Everyone knows that life is but a dream when you row a boat. But the same is true of paddling! From the plunging red cliffs of the Nitmiluk gorges to the sailboats of the Hobart waterfront, from oceans to rivers and all the lakes in between… make your way merrily to these top spots perfect for canoeing and kayaking with kids. While many of our suggestions are suited to families – and include kid-friendly hire and tour recommendations – some are best for experienced teens. So be sure to do your research so you can slip, slop, slap, whack on a life jacket and dip your feet in to the world of kayaking with kids!
Peel Canoe Trail, Mandurah
An easy hour south of Perth, this trip tops the WA charts by all accounts. Hire a canoe in Mandurah and it will come with a map of the route. Choose your own adventure with two trip options, both roughly 3 or 4 hours. Follow the Serpentine River and you’ll pass historic sites, bushland, Peel Inlet and the Mandurah Estuary. Alternatively, take the Murray River Trail from Pinjarra to King Carnival, Mandurah past an old mill, bridge and railway. Look sharp and you might spot a black swan or even a dolphin.
Read more: Best family canoe spots in Western Australia
Ningaloo Reef Sea Kayaking
Switch to salt water and head out to the reef-bound ocean lagoons of the Cape Range National Park. The clear, turquoise water makes it easy to spot the odd turtle, ray or school of fish. Bring a snorkel and mask with you on board, so you can jump off and explore under water. Capricorn Sea Kayaking offer a range of expeditions from day trips to five-day adventures, including options for kayaking with kids. Exmouth Adventure Co also hosts guided expeditions of varying lengths, and hires out snorkels, Stand Up Paddleboards, single and double kayaks so you can head off on your own.
For the old hands looking to take it up a notch, head on an overnight canoe camp along the Blackwood River. Research carefully before selecting which section to tackle, as some areas are more hazardous than others, especially in summer. There is a great campsite at Sue’s Bridge. In fact, the route from Nannup to Sue’s Bridge will take you through magnificent karri and jarrah forest. This website has a handy breakdown of segments of the river. Blackwood River Canoeing host guided trips.
Australia boasts many a waterway or waterhole, but none so scenic as the thirteen gorges along the Katherine River in Nitmiluk National Park. You’ll only be able to explore one on a half-day canoe trip. We hear that the second gorge is spectacular and worth extending to a full-day. Nitmiluk Tours run half-day, full-day and overnight hire.
Back in town, try paddling a sea kayak out into Darwin Harbour. Plenty of shops sell and hire sea kayaks locally. Make sure to ask about the conditions in advance as they vary and may not be suitable for kayaking with kids. Crocodiles are also seasonal residents, so check local information on recent sightings and captures.
In general, Gecko Canoeing and Trekking are a great choice for Top End tours on water.
Hinchinbrook Island Sea Kayaking
Capable and willing teens with sea kayaking experience will lap up this island-hopping expedition north of Townsville. We hear that crocs frequent the Hinchinbrook Channel, so you should paddle the outside coast of the island only. An overnight trip with World Expeditions or Coral Sea Kayaking might take you over to Mission Beach or Sunken Reef Bay, all against the backdrop of Mount Bowen.
Ngaro Sea Trail
There’s something exciting about the thought of a ‘sea trail,’ and this trip is as tropical and scenic as it sounds! This kayaking circuit is located in the famous Whitsunday Islands, looping Whitsunday Island itself. Salty Dog Sea Kayaking offer a water taxi service that can drop you at island campsites. This way, you can skip the open water crossing of Whitsunday Passage, which is not for the faint-hearted. We recommend this route when kayaking with kids who are a bit older.
You can expect to spot plenty of migratory water birds and pass plenty of melaleucas, casuarinas and campsites along the Noosa River. If you’re planning a self-guided trip, points of interest include Mill Point, Kin Kin Creek, Jarry’s Hut and, of course, Lake Cootharaba. Kanu Kapers will set you off to a good start with maps, all equipment, landmark orientation and a paddling lesson. You can opt for their accompanied trips instead. Lake Escapades is another provider also worth looking into.
Read more: Take your Teens Canoeing in Noosa Everglades
New South Wales
The Emerald City glitters with many a canoeing possibility. Get into the thick of it in the harbour, as long as you are willing to share the water with other vessels. We recommend Rose Bay Aquatic Hire, Manly Kayak Centre and also Point Piper Kayak Centre. But our favourite are the paddle lessons and tours run by Sydney Harbour Kayaks, especially the Kayak Eco Tour in Middle Harbour.
Cape Byron Marine Park
Byron Bay is the most easterly point of the mainland, which means there’s plenty of water to go round! The marine park highlights include stunning reefs, the Julian Rocks significant to Arakwal people and the occasional humpback whale from May to September. Go Sea Kayak and Cape Byron Kayaks both offer a dolphin guarantee. Go Sea Kayak is run by local surf live savers and hosts a great 3-hour dolphin tour. Cape Byron Kayaks throw in some local history, wave surfing and a catered break at Wategos Beach.
It was a tricky toss-up between the Nepean, Hawkesbury and Colo Rivers on Sydney’s outskirts. The Nepean won us over. A favourite with rowers and water-skiers as well, it is ideal for beginner paddlers. We recommend a one-way 25-kilometre paddle starting at either Tench Reserve in Penrith, or Nepean Rowing Club.
Lake Burley Griffin
Thankfully, in the planning of Canberra, it was decided to put a great big lake in the middle. This makes for ideal conditions for kayaking with kids! The Paddle Hub, located at the YMCA Aquatic Recreation Centre, has kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards for hire. You can also explore the lake in a pedal boat.
Murray River, Canoeing
Traversing multiple state lines, the Murray is the longest river in Australia. It follows, then, that it offers up some great canoeing. Your experience will vary greatly depending on where you launch from. Murray River Canoe Hire and Echuca Canoe and Boat Hire are two great providers. Be creative with your route.
Gippsland Lakes, Canoeing
There’s plenty of paddling space in this triple lake system with its silt jetties, marshlands and sand dunes. Wellington, Victoria and King Lakes are in turn fed by seven rivers, ideal for the adventurous paddler. The region is also ideal for beginners because it is relatively unaffected by tides.
Freycinet Adventures run several different trip options. Explore Hazards Beach and beyond on a three-hour tour around photogenic Coles Bay. Or take a multi-day trip out to Schouten Island to camp beside the penguin residents.
South West Tasmania
Hardcore paddlers who know their stuff can jump on a guided tour of the wilderness between Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey. It is remarkable to consider that there is nothing between you and Antarctica! You have to do this stretch on a guided tour with Roaring 40s, as all gear needs to be flown in.
On the flipside, the Hobart waterfront is another great spot for kayaking with kids. Practise your steering a bit, then head out and manouevre between the moored boats of Sullivans Cove. Kayak hire and a great 2.5-hour Hobart City Tour suitable for families is available with Roaring 40s Kayaking. Don’t be put off by the name!
This has got to be one of our favourites. Fancy kayaking with kids as well as bottlenose dolphins! Just half an hour from the Adelaide CBD, Port River is part of a dolphin sanctuary. It also boasts a mysterious ship graveyard, with dozens of wrecks including the Santiago. Adventure Kayaking SA offers 3-hour tours and kayak hire. If you’re heading off solo, then head north west from the boat ramp towards Garden Island Yacht Club, then explore the mangroves. Return and then paddle through the North Arm and ship’s graveyard.
Innes National Park
The choose is yours in this Yorke Peninsula gem. You can canoe as far as 40 kilometres, or stop after just six. Leave from Stenhouse Bay and head west. Be sure to check conditions as it can get quite rough out.
Coorong National Park
Launch off from Sugars Beach or Goolwa South Boat Ramp for a great day out on the water. The national park is internationally recognised as a significant wetland region. It is teeming with pelicans and waterbirds. Canoe the Coorong run tours for all ages and levels of experience. Their three-hour sunset tour, for example, covers the mouth of the Murray. There is also a 4-day expedition if you’re after something more full-on with teens.
Bonus: New Zealand
New Zealand, in particular the South Island, has awesome kayaking for kids. The Abel Tasman coast has several options. For a full-length trip, paddle from Kaiteriteri in the southern end of the Abel Tasman National Park to Tata Beach, or vice versa. In the Fiordland regions, explore the islands, quiet bays and beach campsites of Manapouri lakes. The famous sounds – including Milford – have some canoeing options too.
Our recommendations skim the surface only of the deep reservoir of canoe and kayak adventures that await across the country. We aimed our selection at teens and older families, although many of them are just as suited to primary schoolers wielding a paddle for the first time. After all, there’s nothing stopping you from launching off at a boat ramp, paddling in circles for an hour or two, then coming back to shore for a barbie. Our number 1 tip is to research your paddling trip in detail before you head off to make sure you’re capable of it, and to stay abreast of changing river conditions. Here are some more handy hints:
- Put your safety first and always, always wear a Personal Flotation Device. PFDs, better known as life jackets, should fit snugly. Even the most experienced paddlers and strongest swimmers should don a vest before hitting the water.
- You will almost certainly get wet. Wear waterproof shoes if you have them, and throw a change of clothes in the car so you can be warm and dry on your way home.
- Wear an extra, quick dry layer on the water as it is often cooler than you’d expect.
- Take note of currents and tides – we recommend paddling against the current first so you have an easier trip on your return.
- Never go out alone, especially as a child. Keep yourselves safe by paddling in a group – it is also more fun that way!
- Consider bathroom breaks when travelling with little paddlers who can’t hold on.
Kayak vs. Canoe
Now for the question you’ve all been dying to ask: what exactly is the difference between a kayak and a canoe?
A kayak is pointier at the front and at the back. Typically, it is designed for a solo paddler who sits with their legs straight out in front of them. The deck of a kayak is enclosed, whereas a canoe is deeper and open, making it perfect for carrying gear for an overnight trip. Canoes can carry more than one person. They sit in the water, rather than gliding on top like a kayak does.