Build friendship, get closer to nature, or just relax. Whatever your reason for thinking about a kayak
in the Bay of Islands, we’ll answer your burning questions here.
Find out how to hire gear for a short-day trip (or even just an hour), and where to book an all-day
Plus, we remind you how to stay safe while you’re paddling.
If you’re up for DIY here are the top hire places. There are a lot of different products on offer so
check their websites for prices. If you’re not sure, just chat to them about your goals. They’ll have
advice on where to go based on how much time you have, and usually supply maps and additional
gear for things like snorkelling.
We recommend never kayaking alone unless you’re staying very close to the shore and are a
confident paddler and swimmer.
Always tell people of your plans (so please don’t skip the ‘Safety’ bit of this post, scroll down!)
Check out the full list of Kayaking hire and tour providers here.
Best kayaking spots in the Bay of Islands
Where do we start?
If you’ve got access to a kayak and the local beach is putting on a predictably beautiful show, get in,
push off, and enjoy a paddle. You can spot fish and wildlife life in the clear water, and often pop
from bay to bay this way.
But if you want to make a memorable event out of your holiday and really get out there and explore
the nooks and crannies of the islands or wider coast, here are some postcard-worthy gems.
Paihia to Russell (the most popular day trip)
Allow an hour, one way!
This is an easy, popular paddle across the harbour. Be careful of boat traffic!
Once in the quaint, historic town of Russell, there are several walks you can enjoy, the most notable
being a 30-minute loop walk. Enjoy 360-degree views of the Bay of Islands from this important
Once in the quaint, historic town of Russell, here’s what you can do for the day.
Waitangi River and Haruru Falls
Launching from Waitangi is a great option, especially as you want to explore the historically
significant area of Waitangi first.
Paddle up the Waitangi River to the base of the spectacular horseshoe shaped water Falls, which will
take about an hour. If it’s been raining you could end up getting very wet from the waterfall’s deluge
– just increasing the fun!
Waipapa Landing is a good launching spot.
There are lots of areas in the Kerikeri inlet to explore, it really depends on how much time you have.
From Waipapa Landing boat ramp, we recommend a gentle paddle around to the Stone Store in
about an hour. You could always stop off and have lunch at the Plough and Feather as well.
Allow half an hour paddle launching from Rawhiti (mainland)
Or you can hire a kayak on the Island if you get the ferry straight here.
There are so many beaches to explore, make sure you have plenty of time to swim and take a hike
the scenery is stunning, remember to watch for native birds as this island is a wildlife sanctuary.
Best Kayaking Tours in the Bay of Islands
There are loads of well-reviewed group tours you might like to consider that offer plenty of benefits
instead of hiring a kayak and doing it yourself. Things like:
A tour guide who knows the area who will entertain you with history and anecdotes.
Provide that sense of safety. They’ll also plan the paddle around weather
forecasts, wind and tides for maximum fun and ease, so you don’t have to.
It can be fun to meet fellow adventure seekers, often from around the globe.
Have everything done for you, and not have to worry about equipment and things like food.
Bay of Islands kayaking, and Bay of Islands Cruise & KayakThey are the only companies we could find offering guided day trips to our fav spots listed above.
Their group tours to Haruru Falls are popular, and they can both put together a private, tailored
Safety while kayaking
If you’re hiring gear from one of our recommended providers or doing a local tour, they will talk you
through crucial safety information. Make sure to listen!
Here is some info to consider:
Always tell someone where you are heading, and never kayak too far alone!!!
Many kayak trips involve paddling out into quite open sea to reach some of the outer islands.
There’s safety in numbers – we wouldn’t recommend doing a trip alone, even if you’re experienced.
Make sure to tell someone responsible:
The number in your party
Where you’re launching from and when you expect to be back
Overdue action time – who to contact if you’re away longer than you planned (Police or the
Coastguard) and what time that should happen.
If possible, take a cell phone in a plastic bag.
During daylight, you’ll need to increase your visibility on the water. The Bay of Islands can have busy
waterways; so larger vessels need to be able to see you.
Choose bright colours that contrast with the sea for your kayak, personal flotation device,
clothing and hat.
Display an orange or yellow ‘chopper’ guard flag on the stern (back) of your kayak.
Stick reflective day glow tape to your paddle blades as this improves visibility – people can
see them as you paddle.
If you roll out into the water
The larger the kayak, the steadier it will be on the water. But there’s always a small chance that you
could capsize, even if you’re experienced.
The first rule is don’t panic, and the second rule is grab onto your kayak and stay there until you
catch your breath.
Most kayaks have buoyancy fitted so it can be re-boarded. If you’re not strong enough to get back
into your kayak from the water, you probably shouldn’t be paddling out too far from shore to be
If you do capsize and cannot get back into your kayak, do not swim for the shore.
Wear a lifejacket!
Lifejackets are essential for all recreational activities on the water, including kayaking. Even if you’re
a strong swimmer, and are not going that far out, keep in mind that most drownings in boating
accidents involve craft under 6 metres.
An important rule to note is that SIZE MATTERS! It’s essential to have a lifejacket that’s fitted to your
shape, weight, and activity goals. If you’re hiring a kayak from a vender, they should have a large
supply and fit you with all the right gear.
If you’re borrowing one – check guidelines on the Maritime NZ website.
Maritime New Zealand has a great section that expands on all of this, found here:
Taking a minute to read this stuff, it could save you while you’re out on the open water. It’s simply
NOT worth the risk.
Alcohol and kayaking don’t mix.
You’d think this would go without saying, but people seem to take risks when they’re on ‘vacation
time’, chilling and partying with friends at the beach.
Things can change quickly on the water, even the shallows. You need to be alert and aware of what’s
is going on while in a kayak, and your reactions need to be sharp in case you fall or waves hit.
Wear sunscreen – and keep applying it during the day.
Take it with you, as well as sunglasses and a good hat. Even if you’re not swimming you will sweat
sunscreen off while paddling. The NZ sun is some of the harshest in the world, especially in summer.
Weather / Tides
The beaches in Paihia directly face (or are open to) the northeast, which is essentially the Pacific
Ocean. So, look out for sudden significant swells that can start quite quickly in this area. It’s not
exactly surf weather but will bring a little choppiness. If you’re fit and can kayak in light waves, then
that’s great. But most people prefer gentle, flat water to push off in, so you’ll need to put some
thought into where you launch based on what the weather is up to.
There are heaps of options close by of small inlets facing the other direction near Paihia.
Always check the Met Service marine forecast for wind, tide and swell conditions