Snorkel with harbour seals in Nanaimo, even in the winter

NANAIMO, B.C. — Snorkelling with harbour seals may seem like an unlikely Canadian wintertime activity, but tourism officials in Nanaimo say it’s definitely doable.

A local dive company, Sundown Diving, takes visitors to Snake Island for the experience, providing the necessary equipment such as wetsuit, gloves, mask and snorkel. The island is a 15-minute boat ride from Nanaimo off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Company owner Ed Singer says there are way fewer tourists on his $100-per-person tours now than in the summer, and the water is certainly chillier, but there is more to see.

“The water is clearer at this time of year. You’re seeing more marine life, and you can see the seals swimming around under the water at a distance,” Singer said.

“In the summer or spring when the visibility might be poor, often you’re just seeing the seals coming close to you when their heads are above water.”

He said his guests spend about 45 minutes in the water now, somewhat less than in the summer. No special skills are required.

“They don’t have to be great swimmers because the suit is very buoyant, so they’re gonna float for sure.”

Tourism Nanaimo wants potential visitors to know that the city is not just a summertime destination. It says year-round experiences include:

— The self-guided Nanaimo Bar Trail, along which you can taste variations of the sweet treat. The 2015 Nanaimo Bar Trail brochure ( has 34 stops.

— Culinary tours, which also drop in on breweries and wineries. Operators include Vancouver Island Expeditions, Tracks Outdoor Adventures and Harbour City Transportation.

— The Nanaimo Museum, where permanent exhibits include a replica coal mine shaft. In December the museum is presenting “Christmas in the Golden Age of Radio,” featuring its radio collection (

— The Cedar Yellow Point Artisan Trail (, highlighting artists who craft one-of-a-kind items.

— Gabriola Island, a short ferry ride away. Besides arts and dining options on the island, there are also Christmas craft fairs (details at


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