You've seen Sydney and its surrounds from rooftop bars, strategically positioned restaurants and mountaintops. But jump in a kayak, where you can watch at human-powered pace, from sea level, and you'll discover a whole new perspective. While you're at it, stumble across secluded swimming spots, hidden coves and magical forests.
Here are ten of Sydney's best locations for sea kayaking — from tranquil National Park-flanked rivers to secretive sections of the harbour. Make good use of daylight savings with a quick one-hour post-work paddle, set aside an entire day for exploration or pack your tent for a multi-day expedition. Every spot on this list has kayak hire nearby and most are accessible by public transport.
HAWKESBURY RIVER, BROOKLYN
Inspiration for Kate Grenville's The Secret River and muse to John Williamson, the mighty Hawkesbury flows for 120 kilometres — starting from its head at the confluence of Nepean and Grose rivers to its mouth near Broken Bay. Grab a kayak at Brooklyn and set off to see as much — or as little — of it as you desire. If you only have a few hours to spare, try circumnavigating Dangar Island. Or, if an entire weekend is in your pocket, paddle upstream and find yourself a deserted beach for camping. Hawkesbury River Kayaks can take care of gear needs and are open daily (with pre-booking a must).
PITTWATER ESTUARY, BAYVIEW
Pittwater has all the beauty of its more famous counterpart, Sydney Harbour, but a much smaller population. On the eastern side, the northern beaches peninsula limits development and, on the western, the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park stops it altogether. In fact, several spots, like Coasters Retreat, are only accessible by water. So expect your secret beaches to feel even more clandestine than usual, and don't be surprised to find dolphins crossing your path. Bayviews' Paddlecraft, located in Pittwater's south, offers kayak rentals from a few hours up to a few days. Be sure to book ahead of time to secure your kayaks. If you'd like to make a weekend of it, check out some of our favourite Airbnbs in the area.
NEPEAN RIVER, PENRITH
Beginning at Robertson in the Southern Highlands and ending 100 kilometres later — where it combines with the Grose River to form the Hawkesbury — Nepean stops 4.3-million Sydneysiders from going thirsty. Its best bit for paddling is the 25-kilometre stretch between Penrith and the Junction Reserve. It's tide-free, which allows you to travel in any direction you like. On the way, you'll pass through the stunning Nepean Gorge, which towers as high as 150 metres at some points. Keep an eye out for wombats, wallabies, pelicans, kingfishers and eagles. Rental kayaks can be found at Horizon Line for $15 per hour for a single and $25 per hour for a double.
MANLY WHARF, MANLY
Paddling around Manly means meeting fairy penguins, pulling up on secluded beaches and, if you're in action shortly after a downpour, quite possibly standing under a waterfall. The stunning waters of North Harbour can be traversed in anywhere from one-to-eight hours, and the calm waters means no prior kayaking experience is necessary. Take a picnic lunch with you, or reward your exertion with a touch of luxury by dining at one of Manly's many beachside restaurants. Manly Kayak Centre will hire you a single for $25 per hour or a double for $45 per hour, with a maximum of four hours on offer.
SPIT BRIDGE, MIDDLE HARBOUR
From Spit Bridge, Middle Harbour is your proverbial oyster. And you might well strike a literal one, too. Tiny golden beaches and waterfront parks are abundant here. Head westwards to explore beautifully protected bays like Willoughby and Sailors, or go further afield to Middle Cove. Meanwhile, on the east side, you'll find Chinamans Beach, Clontarf and Balmoral. For a bigger challenge, take on Grotto Point and make your way to Manly. Sydney Harbour Kayaks can sort out a kayak hire for you, starting from $25 per hour. Plus they offer free beginners' classes. While you're paddling on Sydney Harbour, you can also head all the way up to the Opera House with Sydney By Kayak.
ROZELLE BAY AND SURROUNDS, INNER WEST
For an urban escapa, get started in Rozelle Bay. From there, the scope of your journey will depend on how much time — and strength — you have stored up. Newbies (or those feeling lazy) needn't go far — there's always the option of dropping into Blackwattle Bay for leisurely long lunch at the Sydney Fish Markets. Meanwhile, keen paddlers can set about conquering the Balmain Peninsula — with stops at Cockatoo and Rodd islands along the way. Annandale Boat Hire can organise a kayak for you, starting at $49 for two hours. Tandem kayaks are also on offer for $79.
ROSE BAY, EASTERN SUBURBS
From Rose Bay, you have two options for a day on the water. On one hand, you can cling to the calm, shallow waters near the shore, travelling either northeast towards Vaucluse or west towards Point Piper. On the other, you can grit your teeth and make your way across the deep blue for Shark Island. Go on a weekday and there's every chance you'll have the island all to yourself. You need a National Park entry ticket to land, which is doable for seven bucks by calling ahead. Kayaks are available at Rose Bay Aquatic Hire, with two-hour bookings costing $40 for a single and $80 for doubles.
WORONORA RIVER, SUTHERLAND SHIRE
For a river that's essentially in the suburbs, the 36-kilometre-long Woronora transports you into a incredible variety of pristine natural beauty. Thankfully, much of it is flanked by the Dharawal State Conservation Area, as well as the Heathcote and Royal National Parks. Expect beaches, rocky platforms, thick forest and, in the middle reaches, steep banks. Leave time to explore tributaries like Loftus Creek (when the tide is high) or venture as far as Georges River. Kayaks, canoes and paddle boats are available for hire at The Boatshed. Singles are just $19 for the first hour, while doubles are priced at $28.
AUDLEY BOATSHED, ROYAL NATIONAL PARK
For a gloriously peaceful experience, Audley Boatshed is your starting point. Found in the northwest corner of the Royal National Park, it's perched on the confluence of two waterways. Here, you can choose your own adventure, be it a short paddle up Kangaroo Creek or a Livingstone-esque trip along the Hacking River — carrying you well away from crowds and into the wild woods. Kayak hire rates start at $25 per hour, but we recommend going for the all-day rate, set at $50. Aqua bikes are also up for grabs, and both rentals are available seven days per week.
BUNDEENA, ROYAL NATIONAL PARK
It's at Bundeena, just south of Cronulla, that Sydney gives way to the Royal National Park. Spend all day gliding around Port Hacking's impossibly clear waters and lazing about on pretty beaches, or get more daring with a trip up South West Arm Creek. Further west, the 26-kilometre-long Hacking River offers a more extended trek. Kayak hire is available at Bundeena Outdoor Adventures. Singles are $25 per hour or $75 for the day, while doubles are priced at $50 and $130 (respectively). The company also runs regular kayak adventure tours around the region.
Top image: Pittwater by Destination NSW
Published on October 16, 2020 by Jasmine Crittenden