11 awesome canoeing and kayaking adventures in Australia
Immerse yourself in a wetland wonderland in the Noosa Everglades
Image: Tourism and Events Queensland
Picture this: Gliding down a tranquil river surrounded by untouched wildeness; the sound of hundreds of birds twittering around you. Welcome to the Noosa Everglades, a patch of reserve within the broader Great Sandy National Park (where you’ll also find K'Gari/Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island). The park encompasses mangrove forests, rainforest, eucalyptus bushland, dunes, lakes and rivers, and features range of great campsites and eco accommodation you can canoe or kayak between along its network of waterways.
The biodiversity here is staggering. Over 40% of all Australia's bird species reside in the reserve, as well as a myriad of fish, reptiles, insects and, importantly, no crocodiles! If you don't have your own gear, there are several options for local hire, but make sure you give yourself a few days to explore the area at your own pace.
Stay nearby: YHA Noosa Everglades Kangarooms | YHA Noosa Heads
Paddle alongside dolphins in Byron Bay
Image: Tourism Australia
Spend a bit of time in Byron Bay and you’ll be forgiven for thinking Australia's easternmost town is all about boutique shops, flashy Instagram-worthy meals and air fairy ‘good vibes’. But take to the sea in a kayak on a guided tour around Cape Byron, and you’ll be treating yourself one of the most authentic and memorable experiences Australia has to offer. In a rare opportunity, Byron is home to a pod of dolphins who will reliably come out to meet and play alongside kayakers (they claim a 90% sighting rate), and there are also sea turtles, or in winter time, humpback whales, to keep an eye out for. This one is available year-round, and suitable for kayakers of all skill levels.
Stay nearby: YHA Byron Bay | YHA Cape Byron
Glide over crystal clear waters at Rottnest Island
25km off the coast of Fremantle in Western Australia, and accessible only by ferry, Rottnest Island is a fascinating place to spend a day, and an absolute must for anyone visiting Perth for the first time. Walking or cycling are great options for circling the island and getting your fix of its glorious beaches, adorable quokka population and haunting colonial history. But if you want to cool off, kayaking is a way to explore 'Rotto' from a new angle, especially if you’ve already seen a couple of cuddly marsupials and visited the main points of interests on land. The water here is startlingly clear, and you can take a beginner-friendly guided tour in a glass-bottomed kayak to traverse the bays and coral reef while looking down between your knees at the area's abundant aquatic life.
Stay nearby: YHA Fremantle Prison
See Sydney Harbour from its most spectacular angle
Image: Destination NSW
Sydney is blessed with one of the most beautiful harbours of any city the world, and while there are hundreds of gorgeous vantage points to see it from, being out on harbour itself in your own little vessel is an unforgettable way to take it all in. You won't believe how huge the Opera House looks when you're bobbing past Bennelong Point with your head less than a metre above the surface.
As a busy waterway with everything from fishing boats to massive cruise ships toing and froing daily, a 4-hour fully guided tour is the best and safest way to navigate Sydney Harbour by kayak. This all-inclusive trip will take you past Barangaroo, the Rocks, Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour and even the seldom visited Goat Island, all under the care of an expert guide.
Stay nearby: YHA Sydney Harbour | YHA Sydney Central
Navigate the superb coastlines of the Fleurieu Peninsula
Image: dronedynamicssa/South Australian Tourism Commission
The windswept coasts of South Australia have a unique feel, perhaps made famous in popular Aussie folklore by the classic novel and film, Storm Boy. One of the most beautiful locales, and a hotspot for kayaking and canoeing in the state is the ever-stunning Fleurieu Peninsula, which features wild white-sand beaches, clear water and rugged limestone cliffs riddled with caves and hidden coves. The Rapid Bay/Second Valley and Morgans Beach areas are highlights for a day paddling (and there are even tours available). But whether you hire or bring your own gear, you really can't go wrong anywhere along the sheltered northern side of the peninsula, or alternatively a bit further east along the Coorong.
Stay nearby: YHA Port Elliot
Traverse an ancient landscape at Nitmiluk Gorge
Image: Tourism NT/James Fisher
For the outback paddler, an expedition to Nitmiluk Gorge, a few hours south of Darwin, will fit the bill nicely. This winding section of the Katherine River runs between sandstone clifs in what is actually a series of 13 pictueresque gorges with wonderfully fresh water and several millenia-old rock art sites. There's a special stillness to gliding betwen the towering walls of the cliffs here, passing in and out of the shade and hearing nothing but the sound of cicadas and the quiet splash of your paddle.
You may find the idea of taking to the water in saltwater crocodile country a little intimidating, but have no fear – while you will encounter harmless freshwater crocs, this area of the gorge is free from 'salties' during the April-October dry season, when park rangers manually relocate them. Take a half-day guided canoe/kayak tour to go as far as the second gorge, or even hire gear to camp at the fifth gorge or beyond.
Conquer the wild waterways of Tasmania's Southwest
Image: Tourism Australia & Graham Freeman
Southwest National Park is legitimately one of the most jaw-dropping places in Australia, but it's also not for the faint of heart (or hater of cold). Most of this remote region of Tasmania is completely inaccessible except by sea or small aircraft, which makes it all the more special if you're lucky enough to join one of Roaring 40s' multi-day kayaking trips to kayak and camp here. While these expeditions can be seriously pricey, it's a magical experience to explore this stunning area of wilderness, which has more in common with Norwegian Fjords than it does with your typical image of Australia. There's no mobile reception, no roads and no settlements of any kind here, but once you're gliding across the glassy surface of Bathurst Harbour's bays and inlets, or beelining out to the craggy mouth of Port Davey, you won't care one jot.
If you don't have the time or budget for a full-on expedition during your visit to Tassie, a guided tour of tourist-favourite Freycinet National Park or a meander around the Hobart area are good kayaking options as well.
Explore the aquatic kingdom of Ningaloo Reef
Image: Tourism Western Australia
There's a strange contrast that goes on along the coast of Western Australia's Gascoyne region, where the arid tussocky browns of the land come to an abrupt stop and the spectacular shimmering turquouise water begins. In such a hot and dry place, it's really a no-brainer to get out onto that very water in a kayak, and it gets even better when you consider that the North West Cape Peninsula is home to the Ningaloo Reef, one of Australia's most incredible marine ecosystems.
Based in Exmouth, Exmouth Adventure Co offer a wide range of one or multi-day sea kayak tours to take you all over the area, taking in everything from the coral and teeming oceanic life of the reef, to sea turtle hatching and stargazing in the Cape Range National Park. They also offer straightforward kayak, snorkel and stand up paddleboard hire if you'd prefer to just explore this immaculate aquatic playground on your own.
Stay nearby: YHA Exmouth
Tackle the Glenelg River Canoe Trail
Trickling down from Gariwerd/the Grampians, the Glenelg river makes its long, snaking way all the way to South Australia before meeting the sea just back inside Victoria. If you're looking for a leisurely multi-day trip with lots of convenient and well thought out amenities, the Glenelg River Canoe Trail, stretching from Dartmoor to Nelson, is a great pick.
This is a fairly easygoing route, well suited to families or beginners, and there's fantastic wildlife to see along the way. There's also ample places to hire or purchase gear locally and an abundance of campsites reserved for kayakers and canoeists (remember to book in advance). While the whole route should take about four days, there's nothing stopping you from testing the waters by doing a shorter stretch. Remember – canoes are generally the go-to here due to their easier portage and extra room for stowing your tent and sleeping bags.
Stay nearby: YHA Port Fairy
Paddle in paradise in the Whitsundays
Image: Tourism Australia
Dazzlingly bright blue water and white sand are the defining features of Queensland's Whitsundays archipelago, one of Australia's most naturally breathtaking destinations. But while this gorgeous series of islands has a reputation as a luxury holiday destination, there's a much more affordable and arguably better way to experience them. You can actually camp on several of the Whitsunday Islands, which, while not cheap, costs significantly less than a stay at an overpriced resort. Better yet, most of these campsites are next to the beach and easily accessible by kayak, so you can plan out a leisurely itinerary of island hopping with your camping gear strapped to your vessel.
Salty Dog Sea Kayaking are a good place to grab a kayak for an extended period, and they'll even arrange a sea taxi to drop you on the archipelago if you're not game to take the sheltered but lengthy paddle across from the mainland.
Take to hallowed water on the Murray River
Image: Canoe Adventures/South Australian Tourism Commission
The immense and iconic Murray River is not only one of the world’s longest navigable rivers – it's also probably the most important waterway in Australia – historically, geographically and for the lifegiving ecological function it serves across a huge swathe of territory. Flowing from the Snowy Mountains all the way to the Coorong in South Australia, there's a mind-boggling number of places to kayak or canoe along its expanse or amongst its various tributaries and backwaters.
Our pick of the bunch is in SA's Riverland region, where the Murray swells into vast wetlands full of thriving wildlife, and which are best explored by water. This can be a tricky and maze-like area to navigate for inexpert paddlers, so a guided kayak tour is an excellent way to experience it hassle-free. If you've ever wanted to paddle along a piece of Aussie mythology, the Murray River is where to be.
Stay nearby: YHA Adelaide Central
- These are our top picks, but we know we're just scratching the surface. The best thing about canoeing and kayaking is that gear allowing, you can do it in near enough any body of water. And with a country as big as Australia, that means a boat load of paddling!
- It's also important to note that many of these experiences can be tackled in either a kayak or canoe interchangeably, but your equipment choice is subject to local availability, and we'd suggest favouring canoes where there's camping gear to be transported.
Words: A. Hill-Lees
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