Everyone knows that life is a dream when you row a boat. But the same is true of paddling! This travel guide to kayaking with kids around Australia covers where to go in each state and territory, no matter how experienced you are.
Kids can explore Australia in a kayak from the plunging red cliffs of the Nitmiluk gorges to the sailboats of the Hobart waterfront. Kayak with kids in oceans to rivers and all the lakes in between.
Many of our suggestions are suited to families – and include kid-friendly kayak hire and tour recommendations – some are best for more experienced teens.
Our guide is a good research starting point before you slip, slop, slap, whack on a life jacket and dip your feet in to the world of kayaking with kids!
Kayaking with kids in Western Australia
Peel Canoe Trail, Mandurah
An easy hour south of Perth, by all accounts, this trip tops the Western Australia kayaking with kids charts. When you hire a canoe in Mandurah, it comes 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. Keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a black swan or even a dolphin.
Read more: Best family canoe spots in Western Australia
Ningaloo Reef Sea Kayaking, Coral Coast
Take the kids ocean kayaking and head out to the reef-bound lagoons of the Cape Range National Park near Exmouth.
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, plus single and double kayaks so you can head off kayaking with the kids on your own.
Kayak the Blackwood River, The South West
For more experienced family kayakers looking to take it up a notch, try an overnight canoe camp along the Blackwood River in the south west of Western Australia. Do your research 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. The Total Trails website has a handy breakdown of segments of the river. And if you’d like to go accompanied as you explore this part of WA with the kids, Blackwood River Canoeing host guided trips.
Northern Territory kayaking for families
Nitmiluk/Katherine Gorges, Katherine
Australia boasts many a waterway or waterhole, but none so scenic as the thirteen gorges along the Katherine River in the Northern Territory’s Nitmiluk National Park.
If you’ve only got a short time to try kayaking with kids here, beware of FOMO because you’ll only be able to explore one gorge on a half-day canoe trip. We hear that the second gorge is spectacular and worth extending to a full-day if you’ve got time.
Nitmiluk Tours run half-day, full-day and overnight hire.
Kayak Darwin with kids
In the Northern Territory capital, 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 before you go kayaking with kids in Darwin.
Gecko Canoeing and Trekking are a great choice for guided kayak adventures in the Top End with kids.
Kayaking in Queensland with kids
Hinchinbrook Island sea kayaking for families with older kids
Capable and willing teenagers and older kids will enjoy kayking around Hinchinbrook Island, north of Townsville. If you’re feeling adventurous, pitch a tent in Hinchinbrook Island National Park where there are specific sea kayaking camping areas, which provide beach access at various locations on the eastern side of the island.
We hear that crocs frequent the Hinchinbrook Channel, so you should only paddle along the outside (or eastern coast of the island.
For guided kayaking with kids, try an overnight trip with World Expeditions or Coral Sea Kayaking. These experiences take the family over to Mission Beach or Sunken Reef Bay, with Mount Bowen as a backdrop.
Whitsunday 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! The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail, managed by Queensland Parks & Forests includes a kayaking circuit through 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.
Kayaking on the Noosa River for families
Expect to spot plenty of migratory water birds and pass plenty of melaleucas, casuarinas and campsites as your family kayaks the Noosa River on the Sunshine Coast.
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 is a great choice for families wanting to try kayaking with kids for the first time. They set you off with maps, all equipment, landmark orientation and a paddling lesson. Alternatively, try one of their accompanied trips instead where experienced guides will show you some of the secrets of the area.
Lake Escapades is another provider also worth looking into.
Read more: Take your Teens Canoeing in Noosa Everglades
Family-friendly kayaking in New South Wales
Sydney Harbour family-friendly kayaking
Sydney glitters with many a canoeing possibility. Get into the thick of it on Sydney Harbour, as long as you are willing to share the water with other vessels. We recommend Rose Bay Aquatic Hire, Manly Kayak Centre and Point Piper Kayak Centre if you want to head out on a self guided family kayak trip.
But our favourite kayaking with kids experience on Sydney Harbour 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
Byron Bay is the most easterly point of the mainland Australia, which means there’s plenty of water to go round!
Families will love Cape Byron Marine Park where you can kayak over stunning reefs and amongst pods of dolphins (I spotted a pod of more than 50 when I last visited).
Kayaking tours leave from Clarkes Beach, out towards Julian Rocks – a rocky outcrop that is home to sharks, rays, turtles, eels, starfish and coral – around the headland to Wategos Beach, and back again.
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.
Kids as young as five can go on accompanied kayak tours in Byron Bay. But unless your children are very confident in the ocean, I’d suggest that nine or 10 is when you’ll have more fun on this adventure.
If you pick your timing well to go kayaking with the kids in Byron Bay, you will likely spot a humpback whale as they migrate from Antarctica to the warm waters of Queensland and back. The best time to spot whales in Byron Bay is May to September.
Kayaking with kids in Western Sydney on the Nepean River
It was a tricky toss-up between the Nepean, Hawkesbury and Colo Rivers for the best spot to kayak with kids on Sydney’s outskirts Sydney’s outskirts.
The Nepean River won us over as is the most family-friendly place to kayak with kids in Western Sydney. The Nepean has long been a favourite spot for rowers and water-skiers, and 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.
Read more: 5 reasons to visit Penrith
Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra
Thankfully, the Canberra town planners decided to put a great big lake in the middle of Australia’s capital city. Lake Burley Griffin is an ideal water playground, whether you’re into rowing, sailing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding or fishing.
Canberra, because the paddling fun happens on a lake instead of in the ocean, makes for an ideal destination for kayaking with kids of all ages!
The Paddle Hub, located at the YMCA Aquatic Recreation Centre, has kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards for hire. For families who’d rather pedal than paddle there are also pedal boats for hire.
Read more: The best things to do in Canberra with kids
Murray River, Canoeing
Traversing multiple state lines, the Murray River is the longest river in Australia. It follows, then, that it offers up some great, family-friendly canoeing options.
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 and take time to stop along the way for a picnic or even to go camping.
Gippsland Lakes, kayaking kids that is great for beginners
There’s plenty of paddling space in the Gippsland Lakes, a triple lake system complete with silt jetties, marshlands and sand dunes in the far east of Victoria from Seaspray to Lakes Entrance.
Gippsland Lakes is a great place for kids to go sea kayaking and there are multiple starting and exit points. The region is ideal for beginners and families who camp given the plethora of great camp sites, no tides and the prevailing SW wind which is ideal for being pushed along.
Kids of all ages will love seeing lots of wildlife and the fact that there is protection from land on both sides, so it never feels like you’re out on the open seas.
A couple of the best self-guided routes for kayaking with kids in Gippsland are:
- Kayak with the dolphins from Metung across Bancroft Bay to Nungurner via Chinamans and Box Creek (approx. three hours).
- Take a two hour paddle along the sheltered canals from Paynesville with pelicans and swans as your escort.
- More adventurous families might like either a four hour paddle to Pt Wilson or an overnight kayak experience with kids to Ocean Grange and 90 Mile Beach.
- Kayak from Apex Park in Lakes Entrance on a three and a half hour paddle up North Arm to experience lots of wildlife only a stones throw from town.
Read more: Victoria’s great outdoors for teens
Kayak in Tasmania with kids
On the east coast of Tasmania is the spectacular Freycinet Peninsula. Here families kayak amongst dramatic pink granite peaks, secluded bays, white sandy beaches and abundant birdlife.
Freycinet Adventures run several different, family-friendly kayak trips. 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, kayaking with teenagers
Teenage paddlers who know their stuff can jump on a guided tour of the Tasmanian wilderness between Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey. Head into the pristine wilderness with Roaring 40s Kayaking on a multi day kayaking tour. Tours range from four to eight days and are suitable for kids aged 16 or older.
If you want the kids to have an active digital detox, then one of these sea kayaking tours could just be the thing. There’s no mobile phone reception in Tasmania’s south west. It’s so remote that once you’re out on the water, there is nothing between you and Antarctica!
Read more: Escape the rat race in Tasmania
The Hobart waterfront is another great spot for kayaking with kids. Out on the water be sure to steer carefully as you paddle among the yachts, tall ships, fishing boats and cruise ships.
Roaring 40s Kayaking offers kayak hire for self guided tours plus a great 2.5-hour Hobart City Tour suitable for families with kids over the age of seven.
For families with kids 12 and older, consider Hobart’s Cliffs, Caves and Beaches full-day paddle.
Port River, Port Adelaide
Fancy kayaking with kids as well as bottlenose dolphins? This family-friendly kayaking spot is just half an hour from the Adelaide CBD and one of our favourite places to kayak with kids.
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.
A tip for families heading off solo; head north west from the boat ramp towards Garden Island Yacht Club, then explore the mangroves. Return and paddle through the North Arm and ship’s graveyard.
Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula
The choice 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.
Kayak in Coorong National Park with kids
Families can launch their kayaks from Sugars Beach or Goolwa South Boat Ramp for a great day out on the water. The Coorong 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, includes a trip to the mouth of the Murray.
There is also a 4-day expedition if you’re after something more full-on with teens.
Kayaking with kids in New Zealand
New Zealand, in particular the South Island, has awesome kayaking for kids and families.
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.
Tips for kayaking or canoeing with kids
Our recommendations skim the surface only of the deep reservoir of family-friendly canoe and kayak adventures that await around Australia.
We aimed our selection for family-friendly kayaking adventures at teens and families with older kids, 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 kayak at a boat ramp, paddling in circles for an hour or two, then coming back to shore for a picnic lunch.
Our number one tip is to research your family kayak or canoe trip in detail before you head off. Make sure you and your kids are capable of what you’re setting out to do. And to stay abreast of changing river and ocean conditions.
Here are some more handy hints:
- Safety first! 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 explained
Now for the question you’ve all been dying to ask: what exactly is the difference between a kayak and a canoe?
Here you have it kayak vs canoe explained.
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.
On the other hand, a canoe is deeper and open, making it perfect for carrying gear for an overnight trip. Canoes can carry more than one person. What’s more canoes sit in the water, rather than gliding on top like a kayak does.
Canoe Vs kayak in sport
Both kayaking and canoeing are olympic sports. Kids can compete from club to elite level. According to the International Canoe Federation, the difference between a kayak and canoe is relatively simple. They say that the differen is “related to athlete’s position in the boat and the type of paddle they use to propel the boat.”
In a kayak, the paddler is seated and uses a double-bladed paddle pulling the blade through the water on alternate sides to move forward.
In a canoe, the paddler kneels and uses a single-bladed paddle to propel the boat forward.