On-the-water activities in NSW: Kayaking, SUPing, whitewater rafting & more

With a vast coastline, endless lakes and rivers, the opportunities for water activities in NSW abound. Whether you want to kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboard – or just chill out on a houseboat – here’s where to have a watery adventure.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Jun 2024 -
min read

Kayaking & canoeing 

There are endless opportunities for kayaking in NSW, whether you want to explore the ocean, rivers or calm estuaries.  

Clamber into a glass-bottom kayak with Region X and peer right through it to see the stingrays, fiddler rays, blue swimmer crabs, octopus and fish inhabiting the sand flats, mangroves and seagrass beds of Cullendulla Creek. The creek, at Batemans Bay on the South Coast, is part of a protected marine sanctuary and this particular way of seeing the marine life is super eco-friendly while still being lots of fun. 

There are all sorts of ways to explore the rugged sandstone escarpments and rolling eucalypt forests of the Greater Blue Mountains, a magnificent one million hectares of wilderness on Sydney’s doorstep. One of the most unusual ways is by kayak. Here, Southern Cross Kayaking leads paddlers on trips through the secluded Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp, a pristine stretch of the Cudgegong River in Wiradjuri country. Feel life slow down as you drift along, birdcalls and the gentle splash of your paddle the only sounds you’ll hear. 

 People kayaking down the Ganguddy Dunns-Swamp with Southern Cross Kayaking - Kayak and SUP Hire, Wollemi National Park

Southern Cross Kayaking, Wollemi National Park - Credit: Southern Cross Kayaking

There is something inspiring about getting up close to an ancient tree, its sheltering branches and sturdy trunk a testament to its enduring strength – and the river red gum forests of the Riverina and The Murray, standing sentinel along the region’s waterways, are particularly memorable. Hire a kayak in Deniliquin, a two-hour drive west of Albury, to get close to these riverside giants and you will discover that each tree is an ecosystem of its own, with hollows in the trunk or branches creating habitat for flocks of parrots and other birds. Or explore the Edward River canoe and kayak trail, which winds through the Murray Valley National Park

Go kayaking in the Myall Lakes (on the north coast, not far from Newcastle) with Lazy Paddles. This part of NSW is home to one of the state's largest coastal lake systems – it also boasts more than 40km of beaches that you can bliss out on after your paddle. 

Lazy Paddles located in the Tea Gardens community on the Myall River, Hawks Nest

Lazy Paddles, Myall River

The Macquarie Marshes, near Coonamble, between Dubbo and Lighting Ridge, is one of the largest remaining inland semi-permanent wetlands in south-eastern Australia. It includes extensive areas of phragmites reeds, river red gum woodlands and mixed marsh floodplains, and was listed as a Ramsar wetland of international importance in 1986. Companies like Macquarie Marshes Kayak Tours give you a front-row seat to this natural drama.  

When the snow melts in the Snowy Mountains, pristine waters flow into streams and rivers. Kayaking and canoeing in the warmer months is popular in the Tumut, Goobarragandra and Snowy rivers. Alpine River Adventures and Snowy Mountain Kayak Adventure offer guided tours, including multi-day paddling expeditions. 

Stand-up paddleboarding

Work your core while you explore the stunningly beautiful NSW South Coast and really feel alive with Coastlife Adventures, which offers SUP tours off the coast of Merimbula – a prime spot for spying dolphins and whales – and along the serene Bega River. Meanwhile, Stand Up Paddle Boarding Shellharbour offers private and group sessions, including sunrise paddles, after dark paddles and a SUP in the surf for experienced paddlers. 

On the Coffs Coast, you can try stand-up paddleboarding while taking a deep dive into Aboriginal culture, language and history with Indigenous-owned Wajaana Yaam Adventure Tours.  

Other splendid natural waterways for paddling include Kangaroo Creek at Audley in the Royal National Park, and the Hacking River estuary in Bundeena. If you’re in Byron Bay, take in the ocean with Let’s Go Surfing or Ballina Stand-Up Paddleboarding, with the chance to spot dolphins, turtles and all manner of birds while you glide.   

Further afield, Lord Howe Island is a beautiful location to paddleboard, with pristine waters and a mountain backdrop. Rent a board from Dive Lord Howe.

People stand up paddleboarding off Neds Beach, Lord Howe Island

Stand-up paddleboarding off Neds Beach, Lord Howe Island

Whitewater rafting

Dramatic gorges, hoop pines towering above lush understorey, wedge-tailed eagles soaring overhead: the scenery along the Upper Nymboida River as it flows through the Nymboi-Binderay National Park near Coffs Harbour is spectacular, but few people ever get to see it. There are no paths along the riverbank, so the only way to admire this verdant wilderness is on the river itself. 

Join a rafting tour to experience the two very different sides of this untamed river. Feel the rush as the water cascades over grade four rapids, shooting you downstream, then let your heart rate slow once you reach the calm pools which punctuate the rapids. This is part of the Clarence Canoe and Kayak Trail, the largest whitewater trail in NSW.  

Longest whitewater trail in Australia with The Clarence Canoe and Kayak Trail, Nymboida

The Clarence Canoe and Kayak Trail, Nymboida - Credit: My Clarence Valley/We Are Explorers

Adventure seekers can also whitewater raft in the Barrington Tops in the Hunter and the Oxley Wild Rivers, near Armidale in the New England high country. Nearby there’s the Gwydir River, 30km southwest of Inverell, which flows through rugged hillsides lined with tall eucalyptus trees and granite cliffs. 

Or try the Murray River, which cuts a technical, winding path through the alpine rainforests of the Snowy Mountains, creating exciting Class IV rapids as it makes its way through a landscape of incredible beauty. Rafting Australia offers guided tours.  

Whitewater rafting in Sydney? It’s a thing at Penrith Whitewater Stadium. Jump into the natural rollercoaster of a rushing watercourse, initially built for the Olympic Games in 2000. Today, it’s the only human-made river of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere with 14,000 litres per second of raging whitewater, roughly guiding you through a course filled with obstacles.   

Couple enjoying white water rafting at Penrith Whitewater Stadium, Penrith

Penrith Whitewater Stadium, Penrith - Credit: andre&dominique

Houseboat holidays

Imagine rolling out of bed and leaping straight into the refreshing waters of a gently flowing Australian river. Wake up differently by booking a houseboat with fave friends or family – and enjoy the thrill of all-day dive-bombs, an ever-changing view, cruising along with the waterbirds and perhaps even hooking dinner from the river.  

Head to Moama, on the New South Wales-Victoria border, home to Executive Houseboats, or point yourselves towards Able Hawkesbury River Houseboats at Wisemans Ferry north of Sydney to make houseboat magic happen. 

Water skiing & wakeboarding

Lake Mulwala, an hour’s drive west of Albury in the south of NSW, is a man-made reservoir created along the Murray River. Ski, wakeboard or kayak this stunning lake that is punctuated with ghostly river red gums. Mulwala Water Ski Club, the world’s largest licensed water ski club, houses a pro shop that can help out beginner to advanced skiers with all their needs. 

Nearby in the southern Snowy Mountains, Lake Jindabyne is a reservoir so vast it’ll take your breath away. There are more than three hectares of the lake to explore on water skis or a wakeboard. 

The Shoalhaven River on the South Coast and Hawkesbury River just north of Sydney are other picturesque locations to ski and wake. Meanwhile, Lake Macquarie is the largest coastal saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere and an aquatic playground for everyone.  

Wildlife watching

Each year from May to November, more than 40,000 humpback and southern right whales make their way along Sydney’s coastline in their annual migration from Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Pacific. There are excellent vantage points along the NSW coast where you can see these giants of the deep at play.  

Head to Newcastle, a two-hour drive north of Sydney, to see the whales and their calves breaching, tail-slapping and pirouetting with CoastXP Tours or Nova Cruises. The experiences might also include sightings of dolphins and New Zealand fur seals, as well as a great offshore view of Newie. 

In beautiful marine parks along the coast you’ll have the chance to see dolphins, turtles and hundreds of colourful fish species. Check out Cape Byron Marine Park, near Byron Bay (nearby in Tweed Heads, whale watching is also big business); the Solitary Islands Marine Park, near Coffs Harbour; Port Stephens Great Lakes Marine Park, in Port StephensJervis Bay Marine Park in Jervis Bay; and Batemans Marine Park, in Eurobodalla. You can also get up close with playful seals at Barunguba Montague Island.  

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