand side
Newcastle Island from ferry

A brief history of Saysutshun

The island of Saysutshun is part of Snuneymuxw First Nation Traditional Territory.

For time immemorial, Saysutshun was a popular living place for the Snuneymuxw during the herring run in late winter and early spring. It was a source for natural medicine and spiritual healing as well.

The meaning of the island’s name is ‘training for running‘ – canoe paddlers, runners and warriors would bathe here before preparing for the task ahead.

Photograph of Saysutshun BC Parks map, with 'you are here' pointing to southern section of the island
Newcastle Island map

Europeans arrived in the mid 19th century and started to mine coal here. Three of the first coal miners decided to name their new home after one of Britain’s largest coal towns.

The coal mines ran out in 1883. By then, demand for the island’s supply of sandstone was far higher anyway. An appealing white-grey colour, Saysutshun’s sandstone also held up very well against weathering.

The stone was used to build a number of notable buildings around North America. A few examples include the US Mint in San Francisco and the British Columbia Penitentiary in New Westminster on BC’s Lower Mainland.

Flat gravel trail next to ocean on Newcastle Island with leaning trees on both side of path
Shoreline Trail between ferry dock and Kanaka Bay

Saysutshun in the 20th century

A small Japanese settlement was established on the west side of Saysutshun in 1910. A saltery and shipyard was operated here until 1941, when the Japanese community were sent to internment camps elsewhere in BC.

Sandstone was quarried on Saysutshun until 1932, the year after the island was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company.

Newcastle Island, as it was now known, was then operated as a pleasure resort. A dance pavilion, soccer field, teahouse and wading pool were built during this time.

In 1961, Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park was established. In recent years, the Saysutshun name has been added.

Large sandstone pulp stones lined up on grass Newcastle Island - large circles of rock with holes in the middle
Pulp stones

The ghost of Newcastle Island?

One of the most memorable parts of the island’s history refers to Kanaka Pete. He was a man of Hawaiian descent who murdered four members of his family with an axe after his wife attempted to leave him.

Kanaka Pete was found guilty of murder and hung in Nanaimo in 1869. His body was buried on Newcastle Island as people of non-English or First Nation descent were not allowed to be laid to rest in the city’s cemeteries at the time. 

This was not his final resting place, however. His body was later dug up again by a coal mining company. Some claim his spirit haunts Newcastle Island, with chopping noises heard around Kanaka Bay on the Eastern coast.

Exterior of two storey wooden Visitor Center building on Newcastle Island, surrounded by tall trees
Visitor Center (previously the dance pavilion)

Things to do on Saysutshun/Newcastle Island

Saysutshun, or Newcastle Island, is an ideal day trip and overnight camping destination from central Vancouver Island.

With 22km of hiking and cycling trails, numerous beaches and great views, the island is lovely place to explore and enjoy being in nature. Accessible via boat only, Saysutshun is wonderfully quiet and peaceful.

View of the city of Nanaimo from Newcastle Island, with grass and rock beach in the foreground and skyscrapers and mountains visible across the water in the background
Nanaimo from Newcastle Island

Hiking on Newcastle Island

One of the best things to do on Saysutshun is to hike part of the island’s coastline.

The most popular route is the 2km section of the Shoreline Trail from the ferry dock to Kanaka Bay. Plan for the return trip to take around an hour. The trail is almost completely flat the entire way (suitable for strollers).

Kanaka Bay is a great place to have lunch, relax, beachcomb or even swim. There are beautiful views of nearby Protection Island as well as Gabriola Island and the mountains across the Salish Sea.

Looking through the trees at the Giovando Lookout on Newcastle Island, across to calm ocean and forested peninsula
Giovando Lookout

Looking for a longer adventure?

Continue along the Shoreline Trail to the Giovando Lookout at the northern tip of the island (additional 2km one way).

The path is a little more rugged along this section. It’s narrower, a bit rooty and has some small ups and downs. There are some pretty large trees to see along the way.

Looking up at very tall tree on Newcastle Island, with blue sky visible above
Newcastle Island is host to some surprisingly big trees

If you have the time and energy, it is possible to continue around the perimeter of Saysutshun.

BC Parks reports the distance to be around 7.5km – personally, I think it is more like 8.5km. Plan for a three hour hike, taking in all lookouts, mine shaft and sandstone quarry (more details below).

Brown wooden signs on Newcastle Island, the top one has white text 'Channel Trail' with the second 'Mallard Lake Trail.' There is a map display on the right
Saysutshun’s trails are very well signed

Connect with the cultural history of Saysutshun

 Saysutshun is a special place for the Snuneymuxw people.

According to the official website, when someone passed away in the community, loved ones would go to the island to yu’thuy’thut. This refers to physical and spiritual healing, a time to fix up heart, mind and body and let go of tears.

There is a Snuneymuxw totem pole located near the ferry dock. This is the meeting point for interpretive walking tours, which run on selected days. Led by a Snuneymuxw guide (Nadine, the island’s caretaker), these nature walks share the traditions and cultural history of Saysutshun. Booking recommended.

Saysutshun totem pole on left, with benches in front. A beach is visible on the right, with a small cluster of trees
Saysutshun totem pole

Discover Newcastle Island’s mining past

Visitors can explore three significant mining sites on Newcastle Island.

The first is located very close to the ferry dock. The Pulp Stone Quarry showcases a number of large pulp stones, which were used to grind up wood in local paper mills. There is some interpretive signage.

Pulp Stone Quarry on Newcastle Island, with wooden boardwalk stairs leading down into rocky area with interpretive signage and mining artifacts
Pulp Stone Quarry

The other two sites are found on the western side of the island. The Sandstone Quarry is located 2.5km from the ferry dock, on the Channel Trail. Newcastle Island’s famous sandstone was processed here, as indicated by the piles of sandstone blocks that surround the trail.

It is also worth visiting this area to see the Zephyr sandstone column, which were originally intended for the San Francisco Mint building. The 8.8km long, 40 ton column on display was part of a shipment lost to the ocean when the Zephyr ship was grounded on the shores of Mayne Island.

Just a little further up the trail is the Mine Shaft (850m from the Sandstone Quarry).

Narrow dirt path leading past pile of sandstone blocks in forest on Newcastle Island
Sandstone quarry

Go camping

Consider exploring Newcastle Island for more than just one day and camp overnight. There are 18 walk-in campsites on Saysutshun plus five group sites, all located within an easy, flat stroll from the ferry dock.

The camping fee is $18 per site, per night, which is a bargain considering the peaceful-yet-still-urban location.

The campground is located close to the main Visitor Centre, with some of the group sites situated in a field immediately adjacent to the building.

The individual campsites are nicely paced along a path, most offering a high degree of privacy. Peek through views can be seen from some of the sites.

Picnic table, food locker and fire pit on cleared tent pad area in Newcastle island campground, with forest and glimpse of ocean in background
Campsite with ocean views on Newcastle Island

Wildlife watching

Saysutshun is home to a variety of animals, the most unusual being a group of raccoons, some of which are golden (albino) in colour.

We were lucky to spot some on our very first visit to Newcastle Island back in 2014 (I love raccoons!) The story of the white racoons is shared on the official Saysutshun website.

Side of small wooden building showcasing mural with two white raccoons
White raccoon mural at Newcastle Island ferry dock

Aside from raccoons, there are plenty of Canada geese and other birds roaming the island. Seals are a fairly common sight.

There is also the chance to see whales as they swim in the Salish Sea, including the majestic orca. So be sure to keep your eyes peeled while exploring!

Beach view on Newcastle Island, with small raccoon running in the distance, behind driftwood
Spot the raccoon!

Other things to do on Saysutshun

  • Explore the island by bike (bring your own or rent). Bikes are allowed Mallard Lake Trail, Kanaka Bay Trail and parts of the Shoreline Trail
  • Swim in the ocean. Yep, it does get warm enough to warm off the shores off Saysutshun! The most ideal spot is just to the east of the ferry dock. Kanaka Bay is also a good place to go. Please note that there are no lifeguards anywhere on the island
  • Go paddling. Jeff’s Rentals is close to the ferry dock and rents paddleboards, kayaks and paddleboats as well as bikes. Operating hours are flexible but generally 9am to 6pm in the summer months
Looking across driftwood to sand and rock beach on Newcastle Island, with calm ocean and another forested island visible on the other side of the water
Brownie Bay on Newcastle Island
  • Fishing. It is possible to fish from the ferry wharf and also from shore. The appropriate fishing license is required
  • Go beachcombing. Kanaka Bay and Brownie Bay are great spots to explore the coastline (children should be supervised)
  • Have a meal at the Saysutshun concession. Located in the restored 1930’s teahouse, the concession serves up fast food favourites plus chowder and ramen from mid June to the end of summer
  • Eat a picnic with a view. Of course, you can bring your own food to Saysutshun too. There are plenty of picnic tables around the ferry dock area
  • Relax! Newcastle Island is the ideal place to take a break. Besides the beaches, I’d recommend walking to Bate Point (southwest side) and taking in the views of Nanaimo
Saysutshun ferry dock from ferry, with wooden ramp, rock shelf beach and forested area behind
Saysutshun ferry dock

How to get to Newcastle Island

As mentioned, Newcastle Island is only accessible by boat.

Ferry service

Most visitors to Newcastle Island/Saysutshun arrive via the dedicated foot passenger ferry service, which runs multiple times daily from May to October.

  • During peak season (June to mid September), there is a ferry almost every half hour
  • The current schedule can be found on the official website
  • The ferry journey time is 10 minutes
  • The ferry dock on the Nanaimo side is found at Maffeo Sutton Park, just to the north of downtown
  • Parking is available in Maffeo Sutton Park- $9/24 hour day or by the hour. Evenings, weekends and statutory holidays are free
  • The return fee for 2023 is $15/adult and $7/child (aged 12 and under) and can be paid by credit card, debit or cash
  • Pets are $5, equipment $2 and bikes $5. Electric and motorised bikes are not permitted
  • Groups of 12 or more should make a reservation at least 4 days in advance
Close up of Newcastle Island ferry, a black and green boat on calm water next to the dock. The boat's name, Grey Selkie, is printed in white text on the right
Newcastle Island ferry

Private boat

If you happen to own some kind of boat, you can visit Newcastle Island at your leisure.

Larger boats can moor at Newcastle Island for up to two weeks, with 50 spots available all year round and allocated on a first come, first serve system.

Boat owners can either moor at the dock or to a buoy. There are nightly fees, payable to a Park Facility Officer in the main season (June to early September) and a self registration box the rest of the year.

It is also possible to reach Newcastle Island by kayak or canoe. We parked up just off Highway 1 and launched our canoe at one of the many marinas south of Departure Bay ferry terminal.

Landing on Newcastle Island around 20 minutes after setting out, it was an easy paddle. The only hindrance was a bit of chop shortly before arriving on the Island. We found it straightforward to land just west of the boat dock.

Boat view of man paddling blue tarp covered canoe, on relatively calm ocean. Skyscrapers are visible in the background, as well as a forested island to the right
Paddling to Newcastle Island in our canoe

Camping on Newcastle Island

There are 18 walk in campsites on Saysutshun. All are located in the front behind an open grassy area, within a short walk from the ferry dock and also the beach. There are some green carts by the ferry dock for campers to use.

The campground is frontcountry standard, with nicely spaced spots, each with a picnic table and fire pit as well as a food locker.

My favourite campsites are numbers 13 and 9 since they offer great privacy and water views.

Wooden picnic table in cleared tent area, with black food locker in front. The campsite is surrounded by forest
Campsite on Newcastle Island – note the food locker (to protect food items against the raccoons)

All campers have access to potable drinking water, coin operated hot showers, outhouse and flush toilets. The campsites are surrounded by trees, which provides a good amount of shade throughout the day.

The camping fee is $18 per site, per night. The maximum camping party size is eight, with up to four adults allowed.

Low green and black cart with wheels on dock at Newcastle Island. A ramp is visible behind
Free to use carts can be found at the ferry dock

Reservations are highly recommended and can be made via the BC Parks’ website (look for Newcastle Island, not Saysutshun). The reservation fee is $6/night.

The system works on a four month booking window. Summer weekend availability disappears first, with some summer weeknights sometimes still available last minute in July. August tends to be the busier month, at least until the last week.

Newcastle Island also has five group sites available to rent by larger camping parties, each with picnic shelters.

Open field space on Newcastle Island, one of five group campsite.s. There is one set up tent visible towards the back of the open area, surrounded by trees
One of the five group sites on Saysutshun

Accommodation near Newcastle Island

Not keen on camping and looking for somewhere to stay close to Newcastle Island? Affiliate links below – if you make a booking via one of these links, we may receive a small percentage of the stay.

The Buccaneer Inn is located opposite the island, with beautiful coastal views offered from some rooms. The motel style accommodation is modern and comfortable.

The Coast Bastion Hotel is situated in downtown Nanaimo, just a short walk from Maffeo Sutton Park and the ferry dock. Some rooms have views of the harbour.

Looking through the trees to beach on Newcastle Island, with calm ocean bay and skyscrapers of Nanaimo visible on the other side of the water

Other Vancouver Island articles you may find helpful:

25+ Amazing Vancouver Island Waterfalls You Must Visit

Where to Find Big Trees on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island Road Trip Itineraries: Off the Beaten Path Routes

25+ of the Best Campgrounds on Vancouver Island

Cape Scott Trail, Vancouver Island: Complete Hiking Guide

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