First published on 15 May 2012. Updated on 23 Nov 2012.
No other city can boast such a range of beautiful places to go kayaking. Deep gorges, dense bushland, sandy beaches, wandering creeks, mighty sandstone outcrops – Sydney has it all.
Time Out asked Tony Carr, the owner of leading kayak touring company Freedom Outdoors, to identify his list of the ten best kayaking sites in and around Sydney. It’s much more fun to go with a group, he says – and safer for the capsize-prone – and Tony and his team lead paddles every weekend to a selection of 21 locations. Top quality kayaks are brought in on trailers – all you do is turn up and have fun.
Here’s Tony’s Top Ten (in no particular order):
1. Bobbin Head and Historic Cowan Creek
“In 1889 it was proposed that this spot become the capital of the new Commonwealth of Australia, complete with antipodean versions of Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. When you paddle it you’ll discover why the politicians of the time were so entranced by this glorious waterway. Surrounded by steep hills covered in dense native bush and with boutique beaches all over the place, you can even identify the spot where Governor Jersey declared Ku-ring-gai Chase the world’s fourth National Park in 1894.”
2. Brilliant Berowra Waters
“It’s a paddler’s paradise – beautiful bush, steep cliffs with quaint houses nestled below, fascinating history from the convict era and some glorious, sheltered places to pull in. This protected waterway is part of the Hawkesbury River system and offers a great day out. Calabash Bay is the location of the Ruined Castle – the remains of the San Souci hotel transported block-by-block 130 years ago from the southern suburb and reassembled on the clifftop to await the throngs of visitors that never came. Picturesque Neverfail Bay and Bennett’s Bay are other highlights. For afters, don’t miss the $2.50 chocolate mousse back at the Berowra Waters Fish Café at the marina."
3. Dora Creek on Lake Macquarie
“Worth the hour's drive along the F3. There are three waterways to explore – Sandy, Stockton and Dora Creeks – and a total of 28km of bushland and urban scenery to meander through. All against a crescendo of Bellbirds, creating a wall of sound that would impress Phil Spector. Lovely spots to stop for a stretch, lunch etc. If you’ve got the time – and the kayaking expertise – poke your nose out into the lake and head for Shingle Splitters Point (name changed from ‘Spitting’ when spitting in public became illegal) or mysterious Pulbah Island. But be warned: the lake, over four times larger than Sydney Harbour, is very wind prone.”
4. Georges River and Chipping Norton Lakes
“Can you believe this picturesque series of lakes and creeks linked by the Georges River is actually manmade? When the sand mining finished, the landscapers moved in. These days the area attracts over 50 different species of birds including egrets, pelicans and the sacred ibis. And there are thriving stands of casuarina, eucalyptus and angophora. On one of the creeks you’ll see literally hundreds of bats and ibis at close quarters. There are wonderful, sheltered sandy pull in points to be enjoyed.”
5. Perfect Pittwater in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
“Colourful Pittwater, famous for its myriad bays and coves, where you can cruise to Elvina and Lovett Bays, made famous in the Susan Duncan book, Salvation Creek. The western side is the most interesting, away from the mega-houses and scampering yachts and powerboats. Take a walk through the bush to the waterfall mentioned in the book and paddle the Creek itself. There are two beautiful sandy beaches on Morning Bay and the spectacularly located YHA Hostel. Land on the beach at Scotland Island. Further north, the Basin awaits … but beware: National Park rangers patrol and are demanding $4 from kayakers before they will let them land.”
6. Colo River/Blue Mountains World Heritage area
"'The last pristine river in NSW’ is how the National Parks & Wildlife Service describes it. Just waiting to be discovered by eager kayakers – a lush riverscape with mainly native heath vegetation and abundant wildlife backed by steep sandstone cliffs. A 4kph speed limit means few boats! Start where the Colo meets the Hawkesbury and make your way up to a spectacular sandy beach for lunch and a swim. Just over an hour from the CBD on good roads. Sensational!”
7. The Creeks leading into Narrabeen Lagoon
“This Northern Beaches lagoon supports a wide range of threatened flora and fauna, but it is under threat of urban development. The community group Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment is working relentlessly to ensure the trees remain and the townhouses go elsewhere. Explore the astonishing Deep Creek, which attracts migratory birds from as far away as Russia, and Middle Creek, which has recently been the subject of a substantial remediation programme. An easy paddle suitable for less experienced kayakers.”
8. Inner islands of Sydney Harbour
“No visit to Sydney is complete without a paddle around the inner Islands of the harbour, upstream from the Bridge. Start from Onions Point in Woolwich, explore the historic Woolwich Dry Dock and ogle at the pleasure craft of the rich and famous. Then track across to the southern shore – and back to land at the Cockatoo Island slipway. Spend a couple of hours lunching and exploring the fascinating convict history and industrial architecture. Do this on a still day. Boat traffic and wind – especially a southerly – can create chaos out there.”
9. Nepean Gorge and the Blue Mountains National Park
“Pristine wilderness in a World Heritage-listed National Park with its steep and breathtaking landscape. Starting at Penrith, head for ‘The Narrows’, then get into the Gorge and National Park itself. The most beautiful part of the day follows, where it’s serene, peaceful and narrow. Short walk to spectacular lookout. Compact beach for lunch. Plan carefully though – this is a long day. It’s 26km and has only the two landing spots. Put up with the sore shoulders, though, and this may become your favourite Sydney waterway.”
10. Lane Cove River
“A tranquil waterway, located close to the centre of a city, that will leave you feeling totally relaxed. It’s a gentle, meandering river with tree-clad banks, impressive sandstone rock formations and a fascinating history. From end-to-end about 7km. Fairyland was the Luna Park of the 1920s and remnants remain. Australia’s most intriguing murder mystery occurred on these banks – the Bogle-Chandler case, a history worth Googling before you set off. Explore the river from the weir at Fullers Bridge to the harbour. Avoid early Wednesday evenings, when 90 kayakers descend upon the place and race its length at high speed.”
Not all paddles are suitable for everyone.
Care should be exercised in involving those under 14 years of age.
Always carry adequate water, food, supplies and clothing.
Wear enclosed footware.
Check the weather forecast.
A first aid kit is essential.
Life vests must be worn on most waterways.
Paddlers should be proficient in self-rescue.
And finally, never paddle alone.
Getting started: You can explore these kayaking hotspots with your own group if you’ve had some practice, but start off with an instructor like Tony or others across Sydney. It’s a great way to make some friends and get in some exercise. Day, weekend and longer trips are organised. Tony hires out boats from $55 per person – and he makes a contribution with some of the money to a NSW environmental cause – and he regularly holds sessions for beginners. Check out the Freedom Outdoors website for the latest list of paddles – Freedom Outdoors. Email Tony to book on email@example.com or call 0417 502 056.