Top 10 Paddleboarding Destinations - Top of the South
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the top of the South Island, be sure to check out these top paddle boarding destinations. Clear water, breathtaking coastlines and a friendly hello from marine life if you’re lucky. Recommended by us, the Moana team, fellow local paddlers, their friends and whānau.
Rarangi, Cloudy Bay, Marlborough
Talk about a flat water paddling paradise. High cliffs plunge into the sea creating great caves, tunnels and other formations that will keep you exploring for hours. There are a few small accessible beaches (most rocky) along the way that are great for the odd rest spot, but lots of time on the water so pack accordingly. Rarangi, Whites Bay and Robin Hood all have DOC managed camp sites and facilities.
This section of coastline can attract surf and swell, so due to the exposed nature of the coast you’ll need to check conditions before heading out. The area is a great wine growing country too, so it’s not all doom and gloom if you can’t get on the water.
Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park has some of the most scenic paddling spots in the world. Hands down. Sheltered coastline, inlets, rivers and stunning rock formations make up this special, and relatively untouched part of Aotearoa.
Access is sometimes difficult with gear, but several water taxi companies based in Kaiteriteri or Marahau will help get your gear where you want it and offer you options for drop off and pick-ups. You can also base yourself at one of the 20+ campsites and hut options, exploring at your own pace.
Be aware of the clockwork sea breeze in the area over summer, get out early and spend the afternoon getting some sun, or use the wind to introduce yourself to the joys of down winding.
Our personal favourite is the section between Onetahuti (Big Tonga) and Anchorage via Tonga Island Marine reserve, Shag Harbour and Falls River at Sandfly Bay, get the tides right and this trip really is a classic Royale with Cheese. Walking tracks and kayak options available also.
Buller River, Murchison
Hello white water playground. There are countless sections of the Buller River ready to challenge all levels of paddler. There are several great entry level sections but probably one of the most stunning is known as Newton’s. To get there, scramble down the bank just past the swing bridge attraction, about 18kms south of Murchison on the road to Westport. The most common and easily accessible takeout is Red Jackets/Harry’s Track, around 12km downstream at the start of the grade 4 Earthquake Run.
The Newton’s section is generally a grade 1 with high sided gorges and amazing granite rock formations, earthquake formed lakes and waterfalls cascading from native bush outlets. It is well worth the stop at the old mining tunnel for an exploration, but be sure to take a head torch.
There are still several spots that will need to be ‘scouted’ before running, but all are avoidable should you choose not to run them, a great little river run. Please remember that the river is a very different environment than ocean paddling, river and river rescue equipment, skills and knowledge is vital. Contact the Moana NZ SUP team for detailed advice and instruction in all things whitewater.
Image: New Zealand Geographic
Nelson Lakes National Park
The Lakes offer fantastic paddling, at any time of year. There are not too many places where you can paddle with such a stunning snow capped back drop with a car park and boat ramp at one end of the lake and 2 DOC huts at the other end.
Amazing beach forest laps the waters edge all the way round the lakes and several side tracks offer great little excursions should you wish to stretch your legs. It may be worth taking a rod and licence and trying your luck for brown trout that are said to be abundant in the lakes.
Short paddles to secluded stony beaches or full on day trips to areas that are only accessible by water, your call. There is a water taxi service available on both lakes that could drop off overnight gear and supplies. Lake Rotoiti is around 10kms long and Rotoroa around 15km, both are in alpine environs, and as result the weather can be extremely changeable, check all forecast and go prepared for almost anything.
Pepin Island, Cable/Delaware Bays
Situated a short drive out of Nelson, Pepin Island sits at the head of the famous Nelson Boulder Bank and on the edge of the Horoirangi Marine Reserve. Joined by a rocky beach to Cable Bay on one side and the tidal Delaware inlet on the other, this paddle has some rad options for all levels of paddlers.
Plan well and work with the tides to make a day of going all the way round, or a short paddle off the beach will get you to some awesome rocky points and beaches, and commonly, very friendly seals.
Rock jumps, snorkelling and some good fishing make the Pepin Island paddle a great destination for all. Delaware Bay and Cable Bays also offer some beauty surf options for the more experienced surf exponents, but please show respect to the locals, and share the love!
Pepin Island is more exposed than most other areas in Tasman Bay, so please check all forecasts before heading out.
Split Apple Rock, Kaiteriteri
Known for its iconic golden rough sand, crystal clear water and familiar faces come Christmas time, Kaiteriteri is a popular holiday destination for Kiwis near and far. Park up at the beach and have a play on the water, or gear up and paddle around to Stephen’s Bay towards the south or route to Marahu heading north.
Split Apple Rock (Tokongawha) is a very recognisable local landmark and only a short paddle away (approx. 5km return) and well worth a visit. If you head out early in the summer months you should avoid crowds and sea breezes, but over winter the crowds are almost non existent, the weather more settled and the paddling as stunning as ever. It’s a great paddle for all abilities that makes you feel like you are miles from anywhere, but just round the corner.
Mapua Estuary, Rabbit Island
Mapua Estuary is the largest tidal inlet in the Nelson Tasman region and as a result can move some large quantities of water. Working out the tides is an important part of planning a trip here, but if you get it right, the opportunities to explore are extensive.
Popular launch sites include the boat ramp at Mapua Wharf, Grossis point, the Mapua Leisure Park, or the boat ramp or front beach on Rabbit Island. Paddle in at the top of an incoming time and follow the current back again. Sheltered from the sea breezes but exposed to winds from south, the estuary is definitely a place for all abilities.
A Rabbit Island circumnavigation will offer a few more tidal challenges but a great full day paddle, with plenty of stops and swims. Add the bonus of a great selection of award winning restaurants’ and the Golden Bear brewery, the area really does have something for everyone.
Care should be taken around moored boats and the Mapua Wharf when the tide is running.
A short drive over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay offers some beautiful and rewarding paddles. The Coastline between Pohara and Wainui Bay has great short paddle and day trip options with limestone caves and rock formations within easy reach.
Further south to Taupo point and into the northern tip of the Abel Tasman National Park is great for more adventurous paddlers willing and prepared to explore. Heading west, Para Para, Puponga and Pakawau offer safe shore based family paddle options, while the Westhaven Inlet offers the more intrepid explorer some amazing tidal paddles up creeks and into bush clad lakes with towering limestone cliffs.
Keep driving to the end of the road to Anatori and you’ll hit some excellent West Coast Surf. Talk to Tony or Lisa at Golden Bay Kayaks at the southern end Tata Beach, for advice, lessons and rentals, they will see you right.
The “Sounds” is made up of several deep water sounds or Fiords with Queen Charlotte, Pelorus Sound and Kenepuru being the best known. Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds have heaps of short paddle options, accessible beaches and bays along the Queen Charlotte Drive and around Picton and Waikawa. Pelorus is a little less accessible, but totally worth the effort. Plus, water taxis can help you with gear and getting around.
In the Queen Charlotte Sound, Momorangi Bay and Anakiwa offer some of the nicest, and most accessible paddle options for all abilities. The shorter cross bay distances here can make a short paddle feel really intrepid. Accommodation of all types is plentiful so easy to make a weekend of it. The sounds are tidal and Spring tides in particular can offer a few challenges, while current is not a massive issue, the size of some of the bigger tides can mean you have a big carry from or to waters edge, should you get the timing wrong.
Call us biased but our own backyard and home to Moana SUP has to be up there with one of the best places to paddle. While Nelson is not known as a surf destination, when all the weather and swell gods are aligned and the appropriate tides don’t fall after dark, it does offer some great options for all levels of surfer.
By far the most consistent wave in the region, and definitely the best for SUPs, is the back beach bar at Tāhunanui Beach. It works best about 1 hour before and 2 hours after low tide, plenty of time to get a good session in. The waves are never crowded, most I have seen there are 4 SUPS plus a few surf skis, never seen a surfer there, as the waves are fat and not suitable for shortboards.
Waist deep water and knee to waist high waves, going left and right, with channels either side for easy paddle back to the line-up offer an awesome beginner surf option but on larger days, 200-300m rides are not uncommon.
If you’re not into SUP surfing and want more of a flat paddle, you can head out to Nelson’s famous Haulshore rock.
And there you have it. Ten tried and tested gems for paddlers of all abilities. Questions? Drop us a line, we’re always up for a yarn.