10 Amazing River Kayaking Tours in New Zealand© Julian Apse - Tourism NZ
10 Amazing River Kayaking Tours in New Zealand

10 Best River Kayaking Tours in New Zealand

© Julian Apse – Tourism NZ
Article Single Pages© NZPocketGuide.com
Article Single Pages© NZPocketGuide.com
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The Best River Kayaking Locations in New Zealand

New Zealand’s landscape is known for being the grandest and most pristine in the world and the rivers are no different. Used by early Maori for transportation, the New Zealand rivers still make amazing journeys through wild and wonderful environments. What’s more, you have an overwhelming choice of rivers to explore with more than 180,000km (111,847 miles) of mapped rivers in New Zealand. To whittle your options down to a more digestible list of 10 amazing river kayaking tours in New Zealand!

No two kayaking trips are the same in New Zealand, with some tours taking you to natural hot springs and others passing through landscape featured in The Lord of the Rings movies. There are even night kayaking tours to see New Zealand’s glowworms. What’s more, you don’t have to be an experienced paddler to enjoy all this with tours usually giving an introductory lesson before the trip.

1. Whanganui National Park

New Zealand’s longest navigable river is home to the Whanganui Journey Great Walk (you know, that Great Walk that’s not a walk?) Canoe or kayak on a multi-day journey through and wild and beautiful Whanganui National Park – an area long forgotten with relics left by the early Maori and Europeans. There’s even a bridge called The Bridge to Nowhere. The forest and river have now taken over this national park that’s well worth exploring by kayak.

Location: Whanganui National Park, Manawatu-Wanganui, North Island.

10 Amazing River Kayaking Tours in New Zealand© Visit Ruapehu

2. Rotorua

Pick your adventure: relaxing river kayaking along the Ohau Channel between Lake Rotorua and Lake Rotoiti, splash around in the white water of Okere Falls, or enjoy an evening kayaking trip with River Rats Raft Kayak. Find out more on Viator or Tripadvisor. Plus, Rotorua has heaps of lake kayaking options too so find out more in our 10 Best Kayaking Lakes in New Zealand!

Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, North Island.

10 Amazing River Kayaking Tours in New Zealand© Julian Apse - Tourism NZ

3. Havelock

Kayak down the very same river that was used in the filming of The Hobbit and see why Sir Peter Jackson chose to feature this fantasy-like environment. Paddle past waterfalls, along moss-covered gorges and down a few fun rapids of the stunning Pelorus River. Book your trip with Pelorus Eco Adventures on Viator and Tripadvisor.

Location: Havelock, Marlborough, South Island.


4. Bay of Islands

There are many awesome reasons to kayak up the Waitangi River in the Bay of Islands! If kayaking through the unique ecosystem of a mangrove forest doesn’t excite you then perhaps get as close as you can to the impressive Haruru Falls will! Plus, you’re sure to see lots of birds and fish along the way. It’s just one of the 7 Water Activities in the Bay of Islands. Book your trip with either Bay of Islands Cruise & Kayak (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Coastal Kayakers (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Bay of Islands Kayaking (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and The Rock Adventure Cruise (on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Location: Waitangi, Bay of Islands, North Island.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

5. Tauranga

Paddle under a galaxy of glowworms in the Mclaren Falls Park outside of the city of Tauranga. Glowworm kayaking tours start with a snack on the shores of Lake McLaren before following one of its narrow streams into glowworm grotto making a unique addition to kayaking in New Zealand! Book your trip with Waimarino on Viator and Tripadvisor.

Location: Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, North Island.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

6. Taupo

Kayak on New Zealand’s longest river, the mighty Waikato River, from the North Island town of Taupo. Not only is this a great river to kayak for beginners, but a stop off at the natural hot spring at Spa Park is an added bonus! Book your Waikato kayaking tour on Viator or Tripadvisor. Plus, check out more things to do in Taupo!

Location: Taupo, Waikato, North Island.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

7. Te Anau

Kayaking is not just kayaking in Te Anau. Your kayak is an inflatable kayak that you can pack into your backpack with your paddle folded on the side. It’s called packrafting and it’s a way to get to all those hard-to-reach locations in the Fiordland National Park by kayak and by foot. Join a day trip down the Waiau River then walk the Kepler Track.

Location: Te Anau, Southland, South Island.

NZPocketGuide.com© NZPocketGuide.com

8. Punakaiki

Experience untamed wilderness on the wild West Coast of the South Island. Punakaiki might be known for its unusual Pancake Rocks, but venture up the Pororari River into the Paparoa National Park thick with rainforest and you’ll be overjoyed with having left the tourist trail.

Location: Punakaiki, West Coast, South Island.

ogwen on Wikipedia© ogwen on Wikipedia

9. Wanaka

Lake Wanaka is the start of the mighty Clutha River. This river has a great mix of peaceful river sections with crystal clear water and some playful rapids. All of this to the backdrop of stunning mountainous landscapes. Book your trip with Paddle Wanaka on Viator or Tripadvisor. See more things to do in Wanaka with our 10 Wanaka Must-Dos.

Location: Wanaka, Otago. South Island.

pixnio© pixnio

10. Ruahine Forest Park

Another awesome river for multi-day kayaking or canoeing adventures in the Rangitikei River. Experience this forgotten area of the North Island as you delve through the deep river gorges of the Ruahine Forest Park. There’s plenty of white water excitement to be had too, as well as Lord of the Rings filming locations.

Location: Trips depart from Ohakune, Manawatu-Wanganui, North Island.

 Jeff Hitchcock on Flickr© Jeff Hitchcock on Flickr


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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