11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand

The 11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand
The 11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand

New Zealand is surrounded by the sea and many lakes, offering plenty of great kayaking opportunities. It’s great to say that wherever you end up in New Zealand, there will be a paddling expedition right on cue. You can satisfy your urge with this selection of the best.

You can try freshwater kayaking on the Whanganui River, the longest navigable waterway in the country. It has many rapids, but even newbies can navigate the river safely. Try the Rangitaiki and Mohaka on the North Island or the Clutha and Kawarau on the South Island for the whitewater adventure.

Suggested read – 10 Natural Destinations to Explore in New Zealand.

If you would like something a little more tranquil, lake kayaking is an easy way to master the art of paddling. On Lake Taupo, you can paddle to see Maori rock carvings, while on Rotorua’s crater lakes, you’ll find a fresh view of the steaming geothermal activity that is the heart of this place.

Here are 11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand

1. Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough Sounds
Marlborough Sounds

Go straight to the top of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds enjoy many hours of sunshine and being adorned by the turquoise seas. The place is well-known for its viticulture, hiking, and cycling – but kayaking is another famous highlight you won’t want to miss.

If you’ve got a taste of Tolkien-esque, take your paddling expedition to the Pelorus River. This is where the barrel scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was filmed.

2. Milford Sound

Milford Sound
Milford Sound

Many venture to Milford Sound for a day cruise, but its inky waters are also a prime spot for kayaking. Here, you will have guided day and nighttime tours you can partake in right on the fjord, allowing you to take a closer glimpse at all those breathtaking mountains, waterfalls, and resident wildlife the area is renowned for.

You can also find kayak hire from tour operators – but remember that many will offer this service only to experienced paddlers.

3. Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park

Surrounded by forests and sheltered beaches, Abel Tasman National Park is the place to find the perfect balance between land and ocean. Many kayak rental companies and paddle-based tour operators are in the area, and the activity is quite popular among the national park’s visitors.

Split Apple Rock, with its resident fur seals, is a popular place; lagoons, islands, golden sand beaches, and bays are some of the other scenic gems you’ll see up close.

4. Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo

It is New Zealand’s largest lake by surface area and a mecca for watersports-related. The sightseeing options are endless, whether you hire a kayak or embark on a tour. Here, you can see the local Maori rock carvings, which, in particular, tend to catch people’s eye.

Volcanic hot pools, gushing waterfalls and turbulent river rapids are other natural wonders you’ll spot during your endeavours.

Lake Taupo is an excellent place for trout fishing, if that’s your thing, as with kayaking, it doesn’t take long to find a local chartered fishing tour company making its rounds.

5. Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove=11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand
Cathedral Cove

It is also one of the most famous attractions in the Coromandel Peninsula. There are two ways to experience its magical surroundings: by taking a long amble across the pristine coastlines or by taking a kayak to bask at various rock formations, the surrounding marine reserve, and the famous arched cave that gives the beach its name. If you’re lucky, you might see a few fish and dolphins going about their day.

6. The Avon River

The Avon River
The Avon River

You will know Christchurch’s Avon River for its English-style punting tours; locals, on the other hand, are great to spend the sunny days kayaking, paddle boating, or canoeing along its clear, shallow waterways. 

Antigua Boatsheds, from which the River Punting tours depart, is in charge of boat rentals. It is based in the heart of the city near Hagley Park and offers bike-hiring services. You can rent a kayak from them until an hour before they close, so there’s plenty of time to explore.

7. Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island-11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand
Rangitoto Island

This Island is Auckland’s youngest volcano. Given its size and visibility, it has become a local landmark. A good way to view it up close is to hop on a kayaking tour from Waitemata Harbour, across the Hauraki Gulf, and into Rangitoto Wharf.

You might see some Little blue penguins, Cook’s petrels, and other marine wildlife along the way. Guided tours will also include a trek around the volcanic summit; sunset paddle tours are another option you could try out.

8. Lake McLaren

Lake McLaren
Lake McLaren

You can also visit and spend some time in the Bay of Plenty region. A dusky kayak trip around Lake McLaren is an absolute must. Just outside Tauranga, the lake is a good place to view the native glow worms as the night looms. Waimarino Adventure Park offers guided tours that will get you paddling right under these luminous creatures. If you prefer to take matters into your own hands, the lake is part of a forested park with its campsite and many great picnic facilities.

Also see – Which is The Right Time of Year to Visit New Zealand?

9. Whanganui River

Whanganui River-11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand
Whanganui River

As New Zealand’s third-longest river, Whanganui is a great go-to for North Island travellers wanting to spend some days doing freshwater kayaking. One of its most popular routes, which can be done alone or with a local guide, is the five-day 145-kilometre (90.1-mile) river journey from Taumaranui to Pipiriki.

The three-day Whakaroro to Pipiriki is a good alternative for something slightly shorter. Throughout the trip, you’ll be immersed in native forestry, major historical sights, and engaging local gems. If you need a quick breather, the Bridge to Nowhere is one of the most iconic stopovers for kayakers and inland trekkers.

10. Kaikoura


It is one of the top Kayaking destinations in New Zealand. Here, you can find places to encounter wildlife. Add some kayaking into the mix, and you’ve got all the right ingredients for an outdoorsy day trip: sea, sun, nature, and lots of fur seals, dolphins, and seabirds to keep things interesting.

Daytime and sunset tours are easy to find and provide natural opportunities to view the resident marine critters up close.

11. The Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands-11 Hot Destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand
The Bay of Islands

With so many beautiful beaches, islands, and marine reserves, it’s a no-brainer that the Bay of Islands serves visiting kayakers well. The picturesque cities of Russell and Paihia are the major locations for kayak hires and guided tours—those embarking on the latter can expect to be on the water for three to five hours per trip. Scenic highlights you can watch out for are Waitangi River, Haruru Falls, Motorua, and Urupukapuka Islands.

Final Thoughts

Exploring New Zealand through kayaking reveals some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes, from serene lakes to vibrant marine ecosystems. Whether you’re paddling through the tranquil waters of Lake Taupo, encountering Maori rock carvings, or navigating the gentle currents of the Whanganui River, each location offers a unique experience. The whitewater rapids of Rangitaiki or the Clutha provide an adrenaline rush for those seeking more thrill.

For a memorable adventure, consider a guided tour in Milford Sound. The dramatic scenery complements the kayaking experience. I recommend choosing a spot that aligns with your skill level and desired scenery, ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey.

Mamta Sharma

Mamta is a spirited writer hailing from Wellington, bringing a youthful zest to the world of digital content. Merging her love for narrative with an eye for detail, Ella crafts stories that resonate and engage the modern reader.