New Zealand’s subtropical northern peninsula is nothing less than a water sports paradise.

This natural playground is stunningly beautiful and embraces 1,000 kms of unspoilt coastline, eight glorious harbours and hundreds of offshore islands. The east coast offers an endless string of sheltered bays and pristine beaches, separated by craggy headlands and rock gardens – a great playground for sea kayaks. The west coast beaches are overlooked by towering sand dunes that hold back the fury of pounding surf.

Between these two extremes lies a gentle land of rolling hills and regenerating stands of the venerable kauri tree. This is primarily kayaking country as the river systems have no chance to build substantial flows with year round sunny skies and low rainfall.

The most familiar of the lively little Northland waterways is the Waitangi River which offers a fun ride through ten Grade 2 rapids dropping over volcanic lava ledges, and separated by quiet stretches. The put in is at Puketona Junction on S.H.10 and the take out follows a 1.5 metre drop into the Lily Pond, before the river plunges over the Haruru Falls.

The Wairua is the largest river, rising in hill country west of Hikurangi and traversing a swampy wilderness to join the tidal Wairoa River near Dargaville. The put in is down a farm track off Puketitoi Road – where transmission lines cross the river. The rapids are 2 km downstream and beyond them the river slows to reach the take out pool, before the Wairua Falls.

Northland’s longest stretch of good technical Grade 3 whitewater is in the Mangakahia River, which also flows into the Wairoa. The put in is the bridge on the Kaikohe-Donnelly’s Crossing Road and the exit is onto Waimatenui Road before reaching Twin Bridges.

All of Northland’s whitewater rapids need above average flows to perform well. Watch for snags and overhanging willows and check out the waterfall locations before commencing your run.

If you feel the magnetic pull of sunny Northland, be sure to follow the circular scenic route known as the Twin Coast Discovery Highway. Sling a kayak on your roof rack and be on the look out for boundless opportunities to paddle in sheltered inlets, placid lakes and rollicking rivers.