By Eugene Buchanan
Most of the country is experiencing some of the coldest winter in recorded American history. But this cold spell shall pass, and before long it’ll be time for figuring out where to spend your vacation days. We have listed our top sea kayaking trips for those looking for adventure out on the ocean. So bundle up, grab your cocoa and start making plans for the summer to one of these sea kayaking hot spots.
Glacier Bay, Alaska
A lot has changed since John Muir first visited Southeast Alaska’s Glacier Bay in 1879. For one, the area has been protected as a 3.28-million-acre national park only 60 miles northwest of Juneau. For two, Grand Pacific Glacier, which carved the bay, has receded 20 miles, opening up countless fjords and bays for sea kayaking. As well as offering 16 tidewater glaciers to explore, the area offers another bonus: one the world’s best chances to witness the stages of plant succession left by a retreating glacier. Outfitters: Alaska Discovery, (907) 586-1911; Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks, (907) 697-2257.
Baja, California, Mexico
Whether you want to cajole with whales, swim with seals or sip a margarita while watching the sun set from a secluded beach, Baja, Calif., 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 Bahía Concepción, Los Angeles and Las Animas on the Sea of Cortez side; and San Quentin, 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. Outfitters: Baja Expeditions, (800) 843-6967; Adventures Baja, (800) 231-7422.
Kadavu Island, Fiji
When Captain Bligh floated by the Fiji islands after being set adrift by the crew on The Bounty in 1789, little did he realize that the cannibal-infested islands would soon become a Mecca for sea kayakers. More than 97 percent of Fiji’s 709,000 square kilometers is water, meaning plenty of exploration room for paddlers. And as well as being home to more than 300 islands–only a hundred of which are inhabited–Fiji is also located midstream in the equatorial current, spelling fish-laden waters for fishing and diving. If you like the idea of being able to snorkel and fish from your kayak, drink ceremonial kava with village chiefs, and bask in tropical warmth, Fiji is the forbidden fruit for paddling. Outfitters: Tamarillo Active Travel, tamarillo.co.nz
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
With the best-developed conservation program in the world–where 27 percent of the country is protected and 11 percent is included in the country’s national park system–Costa Rica is an adventure traveler’s dream. And with more than 635 miles of coastline along the Pacific, a majority of this traveling is best done sea kayaking. Topping the list of Costa Rican hotspots for sea kayaking is Manuel Antonio National Park, with white sand beaches, an evergreen littoral forest, a dense tropical jungle, rocky islets and crystal clear waters. If you’re there at the right time, you can also see endangered sea turtles come to bury their fragile eggs in the park’s beaches. Outfitters: Rios Tropicales, (800) 231-7422; Costa Rica Expeditions, (011) 506-23-9975.
Johnstone Strait, British Columbia
A narrow passage separating British Columbia’s northern Vancouver Island from the mainland, Canada’s Johnstone Strait is a paddler’s playground with countless sheltered inlets, islands and estuaries. Perhaps the 40-km-long, 4-km-wide strait’s most alluring feature, however, is the chance to paddle among orcas; Johnstone Strait is considered by many to be the world’s best spot for watching killer whales in the wild. Proof lies in the nearby Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, established in 1982 to protect killer whale habitat. Other wildlife paddlers can encounter include seals, eagles, dolphins and bear. Outfitters: Canadian Outback Adventure Co., (800) 565-TREK.
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, 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. Outfitter: Maine Island Kayak Co., (800) 796-2373, www.maineislandkayak.com.
If paddling in a James Bond setting is what you’re after, grab a sit-on-top kayak and 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. Outfitter: Sea Canoe, www.seacanoe.com.
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. Outfitter: New Zealand Adventures, (503) 932-4925.
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. Outfitter: Kayak Kauai, (800) 437-3507, Outfitters Kauai, (808) 742-9667.
Yes, Botswana. This summer, Boulder, Colo.'s Natural Habitat Adventures debuts its first-ever paddling trip across the country's Okavango Delta, promising wildlife, wetlands and a coveted stamp in your passport. The trip will be led by famed paddler Olaf Malver and involves a 120-mile, point-to-point kayaking expedition. The 8-day trip will be offered twice in 2014–July 29-August 5, and August 12-19–and involve paddling 5-7 hours per day, with one layover day, while traversing the delta's varied habitats. Paddlers can expect to see hippo, crocodile, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, zebra, warthog, kudu, impala, reedbuck, bushbuck, waterbuck, red lechwe, sitatunga, lion, leopard and more—perhaps even the cheetah, sable and wild dog. "It's one of the most wildlife-intense areas in Africa," says Malver. "To meet Africa in silence that's broken only by the drip of a paddle, the call of birds and the rustle of wildlife in the reeds is a wilderness experience available to very few modern-day safari-goers—it's a chance to meet nature in a humbling and rewarding way, for those willing to work for it." The expedition begins with a short chartered flight from Maun to Nguma Island in the permanently flooded northwestern Okavango Delta. It finishes at Moremi Crossing, followed by a return flight to Maun. A 4-day, 3-night luxury safari camp extension is also offered in conjunction with the trip. Outfitter: www.nathab.com/expeditions.