Image: Golden Bay, Abel Tasman National Park
I love kayaking. It can be both relaxing and thrilling, depending on where you are and how fast you paddle. It can provide a workout and slow down time. It can give you a whole new perspective on some of New Zealand’s most beautiful locations. You can hire kayaks practically anywhere, and many places have guided tours, although I prefer going at my own pace and exploring. Listed below are ten places in New Zealand that I think are awesome for kayaking. You should check them out when you’re over here.
The Marlborough Sounds
The Marlborough Sounds are located at the top of the South Island. They’re famous for warm sunshine, balmy wines and turquoise waters. It’s the perfect place to kayak because the sea is calm and sheltered and the scenery is stunning, all emerald bush and dolphins and seals and penguins. What I really want to do in the Marlborough Region is go kayaking on the Pelorus River – that’s where they filmed the barrel bit in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It’s got fun little rapids as well as stretches of tranquil beauty, snaking between rock walls, waterfalls and picturesque forest. I’ve already been to lots of Lord of the Rings locations, but I can’t wait to go back to the South Island for this one.
I’ve already raved about McLaren Falls Park on my blog – it really is a fantastic place to kayak. Just outside Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty, it’s an absolute haven for picnickers (as long as you’re wearing insect repellent,) boasting a lake festooned with trees, a spectacular waterfall, swimming holes and, when evening comes, glowworms. In fact, Waimarino Adventure Park and Kayak Tours does an evening kayak tour across Lake McLaren to see the glowworms in the dark. You paddle right under them! Even better, if you’re holidaying in a New Zealand campervan rental, you can camp right next to the lake for only $5 per adult – kids are free – and you don’t have to book.
There are three reasons to go to Kaikoura: dolphins, whales and seals – and what better way to see them than by kayaking? Kaikoura is about two-and-a-half hours north of Christchurch. Not only is there an adbundance of marine wildlife that comes right up to your kayak, as you kayak there are snow-capped mountains in the background. Although it can get a bit cold kayaking in Kaikoura, the magical element of wildlife interaction definitely makes it worth your while. I’ve written more about Kaikoura in my Top 10 Places to See Dolphins in New Zealand list.
Abel Tasman National Park
Just across Tasman Bay from the Marlborough Sounds, Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. With golden beaches and clear, blue sea, it would be a wonderful place to kayak even without the seal colony and the stunning Split Apple Rock. There are heaps of kayaking companies operating around the Abel Tasman, offering kayak rentals and tours ranging from a few hours to three days.
I think Cathedral Cove is the best beach in New Zealand, but if you don’t fancy taking an unexpectedly long and slightly arduous walk, the only way to get there is by sea. You can kayak there from Hahei Beach in the Coromandel, or join a tour group. Cathedral Cove is named for one of its magnificent rock formations, a grand, arching cave that, when you look up from inside, resembles a cathedral. It’s spectacular scenery to paddle around, and it’s a marine reserve as well, so you get a whole array of pretty fish and, if you’re lucky, dolphins.
The Bay of Plenty’s Mount Maunganui is a great place for kayaking around. On one side of the Mount is a golden surf beach; on the other is a sheltered harbour. It’s fun to paddle amongst the bigger boats in the harbour and around the base of the Mount, past some interesting rocks to your own private beach. Matakana Island looks superb in the background. New Zealand fur seals congregate around Mount Maunganui in the winter, and there are usually some stingrays drifting along below the surface. And you know what animals really like to eat stingrays? Killer whales. Imagine encountering a pod of orca while in a kayak!
The Avon River
One of the most pleasant kayaking experiences of my life was on the Avon River in Christchurch. Right in the heart of the city, the Avon River runs by the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, making for a beautifully peaceful paddle. You can hire kayaks from The Antigua Boat Sheds, which are over a hundred and thirty years old. It’s a wonderfully old-fashioned experience and, despite its air of sophistication, you can still have a lot of fun. I remember racing my dad and sister and, of course, winning. If you want a nice, easy kayaking experience, this is for you.
My family visited Milford Sound on our South Island campervan tour. It can get quite cold and rainy there, but the water is like a dark mirror, reflecting an area of outstanding beauty. Towering waterfalls cascade into the sound, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Bottlenose dolphins break the surface and mist rises from the luscious rainforest. Kayaking is the best way to explore the sound. Unless you’re a really experienced kayaker, however, you should go as part of a tour group, as conditions on Milford Sound are very changeable.
The Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands immediately sounds like a picturesque place to kayak, and I’m here to tell you that it is. As well as islands to circumnavigate, there are caves and archways of rock to explore, along with mangroves, lagoons and waterfalls. It’s probably the warmest place to go kayaking in New Zealand. There’s an abundance of wildlife to encounter, including dolphins and gannets. On top of being a great place to kayak, the Bay of Islands has a somewhat fascinating history, as I found when I visited Kerikeri.
Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake, formed when a supervolcano went off thousands of years ago. You know that big, blue blotch in the middle of the map? That’s it. You can have an easy, gentle kayak on the lake itself, or you can experience the rapids of the various rivers than enter it. It has these amazing Maori rock carvings you can kayak up to, plus the whole area is actively volcanic, so there are natural hot pools around. Trout fishing is popular in Taupo, and there are kayak fishing tours available – not that I’d fancy it. Whether or not you plan on kayaking, Taupo’s just one of those places you’ve got to visit on your New Zealand holiday.
List complied by Abigail Simpson