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 a country practically surrounded by the sea and many lakes offering plenty of great kayaking opportunities. In fact, it’s great to say that wherever you end up in New Zealand, there’s going to be a paddling expedition right on cue. You can satisfy your urge with this selection of the best. Here are 11 hot destinations for kayaking in New Zealand.

You can try freshwater kayaking in the Whanganui River, the longest navigable waterway in the country. It has a fair number of rapids but even newbies can navigate the river safely. For the adventure of whitewater try the Rangitaiki and Mohaka in the North Island or the Clutha and Kawarau in the South Island.

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 places to kayak 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 as well as being adorned by the turquoise seas. The place is quite 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 all things Tolkien-esque, make sure to 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 ventures to Milford Sound for a day cruise, but its inky waters are also a prime spot for kayaking. Here you will have a guided day and nighttime tours you can partake in right on the fjord, which will allow you to take a closer glimpse at all those breathtaking mountains, waterfalls, and resident wildlife the area is so renowned for.

You can also find kayak hire from tour operators – but keep in mind 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 the land and the ocean. There are many kayak rental companies and paddle-based tour operators in the area, as 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, and golden sand beaches and bays are some of the other scenic gems you’ll get to see from up close.

4. Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo

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

Volcanic hot pools, gushing waterfalls and turbulent river rapids are some other natural wonders you’ll spot during your endeavors. Lake Taupo is a great 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 of the most famous attraction 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 even be able to 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, which is also where the River Punting tours depart from, is in charge of boat rentals. It is based right at the heart of the city near Hagley Park and has bike hiring services too. You can rent a kayak from them up until an hour before they close, so there’s plenty of time to get exploring.

7. Rangitoto Island

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

This Island is Auckland’s youngest volcano. It has become a local landmark given its size and visibility. A good way to view it from up close is to hop a kayaking tour from the 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. The lake, which is just outside the city of Tauranga, 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 which has its own campsite and lots of great picnic facilities.

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 travelers wanting to spend some days doing freshwater kayaking. One of its most popular routes, which can be done on your own or with a local guide, is the five-day 145-kilometer (90.1-mile) river journey from Taumaranui to Pipiriki.

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

10. Kaikoura

Kaikoura
Kaikoura

It is one of the 11 hot destinations for Kayaking in New Zealand. Here you can find places for wildlife encounters in New Zealand. Add a bit of 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 quite easy to find and will provide you with natural opportunities to view the resident marine critters from 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 at its disposal, it’s a no-brainer that the Bay of Islands serves visiting kayakers quite 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.

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