FEW SPORTS OFFER THE ONENESS WITH NATURE OF SEA KAYAKING
Whether you're paddling among whales, seals, tidewater glaciers, kelp beds or sandy inlets, touring kayaks take you to the heart of nature on its terms. Ready to give it a try? Put paddle to water in the following 10 top touring locations in the world.
Glacier Bay, Alaska
When John Muir first visited Southeast Alaska's Glacier Bay in 1879, the Grand Pacific Glacier was gnawing at the mouth of the bay. Now, more than 120 years later, the glacier has receded 20 miles, marking the fastest measured glacial retreat in the world. The result: a 3.28-million-acre, fiord-filled national park perfect for exploring by sea kayak. Located only 60 miles northwest of Juneau, the area lets you paddle up to 16 tidewater glaciers and follow a unique succession of plant life as you work your way up the park's two main arms.
Prince William Sound, Alaska
With a new road to Whittier now complete, Alaska's 15,000-acre Prince William Sound is more accessible to paddlers than ever. Located a mere 60 miles from Anchorage, the wilderness area offers more than 3,500 miles of shoreline to explore, with countless bays, passages, islands and inlets to keep you happy for months. It also comes with a series of forest service cabins that can be rented to keep you free of the area's infamous drizzle. As well as tidewater glaciers, expect wildlife, including whales, seals, sea otters, salmon, eagles, bear and deer.
Baja, California, Mexico
For sea kayaking Jimmy Buffet-style, head to Mexico's Baja Peninsula, where you'll find sunsets, seals and sandy beaches every day. Whether you want to cajole with whales, swim with seals, or sip a margarita while watching the sun set from a secluded beach, Baja, California, boasts some of the best warm-water and warm-weather sea kayaking to be found on the planet. Food can be easily procured from the sea, the weather is cooperative and views from the cockpit are as tranquil as the water. Hot spots include Espiritu Santo, Loreto's Gulf Islands, and Bahias Conception, Los Angeles and Las Animas on the Sea of Cortez side; and San Quintin, Lagunas Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio, and Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific. If it's 40-ton California gray whales you're after, head to the latter; they end their 5,000-mile-long migration from the Bering Sea there every January.
Vanatau Island, Fiji
Like the idea of being able to snorkel and fish from your kayak, drinking ceremonial kava with village chiefs, and basking in tropical warmth? Put Fiji on your list of must-paddle areas. With more than 97 percent of Fiji's 709,000 square kilometers comprised of water, there are plenty of places to paddle. The country is also home to more than 300 islands--only a hundred of which are inhabited--meaning solitude as well as sunshine. Located midstream in the equatorial current, the country's fish-laden waters making finding food a snap. And don't worry about any cannibal stories you may have heard. A lot has changed since Captain Bligh floated by the islands after being set adrift by The Bounty in 1789.
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
With 27 percent of the country protected and 11 percent included in the country's national park system, Costa Rica has the best-developed conservation program in the world. Combined with 635 miles of coastline along the Pacific, this makes it a sea kayaker's dream. Topping the list: Manuel Antonio National Park, with white sand beaches, endangered sea turtles, an evergreen littoral forest, a dense tropical jungle, rocky islets and crystal clear waters; and the infamous Osa Peninsula, a short flight from the capital of San Jose.
Johnstone Strait, British Columbia
If you want to see whale flukes from the seat of a kayak, head to British Columbia's 40-km-long, 4-km-wide Johnstone Strait. The narrow passage offers perhaps the world's best place to paddle among orcas. Proof lies in the nearby Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, established in 1982 to protect killer whale habitat. A narrow passage separating British Columbia's northern Vancouver Island from the mainland, the strait also features sheltered inlets, islands and estuaries. And whales aren't the only animals to call the passage home; other wildlife you can expect include seals, eagles, dolphins and bear.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Following 325 miles of pristine Maine coast, the Maine Island Trail, created in 1993 and passing directly through Acadia National Park near Penobscot, Maine, was the first water trail created in the U.S. For good reason. It offers paddlers a chance to explore portions of the state's 3,478 miles of coastline and islands, with pre-established launch points and campsites in protected bays. Most agree the crowning feature of the trail is Acadia.
If paddling in a James Bond setting is what you're after, head to the karst islands of Phuket, Thailand. Here you'll find towering columns rising straight out of Phang Nga Bay, water-filled caves that will have you leaning back in your boat to stare at stalactites, and narrow limestone passages that will force you to place your paddle alongside your craft to get through. All this comes with tropical beaches and clear, blue water that would give even 007 pause from his mission.
Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand
Little did Dutchman Abel Tasman realize when he spotted New Zealand 360 years ago that the South Island's crown jewel of kayaking would soon be named after him. Located at the north end of the South Island, Abel Tasman National Park boasts more than 37,000 acres to explore by paddlecraft, with sandy beaches for those wishing to camp beneath the Southern Cross and huts for those who prefer shelter. Look for abundant birdlife, seals, emerald-green waters, plentiful hiking trails--and, of course, friendly New Zealand hospitality.
Napali Coast, Kauai
Located on the rugged north coast of Kauai, Hawaii's Napali Coast, used as a trade route by ancient islanders, offers sea kayakers golden, sand beaches, towering coastal cliffs, ancient ruins, pristine snorkeling and at-a-glance beachcombing. It also boasts a variety of sea caves to explore both in and out of your boat, with a few even suitable for camping. If you want, you can also follow the path of the ancients by hiking the old stone path paralleling shore. But the currents and waves can be tricky; check with outfitter Kayak Kauai, (800) 437-3507; www.kayakkauai.com) beforehand.
Read more about the author Eugene Buchanan