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Pelorus River, Marlborough
The Hobbit Kayak Tour, Pelorus Eco Adventures: 4 hours
Starting in Havelock, the ‘Gateway to Pelorus Sound’ and the ‘Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World’, this kayak tour lets you experience one of New Zealand’s most beautiful rivers in a unique way. As well as paddling down a picturesque rocky gorge overlooked by lush native forest, you will also pass down a section of the river used by Sir Peter Jackson to film a memorable scene in The Hobbit, when Bilbo helps his dwarf companions escape down the river in barrels! There’s plenty of wildlife here, too, including a rare colony of native bat – New Zealand’s only native land mammal. Suitable for ages 4+.
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel
Volcanic Coast Adventure, Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours: 3 hours
Cathedral Cove is one of the North Island’s most popular photo opps – but there’s a lot more to this area than the iconic beach. Here, the oceans have banged away for millions of years at volcanic rock, leaving sheer cliffs as well as lots of nooks and crannies. The Remote Coast Tour gets you well off the beaten track, letting you explore coastline that other travellers rarely get to see. You get to enter sea caves, kayak through rock gardens, visit ancient volcanic islands, and paddle right inside New Zealand’s most famous blowhole! The tour only runs in the morning, to make the most of calm sea conditions, but it’s well worth getting up for!
Waimarino, Bay of Plenty
Lake Rotoiti Hot Pool & Glow Worm Tour, Waimarino Kayak Tours: 3.5 hours
Starting in Tauranga or Rotorua, the Lake Rotoiti Hot Pool & Glow Worm Tour from Waimarino Kayak Tours packs a lot of things into a single package. First of all, it’s a scenic kayaking tour on a lake surrounded by thick native bush, where you can see plenty of Pohutukawak and active wildlife while learning about the Māori heritage of Lake Rotoiti. Then, through a parting in the bush you enter into a whole other realm in the glow-worm cave, before getting to relax and unwind in natural thermal hot pools afterwards to reflect peacefully on your experience. It’s the only tour of its kind in New Zealand.
Milford Sound, Fiordland
Twilight Wind and Waves Tour, Rosco’s Milford Kayaks: 12km, 3.5 – 4 hours
Run by the guy who pioneered sea kayaking in Milford Sound 30 years ago, this is a comprehensive tour that will take you out past the usual tourist sites. Starting at Deepwater Basin and heading first to 155m high Stirling Falls, Rosco’s Twilight Wind and Waves Tour then heads away from the huddle of usual photo opps and into a brisk sea breeze to explore a bit further out. The tour takes you past some lesser-known attractions (like Sinbad Gully and ‘The Lion’, a 1300m high rock formation) as well as the big draw cards like Mitre Peak and Bowen Falls.
Paihia, Bay of Islands
Island Time Tour, Bay of Islands Kayaking, 6 hours
Far away from the crowds, this small-group tour is the only sea kayaking tour in the Bay of Islands that takes you to the remote outer islands. Starting in Okaito, the tour is always different depending on changing weather and preferences, but itineraries commonly include paddling to wildlife-rich Moturoa Island, visiting Twin Lagoons beach on Roberton Island, walking the white sands of Waewaetorea Island, or exploring the caves of Urupukapuka Island. There are over 100 islands in total and each one offers something different, including swimming, snorkelling, kayaking into caves and coves, or finding the best photo spots!
Lake Mapourika, Franz Josef
Sunset Classic tour, Glacier Country Kayaks and SUPs: 3 hours
Created 14,000 years ago at the end of the last great Ice Age, pristine Lake Mapourika is an oasis of timeless tranquility in the Franz Josef Glacier valley. Surrounded by New Zealand’s highest mountains, fringed by some of Westland’s oldest native rainforest, and home to a protected habitat for New Zealand’s rarest kiwi, Lake Mapourika offers an unbeatable setting – especially at sunset. The Sunset Classic Tour starts late afternoon as the sunlight starts to soften, then after 3 hours of easy paddling returns you to the beach to watch the last of a stunning sunset over the hills.