Australia is excluded from lists of the Earth’s biggest islands, because it’s a continent all to itself (which seems churlish), but if it was included, it would blow the rest right out the water. Since the legendary Paul Caffyn pioneered the route in 1981–82, several endurance kayakers have paddled right around this mighty southern land, a 16,000km epic, but most mere mortals will be content to explore the country’s cracking coastline one stretch at a time.

Every state has long stretches of stunning shoreline, but there are several standout routes that all passionate paddlers want to tick off. It isn’t about sea kayaking Down Under, though. If you know where and when to look, Australia offers sensational whitewater rafting and kayaking, and excellent multiday canoe experiences; there’s a serious surf-ski scene, with myriad popular downwind races, and the SUP (stand up paddle board) and outrigger cultures are vibrant.

A lone man paddles a surfski across the waters of Sydney Harbour; the late afternoon sun pierces the dark clouds above and sends golden rays down into the high-rise buildings, the Sydney Opera House and other boats on the water (ferries, sailboats etc).
The waters of Sydney Harbour are always a scenic option for a paddle in a kayak or surf-ski © PomInOz / Shutterstock

New South Wales

Superb sea kayaking is found all along NSW’s shoreline, from Byron Bay and Ballina in the north to Eden’s Twofold Bay on the southern Sapphire Coast, but simply paddling on Sydney Harbour is a very memorable activity, and one that’s easily arranged with a rented boat. Surf-ski and SUP paddlers can make the experience competitive during the Bridge to Beach race, which starts at dawn beneath the famous Harbour Bridge and paddles past the Opera House to Manly Wharf. For something different, try the 111km Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, which takes place overnight. More leisurely canoeing trips can be enjoyed while exploring Shoalhaven River as it spills across the Southern Tablelands, while whitewater rafting trips shoot through Barrington Tops National Park.

Six people sit in three two-man kayaks on a sweeping section of beach; the instructor stands in the shallows (his empty kayak on the beach) and points out something in the distance.
Kayaking from Coles Bay into Freycinet National Park is another great option for paddling in Tasmania © lkonya / Shutterstock


Only highly experienced paddlers will undertake a crossing of Bass Strait or an expedition along the shores of the South West National Park, but more manageable and equally exquisite sea kayaking experiences can be enjoyed in Wineglass Bay in Freycinet, and around the Tasman Peninsula and Bruny Island. Whitewater can be found on several rivers, including the Lea, and the Tarkine can be explored via the Pieman River. Tassie’s big-ticket paddling journey, though, is the Franklin River, which takes rafters and kayakers through the Franklin–Gordon Wild Rivers National Park during a five- to 10-day lifelong-memory–making trip.

A man paddles a yellow sea kayak across choppy waters with a forested island of the Whitsundays in the background.
The wilderness of the Whitsundays is perfectly explored by kayak © Andrew Bain / Lonely Planet


From kayaking, SUPing or outrigging the Coral Sea, skirting the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, to running the Barron River or rafting the 45 rapids that punctuate the Tully, paddling in Queensland takes many forms. Two multiday experiences really stand out, though: the Ngaro Sea Trail, which wends its watery way through the wonderful Whitsundays, taking in the islands of South Molle, Whitsunday and Hook, and incorporating some walking legs too; and the kayaking-and-camping trip along the coast of Hinchinbrook Island.

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The shoreline of Port Phillip Bay is ideal for exploration by kayak or SUP, with the area around the historic quarantine station on Mornington Peninsula particularly enjoyable. From here, experienced paddlers can pass Point Nepean and thread The Heads into the ocean proper. Out west, the Surf Coast has good downwind conditions for surf-skiing, and kayakers can explore the Twelve Apostles off the Great Ocean Road. The Murray River forms the dividing line between Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), while the Snowy River rises beneath Mt Kosciuszko and flows through Victoria – both offer magical multiday missions. The coastline and islands around the mainland’s most southerly point, Wilsons Prom, boast more premier paddling, with gin-clear water beneath your bow and several scenic campsites only reachable by boat or foot. Kayakers attempting to paddle to Tasmania start across the Bass Strait from here.

A lone person on a stand up paddle board heads through azure shallows towards small crashing waves on the edge of a reef.
Areas of Western Australia's extensive coastline are ideal for SUP © Andrew Hanlon / Getty Images

Western Australia

Local and visiting downwind junkies get their dose of adventure medicine during the annual paddling race (surf-ski, SUP, kayak categories) from Rottnest Island to Fremantle, The Doctor, named after the cooling breeze that pushes paddlers across the Indian Ocean. Elsewhere in Western Australia, kayakers share the river with power boats during the unusual two-day Avon Descent. More contemplative and wildlife-rich experiences can be had afloat amid the far-flung Abrolhos Islands off the coast of Geraldton, around Ningaloo Reef, and on the Blackwood River.

northern-territory-katherine gorge.jpg
The eight stages of the Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge in the Northern Territory can be a rewarding, multiday paddle © sigurcamp / Shutterstock

Northern Territory

Canoeing or SUPing up through the eight-stages of Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge in the Northern Territory is an immersive experience on every level, with camping possible on sandy beaches complete with slide marks from freshwater crocs. Multiday trips can be done, and if money is burning a hole in your paddling pants, you can even try heli-kayaking.

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South Australia

Coorong’s lagoons are best seen with an Indigenous guide, while Port River, close to Adelaide, has shipwrecks and mangroves to explore, and dolphins to meet. Coffin Bay National Park, Kangaroo Island and the 21-island archipelago of the Sir Joseph Banks Group are kayaking hot spots too.

Related articles:
How to have a sustainable visit to the Great Barrier Reef
The best things to do in Australia in summer
The best places to mountain bike in Australia

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