Secure your spray skirt, buckle up your buoyancy aid and batten down your day hatch. Here are some of the world’s greatest sea kayaking destinations to add to your bucket list!
What Makes Somewhere the World’s Best Sea Kayaking Destination?
Well, there’s a lot to consider when deciding what exactly makes somewhere the best sea kayaking destination. Is it the weather, the wildlife, the culture? Somewhere that has a totally unique experience that just can’t be done anywhere else?
There are so many factors, I decided it would be best to break it down into categories. I’ll present each place with one key reason why I believe you should add it to your sea kayaking bucket list immediately.
This is an organic and ever-growing list. I shall continue to add to it. And please, if you feel an injustice has been done and I need to add somewhere else – get in touch! If you can convince me, then I’ll include it.
Be sure to bookmark this as a reference for planning your next sea kayaking trip!
Lofoten, Norway – Sea Kayaking the Fjords
A place that continues to grow in popularity – and it’s easy to see why. Every single photo that comes out of Norway is an absolute banger for starts. A landscape so powerful, with a history riddled with myth and legend. Why do I think Norway is one of the best sea kayaking locations in the world?
Fjord – Geologically, a fjord or fiord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier.
The Lofoten archipelago is a collection of dramatic sheer cliff islands, dropping at a sometimes near-vertical angle into the cold North Atlantic waters. The landscape is so powerful that it leads to jaw-to-the-floor paddling around every corner.
The weather can be as dramatic as the scenery, so be sure to prepare for all conditions. Lofoten is one of the most popular adventure sports areas in Norway, which draws a crowd of similar-minded people – from hikers, surfers, climbers and of course paddlers.
Located above the Arctic Circle, the Northern Lights often dance across the night sky in a spectacular performance of light and colour – but having a sky clear enough to see it is the hard part!
Vancouver Island – Sea Kayaking with Orca (Killer Whales)
Show me someone that hasn’t dreamt of kayaking with orca and I’ll show you a liar!
I spent the summers of 2018/19 on the north end of Vancouver Island leading multi-day sea kayak trips. People came from all over the world to be there for the sole objective of seeing an orca… in the wild… from a kayak. Orcas are of course highly intelligent, wild animals that can cover distances of over 100km in a given day.
You’d think that the chances of just seeing an orca must be slim?
The waterway on the north end of Vancouver Island is called Johnstone Strait. It is a channel of water flowing between Vancouver Island and Canada’s mainland, with numerous islands in between. In the grand scheme of things, it’s quite narrow. This means that any wildlife that travels through here won’t be so far from the land.
What’s This Got to Do With Sea Kayaking with Orca?
The Bigg’s orca (mammal-eating) can be found in this area year-round. But what really makes this the best place for sea kayaking with killer whales is that in the summer months, salmon return to spawn. Do you know what loves eating salmon? The resident (fish-eating) orca.
What I’m saying, is your chances of seeing an orca during the summer months are actually pretty good. I’d even go as far as saying Vancouver Island is the best place in the world for kayaking with an orca. That’s right. Johnstone Strait is THE best place in the world for kayaking with orca.
I loved it so much that I am curating a group sea kayaking tour back to Vancouver Island, with the purpose of kayaking with orca in the wild. Be sure to join the Expedition List if you want to be the first to hear about that!
It is a spectacular moment and usually creates an awestruck silence from the group, some people even shed tears of pure joy. It really is special.
Kayaking the Belize Barrier Reef, Belize
Belize is home to the second-longest barrier reef in the entire world. The Belize section makes up 300 kilometres of the 900-kilometre Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. It is a world-class dive site, with an abundance of marine life living amongst the corals. The water is so clear that you can often spot rays and turtles whilst still being stood on land.
Along the reef, there are approximately 400 islands, which are known as ‘Cayes’ (pronounced ‘keys’), and on these islands, you will find some of the happiest, friendliest and most relaxed locals – truly embracing the Belize island life slogan of ‘Go Slow’. If you even dare walk along the beach with too much haste, you’ll be told to ‘go slow!’
Belize really is a hidden gem. It offers both a taste of the Caribbean from its islands, as well as dense jungle, wildlife and a deep history of the Mayan people.
Check out the Belize Sea Kayak Expedition for more information on this incredible destination!
Kayak the Inside Passage from Seattle, Washington; to Skagway, Alaska
The Inside Passage is a sea kayaking pilgrimage beginning in Seattle, Washington; skirting along the entirety of Canada’s west coast, via the inside of Vancouver Island, all the way to Skagway, Alaska.
The history of this route began during the 1898 Klondike gold rush. Gold was being transported down the Yukon River and ended up in the coastal town of Skagway. Ships were able to sail up during the calmer summer months, but many struggled with the brutal winter conditions.
Although following the western side of Vancouver Island allowed for easier navigation, it was far too rough for the small craft to make this trip during the winter. Instead, prospectors opted to go inside. The navigation was difficult and the route hazardous, with certain tidal flows reaching speeds of over 15 knots. This creates whirlpools, boils and standing waves between the island squeezes. But the appeal of gold was enough for many seamen to take their chances, which eventually lead to this route being known as the ‘Inside Passage’ and Skagway becoming its northern terminus.
Eventually, the larger ships also started using this route and it has now become a major shipping lane.
But more importantly for us, it is an absolutely spectacular escape into the wilderness and an ideal North American expedition for sea kayakers. Some opt for taking it on section by section, others go for the whole route in one large expedition.
I am fortunate to have completed this route myself, from Lund B.C.; to Skagway, Alaska. This 1600km kayak expedition took a total of 72 days from start to finish. My expedition partner Nuka and I have created a 9-part youtube series about the trip.
Watch the For Fun’s Sake Expedition series and check out the trailer below:
Sea Kayaking with Humpback Whales
Sharing the water with a humpback whale is very special. If you’ve not seen one before, take a minute to Google their size.
Answer: absolutely ginormous.
They are like a school bus. Except they are living, breathing and they don’t use turn signals when they pull out in front of you. They are unpredictable and any whale encounter must be approached with the utmost respect for the animal.
Humans have terribly mistreated humpback whales (all whales in fact) in the past, almost driving them to extinction. Fortunately, the whaling industry has ground down to a slow pace and has almost ended. This has given a chance for the population to bounce back in great numbers. Humpback whale sightings are on the rise all around the world. This means there are many amazing locations you could kayak with humpback whales.
Instead of telling you the best location to kayak with humpback whales, I will tell you how to find the best companies to kayak with humpback whales.
How to Find an Ethical Whale-Watching Tour?
Here are some things to consider when choosing a company or tour provider. These are questions to ask yourself before booking, as most of this information should be apparent from their website.
- do they truly care about the well-being of the animal, or is this strictly business?
- what steps are taken to protect these animals?
- is this activity regulated by the local government?
- are the whales behaving naturally?
- is your presence invasive?
The great majority of tour providers that offer whale encounters do it because they love the animals and they love kayaking. They treat every encounter with respect and that should be apparent. You will probably find that the staff of these companies are just as excited at seeing a whale, sometimes even more so than the clients.
Canada is leading the way for best practices by making the harassment of marine mammals a federal crime. Here is a link to their whale-watching regulations. Every country approaches this topic differently, so know that what is ‘acceptable’ legally, will vary from place to place. Decide your own moral code to apply to all wildlife experiences.
The power of the dollar is the most powerful tool of them all.
Sea Kayaking Tasmania, Australia
Tasmania is a world-class sea kayaking destination because it offers opportunities for all paddlers. The 4000 kilometres of coastline on this island state make it easy to escape the crowds and find yourself an empty beach or a steep craggy cliff to explore. 40% of the island is protected by reserves and National Parks, allowing those with a thirst for adventure to go deep into the wilderness or take a quick paddle break straight from its largest city of Hobart.
This is of course an article about sea kayaking, but it’s worth noting that Tasmania has top-notch white water paddling too.
The wildlife in this part of the world is abundant on both land and sea – and air! There’s everything from seals to penguins, to albatross.
Sea Kayaking in Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Here’s a suggestion for those who like to go off the beaten path. A place I imagine only a few well-travelled readers may have heard of. In fact, it only showed up on my radar when researching this very article.
Raja Ampat is a collection of 1,500 jungle-covered and thinly populated limestone islands. It is suggested that Raja Ampat has the most diverse marine ecosystem on Earth, with reefs even richer in life than the rest of what’s known as the Coral Triangle.
It is often a feature of Top 10 Dive Sites etc., but it is possible to kayak here. If you paddle amongst these islands it is highly likely that you may be the first people to have ever paddled into some of the many nooks, bays and beaches. Raja Ampat may be one of the most beautiful island chains in the entire world and you can explore them whilst living out of a Indonesia-style mothership with kayak day tours.
No surprise that the major profession here is fishing, however, local people are extremely welcoming to tourism and there are more and more guest house opportunities arising. These guest houses often have sit-on-top kayaks available for those looking to quickly dip the paddle in.
Sea of Cortez, Baja – Sea Kayaking with Marine Life
I couldn’t compile a list of the best sea kayaking locations and not mention ‘The Worlds Aquarium‘. The Sea of Cortez is in the Gulf of California and is the stretch of water between the Baja Peninsula and mainland Mexico.
It is thought to be one of the most diverse seas in the world. Some of its inhabitants, as well as migratory species, include blue whales, humpback whales, grey whales, killer whales, manta rays, squid, sea turtles, sea lions and an almost endless list of fish and other sea creatures.
You may have realised by now that I am quite fond of wildlife. I also believe that there is no better way to enjoy watching wildlife than from a kayak, so what better place to do so!
Check out the Baja Mexico Sea Kayak Expedition page for group tour dates.
Greenland – The History of Sea Kayaking
Greenland is the birthplace of kayaking after all!
The exact location is not entirely known, as it may have been over 4,000 years ago. However, it is thought to have been in the high northern regions around Greenland, Canada, Russia and Alaska.
The Inuit people of Greenland used kayaks as a hunting tool, allowing them to venture great distances in search of food. The Inuits had to really master the craft, as a capsize would surely be fatal due to the freezing water temperatures.
A sea kayaking trip to Greenland is absolutely essential for all paddlers to make at least once in a lifetime.
Learn about the development of kayaking, how it was such an integral part of Inuit history and how their very survival depended on it. Sea kayaking in Greenland is not only an incredible learning experience, but the vast icy landscapes make it one of the most stunning locations to sea kayak as well.
Newfoundland – Sea Kayaking with Icebergs
Where better to sea kayak with icebergs than Iceberg Alley?
This waterway stretches from Labrador and along the coast of Newfoundland. Each year will of course be different, depending on how many icebergs calve off of western Greenland. The best time is usually around June.
To sea kayak with an iceberg is to paddle with a floating ice mountain. It moves, it makes sounds and it is forever reshaped and remoulded by the sea. Another experience to make you feel very small and in awe of nature.
Sea Kayaking Antarctica
A sea kayaking adventure in Antarctica will be like nothing you have ever experienced before.
Firstly, how to even get there. The likely way is by first going to the most southerly part of South America, which is Ushuaia, Argentina. Once you’ve got to the end of the Earth, you jump on a ship and keep going. It takes roughly 48hrs and you’ll be crossing the infamous Drake Passage.
Once there, you will be greeted by epic mountains, ice floats and glaciers, as well as wildlife in vast numbers like you’ve never seen before.
Kayaking in Antarctica is truly a unique experience. It combines a number of the special features mentioned above, all in one place.
Fiordland, New Zealand – The People’s Choice!
I opened this up to you, the people, for any recommendations that deserve a place on the list of Best Sea Kayaking Destinations in the World…
The clear winner, put forward by Kiwis, visitors and fellow kayak guides alike, was Fiordland, New Zealand! I checked it out online and I can clearly see why.
Fiordland is a region in the southwestern corner of the South Island. These glacier-carved passageways cut amongst snow-capped mountains. Ancient rainforests cling onto dramatic mountainsides, with still waters and deep lakes running amongst them.
A truly deserving place on the list.
Best Sea Kayaking Destinations in the World
There should be enough in here to keep you busy and help guide you towards your next sea kayak adventure!
This list is organic and ever-changing, so be sure to bookmark it and check back in future to see what’s new.
If you have some suggestions to include please get in touch and together we shall make the ultimate list to end all lists – of the best sea kayaking locations in the world!
Interested in heading on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, without the organisational hassle? Be sure to get your name on the Global Shenanigans Expedition list. Worldwide expeditions, with all the work done for you.
All you have to do is show up.