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How to choose a kayak and 10 fantastic spots in Australia to use it

Buying a kayak for the first time and wondering which one to choose? We’re here to make it easier with this guide to choosing the right kayak for you. Plus, we’ll share ten incredible spots in Australia to take it for your first bucket list adventure.

Words by Gary Tischer.

Okay, how do I choose a kayak?

Kayaks come in different shapes and sizes, just like people. So, which one is the one for you? Most people start off with a plastic sit-on-top, which is great as they don’t require a big cash outlay. This is also good, just in case kayaking is not for you – although I’m yet to meet anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good paddle.

My kayak journey started with a sit-on-top plastic kayak. This was great as it easily fitted on the roof racks and made trips to inshore Moreton Bay islands like Coochiemudlo possible. We saw turtles up close, as well as dolphins teaching their young how to catch catfish. In a kayak, you can sneak up to feeding dugongs and birdlife while exploring the mangroves at high tide.

The upper reaches of the Tweed and Clarence rivers were explored on a sit-on-top (by me anyway). Shallow water and rocks weren’t a problem as the plastic hull might get a few scratches, but that was a small price to pay to spy platypus in their natural habitat. Sit-on tops are great to choose for your first kayak because you can get on and off them relatively easily. They also don’t break if you take them in the surf and get pounded onto the sand. Just remember your body is not as tough, so take it easy.

choosing a kayak

What to look for in a sit-on-top kayak?

Colour shouldn’t be the only deciding factor when it comes to choosing a sit-on-top kayak, as they do come in different shapes. Generally, the wider the kayak, the more stable it is. The problem with this is that the wider it is, the more difficult it can be to paddle. Length is a bit like this, too. Shorter kayaks are likely to be more manoeuvrable but slower and more difficult to paddle in a straight line or for longer distances.

My first kayak was 2.4m long, not too wide, but quite stable. I could paddle it around with my 10-year-old daughter on the back or an esky full of food and drink for an upstream picnic. I did fish off it – even caught the odd fish – and it handled small river rapids and surf breaks. A friend of mine got a sit-on-top that was shorter and wider but could never keep up with mine. Size does matter when it comes to choosing a kayak.

What do you want to do with your kayak?

Decide what you want you might want to do with your kayak and this will help you choose what model will best suit your needs. Hiring some kayaks first might be a good option. If you’re somewhere like Byron Bay, take a kayak tour to experience how they handle. Talking to the kayak guides about different models and your requirements will be useful.

If fishing is your main goal, then there are specific models best suited for catching a feed. There are even some that you pedal instead of paddle. Read our article below next if you’re keen on choosing a kayak for fishing.

how to choose a fishing kayak
Fishing kayak

What should I choose to go faster and further in my kayak?

To go further fast, choose a thinner and longer kayak. The problem is that the thinner the kayak, the less stable it becomes. If you have ever tried to get on a racing surf ski in the water, you have probably fallen straight off again. The good news, though, is that sea kayaks can be very stable as you sit in them, which lowers the centre of gravity.

Choosing a sea kayak will allow you to travel 20-30 kilometres in a day which then extends where you can explore. The Whitsunday Islands are a great place to explore with a sea kayak. Sea kayaks will allow you to load them up for multi-day trips so you can camp on deserted islands. If you have ever been to Whitehaven Beach on a tourist boat, it is even better when they disappear, and you have the beach to yourselves.

Suit yourself

Whatever you want to do or wherever you choose to go, there will be a kayak to suit you. Most people will be more than happy with a sit-on-top, and some people will want more. Suit yourself and enjoy the world from a different vantage point.

how to choose a kayak
Kayaking the Noosa Everglades © Jessica Palmer

10 fantastic spots in Australia to add to your kayaking bucket list

Whitsundays, Qld

No need to paddle everywhere – there is a ferry that will carry you and your kayaks out to Whitehaven Beach and collect you from a different spot.

Noosa River, QLD

Paddle or drive to Harry’s Hut then paddle as far as you like up the Noosa River for a tranquil day or multi-day trip. If you’re keen on this, read our RV Guide to the Noosa Everglades. Choosing a sea kayak is a good choice here, allowing you to travel further a lot easier.

Moreton Bay, QLD

Start with Coochiemudlo on a sit-on-top from Victoria Pt or paddle across to Peel Island in a sea kayak.

Byron Bay, NSW

Take a tour to paddle with dolphins and have the chance to see whales in winter.

Seal rocks, NSW

There are options here for ocean paddling or the quieter freshwater lake nearby.

Wilsons Promontory, VIC

Cold, clear water and plenty to see, including dolphins, seals and sea eagles.

Coorong, SA

Paddle across a series of saltwater lagoons experiencing a variety of wildlife including seabirds and seals.

Freycinet Peninsula, TAS

Plenty of places to paddle and the chance to see penguins up close.

Ningaloo Reef, WA

Explore the stunning coral close to the shore at World Heritage-listed Cape Range National Park.

Katherine Gorge, NT

You can travel as far as the ninth gorge in a canoe or kayak while getting away from the crowds. Just be prepared to carry/drag your kayak through a series of portages. Choosing a plastic kayak is the better choice here.

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