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Nanaimo is one of the best places to SCUBA dive on the West Coast. Various navy ships have been sunk there as artificial reefs .A dry suit is (almost) a must, as the water is quite cold, but the visibility is generally decent, and the wrecks have lots of nooks and crannies to explore! There are quite a few places that will take you out to the wrecks or to other spots.
A fun thing to do in Nanaimo is to book a private kayaking tour. The Nanaimo Tourism web site lists several local kayak outfitters, including Adventuress, which specializes in kayaking for women.
Taking in Nanaimo by bicycle is a great way to see the city and explore its outer reaches. The E&N Rail Trail and the Parkway Trail are easy to ride routes that access Nanaimo from North to South tip. Rentals are available from the bike shop downtown.
Newcastle Island is very beautiful and worth exploring if you have additional time for a hike or bike ride on its trails. There is a short ferry that you can take to get there, or go with a kayaking outfitter. (If you kayak on your own, please be aware of the seaplane runway there!)
Blueback Beach is a wide expance of sand banks and beaches exposed at low tide in the summer, accessible via a long set of stairs at the end of Blueback Road in north Nanaimo. You can fly a kite, or skim board in the shallows, as well as hunt for sand dollars, horse clam shells (big) and moon shells. The kids will love splashing in the pools formed by the retreating tide, and it is one of the few spots in this region that is warm enough to swim in the summer without wearing a wet suit. Bring an umbrella, though. There is no shade, and the steps down (over 200) might be a bit much for someone who is not used to a bit of climbing and hiking.