A beginner’s guide to flatwater kayaking trips on the West Coast

TPP Outdoor Education Tutor Zak Shaw




The West Coast is blessed with lake paddling options. Most are well sheltered by lush mature podocarp rain forest and offer excellent views of the mountains on clear days. The following trips are well suited to canoes and sea kayaks.

Great beginner trips

  • Lake Brunner – Mitchells to Eastern Hohonu River via Bain Bay Campsite
  • Lake Brunner – Iveah Bay swamp forest paddle
  • Lake Kaniere – Hans Bay to Sunny Bight via Canoe Cove
  • Lake Mahinapua to Mirror Creek return
  • Lake Mahinapua – Mahinapua Creek to Hokitika golf course.

 What to think about before you go

  • Weather forecast – West Coast weather is dramatic with rain falling in high volumes at any time of year. Heavy rain and strong winds are the two weather factors that will jeopardise your safety on kayaking trips so check the forecast a few days in advance and on the day of your planned trip. Strong winds not only make paddling more difficult they also have the potential to blow kayaks and people away from the safety of the shoreline and into open water. 
  • Access – all of the above trips are accessible via formed roads and are suitable for two wheel drive vehicles. Regional council and Department of Conservation maintained facilities exist at each location providing toilets and campgrounds.
  • Consider downloading the Topo50 topographical maps app before your trip. The app will aid in trip planning. The GPS function allows you to monitor you location throughout your trip. 

 What gear to take

The amount of gear you will need will largely depend on the weather forecast. In addition to your paddling equipment I recommend taking extra thermal clothing layers to the start point of your trip. Once you’ve arrived make decisions about how much clothing to wear based on the daily temperature, likelihood of a change in the weather, time of day and water temperature.

  • Sun hats, sunscreen and sunglasses – be sure to protect from prolonged exposure to the sun. NZ’s ozone layer is very thin resulting in burn times of just several minutes. Sunglasses drastically reduce the glare. Consider wearing a pair you don’t mind losing in case you drop them.

 Be mindful of safety

  • Ensure you’ve got enough food and drinking water (this could be stored in a dry bag and clipped to outside of your kayak) to sustain yourself for the duration of your trip.
  • If you’re a beginner kayaker avoid kayaking solo.
  • Be mindful that after periods of heavy rain the water levels of West Coast lakes can remain high for long periods. High water levels results in there being very few spots to get out of the water in the case of a capsize. Trees situated along the shoreline become inundated by water resulting in very few spots to rest or stretch. 

 How to make the most of your paddle

  • Timing! My best flatwater paddling days on the West Coast are often when the winds are very light. Getting on the water either early in the day or later in the afternoon will increase your chances of paddling in mirror like conditions. In still conditions (particularly in Mahinapua Creek) the podocarp forest reflects itself back into the water magnificently. In my opinion this is the best part of the trip!

 * With 20 years’ experience in paddle sports, Zak Shaw has paddled whitewater rivers and sea kayaked extensively around the world. Prior to joining the TPP Outdoor Education tutor team in 2012 he completed several exploratory whitewater kayaking expeditions in the Himalayas and worked as a polar tourism sea kayak guide throughout the Arctic and Antarctic.