South Nanaimo Driving Tour
South of Nanaimo are the rural communities of Cedar, Yellow Point, and Cassidy. It's an attractive area in which to spend a day with some fine hiking trails, excellent coastal scenery, and a fascinating history. We begin our 64-kilometer scenic drive at the intersection of the Trans Canada Highway, Nanaimo Parkway, Island Highway South, and Cedar Road, 700 meters south of the South Parkway Plaza. The first two-thirds of the route is perfect for those traveling by bicycle.
Follow Cedar Road east for three km past the Regional Landfill (city dump) to an iron bridge over the 60-km-long Nanaimo River. Immediately across the bridge, turn left onto Raines Road which follows a peaceful section of the Nanaimo River for 2.3 km to its mouth. Raines Road passes through the Snuneymuxw First Nation Reserve and ends at the entrance to the Nanaimo River Estuary Conservation Area. In early spring and late fall you can observe migratory birds from a wooden platform a short walk from the parking area. In 1972 the Nanaimo Harbour Commission wanted to build a container port in this pristine area but federal environmental authorities intervened and the project was moved to Duke Point.
Return to the intersection beside the bridge, cross the road, and go straight ahead on Cedar Road, turning left on MacMillan Road after one km. On the right 300 meters along is the Cedar Heritage Centre, 1644 MacMillan Road, with public internet access and a few exhibits. At the ESSO service station just ahead, turn right onto Holden Corso Road. This undulating country road jogs left after 1.9 km and becomes Barnes Road.
Some 3.4 km from the ESSO station, turn left onto Nicola Road which leads 500 meters north to the trailhead of the Cable Bay Trail. It's a pleasant 30-minute walk (downhill going, uphill returning) through mixed forest to the Cable Bay Bridge. A 15-minute extension of the trail runs east along the coast to Joan Point Park and the Dodd Narrows where tidal flows between Vancouver and Mudge islands can reach speeds of 10 knots. From October to April watch for sea lions here. Allow two hours roundtrip for this invigorating hike. Unfortunately this scenic area is soon to be affected by golf course development and urban sprawl approved by Nanaimo City Hall over the objections of local residents.
Backtrack on Nicola Road to Barnes Road and turn left to the picturesque village of Cedar-By-The-Sea. Seven hundred meters from Nicola Road, turn right onto Fawcett Road, then left on Nelson Road which ends at a turnaround above a boat ramp on Stuart Channel. During 1920s, Cedar-By-The-Sea was the centre of The Great White Lodge cult led by charismatic Brother Twelve, a self-proclaimed descendant of the Egyptian god Osiris. The cult's House of Mystery stood on a bluff at end of Nelson Road, and other devotee settlements were on De Courcy and Valdez islands across the channel. Eventually Brother Twelve and his mistress Madame Zee disappeared with the cult's hoard of gold.
From the boat ramp, drive 3.8 km back along Nelson, Fawcett, Barnes, and Holden Corso roads to Woodbank Road, where you turn left. After 1.2 km, turn left on Hemer Road which ends 800 meters ahead at Hemer Provincial Park. A wildlife viewing platform overlooking a marsh is a 10-minute walk from the parking lot and the park's coniferous forest is lovely. During the period before and after World War One, a steam railway carried coal from the mines of South Wellington along the south shore of Holden Lake to wharves at nearby Boat Harbour. Today the portion of the old line within the park is a hiking trail.
Drive 1.5 km west on Hemer Road to the intersection with Cedar Road. The family-operated Mahle House Restaurant on the right corner is arguably Nanaimo's finest restaurant serving gourmet dinners priced $35 to $40 per person without wine. It's open Wednesday to Sunday from 5 pm and reservations (tel. 250-722-3621) are recommended. The restaurant's organic herb and vegetable gardens face the parking lot.
Turn left and follow Cedar Road a km east, keeping left on Yellow Point Road 1.5 km to the English-style Crow and Gate Pub, 2313 Yellow Point Road. It's a popular choice for lunch (daily 11 am to 11 pm). Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm mid-May to mid-October, a farmers market sets up at the entrance to the pub.
Some 4 km southeast of the Crow and Gate, turn right off Yellow Point Road and follow Crane Road 500 meters to the entrance to Wildwood, one of the oldest ecoforestry sites on North America's west coast. Founded by Merve Wilkinson in 1938, Wildwood is now managed by The Land Conservancy which offers an informative walking tour among the ancient trees every Saturday at 1:30 pm yearround (adults $7, students and seniors $5). Reservations are not required but you can call 250-816-1816 for more information.
Another 1.6 km southeast of Crane Road, turn left to signposted Roberts Memorial Provincial Park. A one-km trail leads through the forest to sandstone ledges along the coast. The views of Valdes and Thetis islands from the shore are good and you can swim here in mid-summer.
Two-and-a-half km southeast again on Yellow Point Road, turn left on Westby Road to Blue Heron Park, a small picnic park on the coast. Near here Yellow Point Road swings west, reaching Yellow Point Park after 2.1 km. Hiking trails of 1.1 to 2.2 km in length wind through the park's mixed forest with extensions to Long Lake and the Yellow Point Bog Ecological Reserve.
Another 4.3 km west, past art galleries, riding stables, and berry farms, Yellow Point Road rejoins Cedar Road at the Chuckwagon Market. Turn left and drive 1.5 km to Adshead Road where you turn right. Hazelwood Herb Farm, 13576 Adshead Road, 700 meters off Cedar Road, opens daily from 11 am to 5 pm April to September and Friday to Sunday 11 am to 5 pm October to December, admission free. A formal herb garden faces the shop. The nursery contains hundreds of plants, each with a detailed description of possible medicinal benefits. The plants are for sale, and in the shop you can purchase jams, jellys, chutneys, teas, mustard, oils, vinegar, soaps, bath salts, creams, lotions, and many other natural products. (The remainder of our tour involves following the busy, fast Trans Canada Highway and those traveling by bicycle may prefer to return to Nanaimo by peddling north on Adshead Road, then right on Haslam Road, and left on Cedar Road.)
Motorists should backtrack to Cedar Road and turn right. At the traffic lights 1.2 km ahead, turn right onto the Trans Canada Highway and drive 2.5 km north to Nanaimo Airport. Cassidy Field was built in 1942 to train glider pilots and it's still used for the purpose. Currently, commercial flights operate on Air Canada Jazz to Vancouver International Airport and on Island Express Air to Victoria and Abbotsford. Vital Aviation Ltd. (tel. 250-245-5959) on Spitfire Road, 600 meters south of the Nanaimo Collishaw Air Terminal, offers flightseeing in Cessna 172 aircraft at $240 plus 12 percent tax per hour. Three people weighing not over 540 pounds together can go for that price. In an hour you can fly as far north as Parksville then south over the Gulf Islands to Victoria and back. Call ahead to book a time if you're interested. Vital's private pilot course involving 51 hours of theory and 45 hours in the air will cost around $9,000, starting twice a year in March and September. Interestingly, the present Vital Aviation office was the airport's flight service centre until 1985. Before the airport was built it was the home of the site's original farming family. On the ground behind the building is a twin-engined Canso aircraft dating from 1942.
At the Cassidy Pub, 1.5 km north of the airport traffic lights on the Trans Canada, turn right on Beck Road and continue along Rugby Road for 900 meters to the Nanaimo River Fish Hatchery, open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, admission free. Coho, chum, pink, and chinook salmon spawn here in October, and juvenile coho salmon are held in outdoor tanks from February to mid-May. You can follow the Stream Walk along Napolean Creek and around a pond to a fish ladder with boards introducing the local plantlife along the way. The large pipelines at the entrance to the hatchery have carried water to the Harmac Pulp Mill since 1953.
Return to the Trans Canada Highway and drive 900 meters north, taking the first right turn after the Nanaimo River Bridge. Go under the highway and follow the signs 800 meters west to WildPlay Bungy Zone, 35 Nanaimo River Road. In 1990 Canada's only official bridge jump opened here 44 meters above the Nanaimo River Gorge. Bungy jumps toward the river are $112 (same day repeats $56). Every February there's a naked bungy weekend. Otherwise, the King Swing off the bridge reaches speeds of 180 kph ($101/180 single/tandem). The Canyon Zip is a popular two-stage cable ride across the river at $28. Children aged seven and up can scale the treetops while safely hocked to a cable at Monkido ($45). Adults also enjoy this challenging course which takes 1.5 to 2.5 hourse to complete. Admission to WildPlay Bungy Zone itself is free and sightseers are welcome to climb the bridge to watch the action and enjoy the spectacular view of the river gorge. Open daily from 9 am to 5:30 pm June to August, and from Friday to Monday April to May and September to December, this is easily Nanaimo's top adventure tourism attraction.
As you leave WildPlay Bungy Zone, turn right and go back down the hill to the railway crossing where you turn left onto South Wellington Road. Drive two km north, passing the Eaglequest Golf Centre on the right, to Morden Road where you turn right. Drive a km due east on Morden Road, crossing the Trans Canada Highway at the lights, to the Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park. Pacific Coast Coal Mines (PCCM) operated here from 1912 to 1920 and the surviving head-frame and coal tipple of reinforced concrete are the best preserved above-ground relics of the coal mining era on Vancouver Island. The head-frame supported cages which took the miners 200 meters underground to a maze of tunnels. The coal was brought up the same shaft and dumped into a tipple which fed rail cars. The South Wellington coal mining railway became known as the "Black Track" for the coal dust which blackened its route over time. The old line is now the 1.2-km Morden Colliery Regional Trail, though the trestle bridge over the Nanaimo River disappeared long ago. Return to the Trans Canada Highway and drive four km northwest to our starting point.