Spin 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.