Where To Kayak in New Zealand
With its hundreds of rocky rivers and streams and endless miles of coastline New Zealand is a fabulous place to kayak.
Adventures range from a few hours paddling the sheltered coastlines of places like the Marlborough Sounds and Milford Sound, to full-on white water runs on challenging Grade 4-5 rivers. Some trips offer a day or two kayaking mixed in to a guided hiking/kayaking trip, and others spend their whole time on the water - you just come ashore to eat and sleep.
Other trips are boat-based, where you join a single or multi-day nature cruise and use the on-board kayaks to explore the area more deeply. This is especially rewarding in places like Fiordland and the Bay of Islands.
Many of the accommodations we feature also have kayaking available - either from the property or on a nearby river or bay. You can start as a complete beginner, or bring your experience with you and enjoy a new challenge. Fishing from a kayak can be fun too.
Below is a summary of some of the great places in New Zealand to kayak. But no matter where you are planning to go there will be options available, even in or near most cities - email us for more info.
Marlborough Sounds, South Island
Myriad waterways, sheltered coves, deep blue-green water and isolated camp sites make the Marlborough Sounds a fantastic place to kayak. There are a number of kayak tours available - most of them based around the Queen Charlotte Track. These generally involve staying in simple motel or dormitory accommodation spaced along the track. Or you can pack a tent and camp along the way. But there are also several excellent lodges where you can stay each night for a more upmarket stay. Paddle each day then enjoy 4 or 5 star accommodation, delicious meals and a hot spa overnight.
Off the southern tip of the South Island, Stewart Island is a wild place full of raw beauty, with the sheltered bays and rocky headlands around the coast giving plenty of opportunities to paddle. We'll help you find an excursion to suit, from half or full day or evening sunset trips. Visit the beaches of the Rakiura National Park, look out for penguins, sea lions, albatross or even dolphins during the day. Paddle round Native Island or head away to more distant beaches and bays. There are a number of options available.
Central North Island
This area is filled with churning rocky rivers, fast waterfall drops, technical rapids and placid lakes. So there's something for everyone, from beginner paddles on gentle waters to grade 4/5 rapids and runs on high volume rivers. Take a 4 day trip and run a different river every day. There are plenty of grade 2/3 options on the more gentle rivers and long rapids covering many kilometres. Or just take a gentle trip around lake shores or Raglan Harbour
Bay of Islands, North Island
This bay full of islands is exactly that, with 144 islands scattered across a reasonably small area of sea. There are easy off-the-beach trip, or more advanced river runs. Paddle under a waterfall or out to scenic off-shore islands. Dolphins, little blue penguins and sea birds are often sighted. Fishing from a kayak is easy to do here, and freedom rentals are an easy option here as well. There are multi-day trips, giving you the chance to camp out on the islands, snorkel in the clear water off-shore, and explore an island or two on foot. Being at the top of New Zealand the water is warmer as well.
Abel Tasman National Park, South Island
Paddle this iconic coastline any time of year - winter is often a calmer time and the water is clear and cool. Summer can be very busy. All trips leave from Kaiteriteri or Marahau and head north along the coast. Visit Split Apple Rock, the seal colonies at Adele and Tonga Islands, or pull in to a sandy bay and have lunch on the beach. Multi-day trips are available, or you can join a hike/kayak trip and paddle along the coast for the day, then have your kayak picked up by water taxi and ferried back to base with you.
Fiordland National Park, South Island
There is no other place like this to kayak in New Zealand. The waterways of Fiordland are lined with high peaks that plunge deep in to the sea beneath. Dense native bush clings to these steep hillsides and, apart from the wind in the tops, there is silence. The water has a golden layer of fresh water on top, creating an unusual habitat below the water and bringing usually deep living species closer to the surface. Dolphins are often seen. Paddle close to huge waterfalls throwing drenching spray, or up narrow arms of water glistening in the evening light. There are options for beginner and advanced paddlers, and for part, full or multi-day trips.