10 amazing experiences all paddlers should try once

From gentle multi-day canoe trips to full-pelt whitewater rafting, warm-water SUP destinations to testing sea kayaks, these 10 paddles offer adventure in the bundle-load

1. Sea kayaking in Lofoten, Norway

A sea kayaking playground|Tomasz Furmanek/Visitnorway.com

A sea kayaking playground|Tomasz Furmanek/Visitnorway.com

Sat high in the Arctic circle lies the Lofoten archipelago, a chain of mountainous islands that jut straight out of the shimmering Norwegian sea, harbouring deep fjords, hidden inlets and surf-swept bays. The best way to explore them? By kayak! No other method will let you get up close to the granite walls of the Reinefjord, gawp at Flackstad’s rock faces from sea level or visit distant white-sand beaches.

The on-land opportunities are rife as well: Norwegian law allows wild camping on any unfenced land, so you can pitch up in some truly unique spots, cooking your fresh-caught fish over the campfire.

Then there’s the endless hiking and climbing only accessible by water and the UNESCO World Heritage village of Nusfjord with its brick-red fishing huts and turquoise waters. Unless you’re an experienced sea kayaker, we recommend joining a tour.

Difficulty: 3/5

2. Rafting in Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

UNESCO World Heritage Site meets world-class rafting |Český Krumlov/Libor Sváček

UNESCO World Heritage Site meets world-class rafting |Český Krumlov/Libor Sváček

The best way to visit Český Krumlov and its UNESCO World Heritage Site old city? By boat! The raft-able river of Vltava meanders through the town centre, offering a unique perspective of the town’s colour-washed houses, varied architecture and imposing, 13th century castle.

Rafting through the city centre takes about an hour, but you can also head out into the countryside and stop off at the numerous riverside guesthouses for a waterborne pub-crawl, taking in the lush green meadows and easy-but-thrilling weirs as you go.

Up the adventure-ante with a four-day trip along the river, starting at Vyšší Brod near the Austrian border, passing through Český Krumlov and ending at Boršov, with plenty of campsites to pitch your tent at along the way.

Difficulty: 2/5

3. Whitewater kayaking the River Etive, Scotland

Glen Etive is great fun and the Etive itself must be one of the photogenic rivers in Scotland #immersionresearch #ireu #adventuretechnology #sweetprotection #pyranha #kokatat #Glenetive #scotland #kayaking

Set in a valley with a single road snaking through the hills, the rushing Highland waters of the Etive are all that can be heard when you climb into your kayak. The paddling is perfection with an impressive mix of pool-drops and bedrock rapids, few portages, fun lines and plenty of adrenaline!

The highlight of this river is Right Angle waterfall. Standing at around six metres, the tricky 90° lead-in is easily avoided with a little help from friends as you launch in from the rocks river right, with only time for a paddle stroke or two before dropping off the lip.

A flat pool at the bottom makes this quite a safe waterfall, but beware, it has a tendency to suck stray boats (and occasionally paddlers) behind the curtain. For the inexperienced, tuck up, hope for the best and strike a pose for your photographer at the bottom!

Difficulty: 4/5 

4. The Coast to coast canoe trail, England

Coming soon: Paddling's answer to the coast to coast

Coming soon: Paddling’s answer to the coast to coast

It’s the Wainwright of waterways… or it will be when it’s completed in three years’ time. The Desmond Family Canoe Trail, named after media mogul Richard Desmond who donated £1.3 million to make the project happen, will link the East and West coasts, creating the first English canoe trail of its kind.

Starting in Liverpool, the 150 mile route will follow the Leeds and Liverpool canal and the Aire and Calder Navigation to reach the North Sea at Goole, East Yorkshire. It will cross 91 locks including Bingley’s famous Five Rise.

The route is still being prepared (although some sections are navigable now), so put it on your bucket-list for 2019!

Difficulty: 2/5

5. Rafting the Batoka Gorge, Zambia/Zimbabwe

Batoka Gorge is world-famous for its whitewater | Fotolia.com

Batoka Gorge is world-famous for its whitewater | Fotolia.com

With the one mile-wide, thundering Victoria Falls at its head, this section of the Zambezi river (or Slambezi, as its known to rafters) is an epic mix of big features, huge rapids and National Geographic-worthy scenery.

It kicks of with the wonderfully-named Boiling Point rapid, where the Zambezi hits the walls of the Batoka gorge to form a wild cushion wave. Then it’s on to Morning Glory, Devil’s Toilet Bowl, Washing Machine and 14 more Class 3 to 5 rapids for a series of ferocious whirlpools, monstrous chutes and massive wave trains before ending with Oblivion, the rapid responsible for more raft flips than any other in the world.

You’ll likely take a dip, but fear not, the water’s surprisingly warm… Numerous rafting companies operate here, with one day trips being the most popular, though multi-day paddles are also an option.

Difficulty: 3/5

6. Sea kayaking in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Caribean beaches await you|Wilderness Scotland

Caribbean beaches await you|Wilderness Scotland

Crystal clear waters, intriguing sea stacks and isolated lochs make the Outer Hebrides a must-do for any seasoned sea kayaker. Highlights include the islands of Loch Maddy, the sea caves around North Uist and the Barra archipelago, with endless options for seal spotting along the way.

The beaches here are white and sandy — more Jamaican than British — but don’t expect the weather to match. Howling gales and days of rain are more likely than bright sunshine, though it does make for interesting kayaking, at least.

If you’re an experienced paddler who can navigate at sea then organise your own island-hopping trip. If not, join a tour like Wilderness Scotland’s. They offer a six-day trip around the islands, focussing on North Uist and the Isle of Harris, staying at rustic coastal campsites along the way.

Difficulty: 3/5

7. Whitewater kayaking in Chateau Queyras Gorge, France

The Alps was SO sick! We paddled some big water and styled the lines! (Mostly ?) #Alpineboating #chateauqueyras #lifeisgood #whitewater #werner #pyrahna #sweetprotection #palm #astral #adventureardeche #whiewaterismagic

The pinnacle of many paddlers’ Alpine to-do lists and an enduring classic, Chateau Queyras is a white knuckle ride you’ll enjoy once you’re at the bottom, honest! Described by many as being like flushed down a toilet, albeit one with turquoise waters and a French chateau looming above,

Chateau Q, as it’s known, is by no means the hardest stretch of water in the Alps and at only a few minutes long, it is also one of the shortest. But this section is not for the faint-hearted! It’s an intimidating start for even the most experienced boaters as one by one you paddle into the mouth of the high-sided gorge towards a blind corner.

Paddling past the eddy of no return, the cliff walls close in, at times leaving you with little more than a boat’s width to paddle through. With a sticky tea cup eddy, and an unpleasant undercut half way down, the swim isn’t the nicest, either…

Difficulty: 4/5

8. Canoeing the Whanganui Journey, New Zealand

Serious backcountry that even canoeing newbies can enjoy

Serious backcountry that even canoeing newbies can enjoy

One of New Zealand’s government-managed “Nine Great Walks” isn’t really a walk at all. In actual fact it’s a five-day canoe down the Whanganui, New Zealand’s third longest river and a must-do for anyone roadtripping around the country.

What makes this canoe trip special is the sheer remoteness of it. The final three days of this 145 mile journey take you deep into Whanganui National Park where there’s no road access, no phone signal and no civilisation, just the occasional (very basic) backcountry hut. The scenery is spectacular with thick forests, deep-cut gorges, sandstone cliffs and cascading waterfalls. It’s easy to understand why the river is considered to be a taonga (a special treasure) by the Maori, who spent centuries cultivating its banks.

The paddling is suitable for novices — there’s nearly 100 rapids along the way, but none of them are graded above Class 2. Still, common sense, the right equipment and an adventurous spirit are 100% mandatory.

Difficulty: 2/5

9. Stand up paddle boarding in Oahu, USA

Hawaii: made for SUP adventures

Hawaii: made for SUP adventures | Fotolia.com

With warm, calm waters and a vibrant surfing culture, it’s no surprise that Hawaii made SUP the sport it is today. Sunset Beach, Oahu is the classic. Famed for its big wave surfing in the winter (it plays host to comps such as the Vans Triple Crown and Quiksilver Big Wave) conditions in summer are considerably calmer, so much so it has become a SUP hotspot. If the waves are gentle enough, you can even paddle the four miles to Waimea Bay, passing over coral formations on your way (pack your snorkel).

Other Oahu spots worth visiting are Ala Moana, with its beginner-friendly flatwaters and quiet Pops for a taste of paddling bumpy waves. On Hawaii, Keauhou Bay is a must-visit for the more experienced, with sea caves and cliffs at the south of the bay.

Difficulty: 1/5

10. Canoeing the Yukon, Canada

The ultimate backcountry canoe trip... just watch out for bears! |Government of Yukon

The ultimate backcountry canoe trip… just watch out for bears! |Government of Yukon

The ultimate backcountry canoeing experience, covering 460 miles of out-of-this-world Canadian scenery and lasting up to 16 days. Kicking off in Whitehorse, the Yukon snakes its way through historic gold rush territory all the way to the pioneer town of Dawson City.

The river is graded 1, so suitable for beginner paddlers, with just the Five Finger rapids to tackle, notorious for their role in capsizing many a boat during the gold rush (fear not, the channel has since been widened).

If the sheer river banks, lush forests and distant mountains don’t make you fall in love with the Yukon, then the wildlife will. Catch salmon for dinner, spot moose on the river banks and watch eagles soar above the rocks. Oh, and this is bear country, so be vigilant when you make camp along the riverside. 

Difficulty: 2/5

Taken from our Paddling issue, out now

Words: Hannah Johnson and Mary Creighton