Seven International Kayak Trips to Dream About

©istockphoto/Anne-BrittSvinnsetSpin the globe. Look for chains of islands, twist­ing coast­lines, deep inlets. The sea kayak—fast, self-sup­port­ing, sea­wor­thy with a skilled pad­dler, and able to slip through nar­row pas­sages that keep oth­er boats out—is the per­fect vehi­cle for explor­ing these places. Here are sev­en far-flung places in the world to dream of explor­ing with a sea kayak. Truth be told: I haven’t pad­dled in these spots. Some­day I hope­ful­ly will!

Before you start plan­ning, start dream­ing and sav­ing. In addi­tion to a pass­port, these trips require seri­ous plan­ning, logis­tics, and kayak­ing skill. But those chains of islands on the globe are entic­ing enough to make it worth it.


greek-isles

Retrace The Jour­ney of Odysseus: the Greek Isles
Chances are good that you won’t get kid­napped by a Cyclops, stuck on the Isle of the Lotus-Eaters, or turned into a pig by a sor­cer­ess. But the Greek Isles are a great spot for kayak-based adven­tures, fea­tur­ing hun­dreds of islands, vol­canic sea caves, wind, intri­cate shore­lines with nooks and cran­nies, long cross­ings, and con­di­tions that can chal­lenge pad­dlers at any lev­el. Every­where you go will be steeped in his­to­ry, com­bined with a warm Mediter­ranean cli­mate. And who knows, maybe you can slay that Mino­taur every­one keeps talk­ing about.


virgin-islands

Lose Your Vir­gin­i­ty: The British and Amer­i­can Vir­gin Islands
Few peo­ple kayak in the Vir­gin Islands. When you look at the chart and the sea con­di­tions, it’s befud­dling why. The rea­son prob­a­bly has to do with logis­tics more than pad­dling. The British and U.S. Vir­gin Islands form an east-west chain, so a down­wind jour­ney fol­low­ing the trade winds from Vir­gin Gor­da to St. John or St. Thomas is entic­ing, with spec­tac­u­lar trop­i­cal scenery, unpar­al­leled marine life, and minor tide changes near the equa­tor, and an island that’s almost entire­ly nation­al park. The on-the-water crux moves will like­ly be cross­ing from Vir­gin Gor­da to Great Dog Island, and from West Dog to Tor­to­la. Find­ing places to camp legal­ly, fresh water, and how to get boats suit­ed to open water to the Islands will be the main plan­ning hassles—plus cross­ing an inter­na­tion­al bound­ary. But it may be a trip of a lifetime.


west-fjords

Go West­fjords, Young Man: The West­fjords, Iceland
If the trop­ics aren’t your thing, the far north might be. The West­fjords stick out from Iceland’s north­west coast like a hand, with deep fjords pen­e­trat­ing the penin­su­la. The region­al bounds with sea cliffs and mas­sive bird colonies. Less exposed than Iceland’s South Coast, the West­fjords offer some pro­tec­tion from Iceland’s chal­leng­ing sea con­di­tions, and var­ied routes for dif­fer­ent weath­er con­di­tions. Of course, weath­er can be intense this far north—but the near-eter­nal day­light of sum­mer gives you long win­dows for pad­dling. Expect wind, raw con­di­tions, and places where you’re not get­ting ashore easily.


island-of-skye

Prac­tice Your Brogue: Scotland’s West Coast
Sea kayaking’s mod­ern her­itage stems from Great Britain, and there’s no bet­ter place for sea kayak­ing than Scotland’s west coast. The Hebrides form two intri­cate island chains full of chal­leng­ing and mod­er­ate routes. The area is famous for the rugged land­scape of the island of Skye, and com­plex cur­rents between the islands. Where the sea flows through the chan­nels between islands, it forms famous tidal races that put fear in the heart of old salts: the Cor­ryvreck­en whirlpool, the Race of the Grey Dogs, and the Falls of Lora. Scot­tish weath­er is famous­ly raw, blus­tery, and fick­le, accents are thick, and the pad­dling is some of the best in the world.


newfoundland

Ice, Ice, Baby: Newfoundland
Every sum­mer, two things show up off the coast of New­found­land. Both are very big. Mas­sive ice­bergs calve off the glac­i­ers of Green­land and drift south­ward down Davis Strait, appear­ing in “Ice­berg Alley” off Newfoundland’s north­east coast in late spring and ear­ly sum­mer. In sum­mer and fall, one of the world’s largest pop­u­la­tions of one if it’s largest ani­mals, the west­ern Atlantic hump­back whales, come vis­it. They come close to the coast to feed on capelin. If that’s not enough nature for you, add some sea cliffs full of nest­ing puffins and north­ern gan­nets. These phe­nom­e­na often hap­pen at dif­fer­ent times of the year, but some­times you’ll get lucky and they’ll over­lap. Like most exposed loca­tions, the sea con­di­tions can be chal­leng­ing, with off­shore winds, ocean swell, and fick­le seas.


santa-catalina

Baja, But Dif­fer­ent: Dan­zante, Montser­rat, and San­ta Catalina
For­get the resorts of Cabo. For that mat­ter, for­get the stereo­typ­i­cal Baja sea kayak­ing vibe: big barge-like tandems, short days, and lots of loung­ing on the beach. The best way to expe­ri­ence Baja by kayak is to embrace its rugged­ness, vast dis­tances, and remote­ness. Pad­dle trips from Lore­to to Islas Dan­zante, Montser­rat, and San­ta Catali­na test your expe­di­tion skill and involve not-to-be-for­got­ten cross­ings between 9 and 14 nau­ti­cal miles: beware a build­ing El Norte, Baja’s infa­mous win­ter north wind. San­ta Catali­na, far into the Sea of Cortez, is famous­ly home to the world’s only rat­tle-less rat­tlesnake described by David Quam­men in The Song of the Dodo, which evolved on an island with nobody to rat­tle at.


wilsons-promontory-national-park

Pad­dle to the Prom: Vic­to­ria, Australia
This won’t involve a bunch of dressed-up teenagers. The Prom is Aussie-speak for Wilson’s Promon­to­ry Nation­al Park, the south­ern­most point on the main­land of Aus­tralia. Stick­ing out into the Bass Strait, the Prom offers beach­es, surf zones, head­lands to pad­dle around, and pro­tec­tion from the full brunt of the at dif­fer­ent times of the year. Any­thing jut­ting into the South­ern Ocean just a degree and a half from the “Roar­ing 40s” is going to be windy. The wind is an inher­ent part of sea kayak cul­ture down under, where sails are con­sid­ered a basic piece of safe­ty equip­ment. And there’s even a famous “squeaky beach” that actu­al­ly squeaks when you walk on it.

Renew your pass­port and start planning.