I’ve been kayaking a few times – on the sea in Abel Tasman, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia, and along the river in the centre of Melbourne – but none of those experiences prepared me for sea kayaking in Byron Bay.
WHY IS SEA KAYAKING IN BYRON BAY THE BEST?
There are two main reasons why kayaking in Byron Bay stands out. First, you have a very good chance of seeing dolphins, and possibly even a whale or sea turtle, and second, the waves get really big! This was the first time I’ve ever been warned beforehand that I have an almost 100% chance of capsizing.
EXPLORE AUSTRALIA WITH CONTIKI…
…AND HAVE NO REGRETS
Our sea kayaking experience was part of a two-week adventure with Contiki between Sydney and Cairns. This ‘BEACHES AND REEFS‘ trip took in some of the most iconic sights, such as the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef, while providing daily opportunities for adventure activities. We jetpacked, we surfed, we skydived, we rafted, we bungied, we cracked whips, we sailed and we partied. If you’re searching for a way to make lifelong friends and to guarantee your Australia travels are fun from start to end, this is the tour for you.
When we arrived beside the beach at the Cape Byron Kayaks shack, they told us they had a special on shark repellent. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little bit apprehensive.
They began by teaching us the best technique for paddling and then asked us to pair up. Here’s where you should think tactically.
– The person in the back should ideally have some kayaking experience as they’ll be steering the boat.
– The person in the back should ideally be the stronger of the two of you.
– It’s quite hard work and your arms might ache for a couple of days afterwards.
– If neither of you knows what you’re doing, you have a very good chance of capsizing.
If you’re after a work out, by all means volunteer to take a back seat or pick a lazy partner, but if you’d rather watch the marine life and have a more leisurely ride, grab a guide before someone else does!
ENTERING THE WATER
When you reach the beach, they ask you to head out through the surf one kayak at a time. If you go first and fall out, everyone else will see it happen. If you go last, you can try to learn from everyone else’s mistakes, but you’ll have more paddling to do to catch up with the rest of the group and you might still be clearing your nose of saltwater when everyone starts to move on.
The trick to not capsizing is to point the head of the boat directly into the waves. If you feel yourself turning, you only have a second or two to correct it before the wave spins you around and tips you out.
OUT AT SEA
Once you’re passed the breaking waves, you can relax a bit. There’s much less chance you’ll capsize, although a couple of our boats still managed it by crashing into each other.
The guides are really good at spotting sea life and leading you all as close as possible while respecting the animals’ boundaries. Despite my shockingly poor luck with dolphins in the past, we saw a pod swimming very close by and they hung around for a while as we floated with the currents.
We also spotted a sea turtle and the tell-tale expulsion of water from a whale’s blowhole on the horizon.
Even out in the deeper water, the swells of the waves were disconcertingly large, providing continuous excitement.
With all of the wildlife, the hilarity of people falling out and the surprise of an especially large wave every now and again, you won’t want the experience to end, but they take you back to the shore after a couple of hours because you’ll start to feel the cold and people will begin to get tired. Not only is kayaking tough on the arms, but your position in the boat means that you have to keep your legs and/or stomach tensed to remain upright as you paddle.
Coming back out of the sea was the highlight of the trip. With large waves breaking and pushing forcefully towards the beach, it took some skill to keep the kayak pointing forward.
As with entering the sea, the best technique is to aim to keep the boat at a 90 degree angle to the waves. This is easier said than done. Attempting to use your oar as a rudder works less well when you find yourself balancing precariously on the top of a wave. Suddenly, your oar is only meeting air, the boat is spinning sideways and you’re being flung into the surf.
If you do fall out, don’t worry too much about keeping hold of your oar as you can retrieve it when you’ve come back up for air. The most important point to remember is to keep an eye out for the boat. Despite your helmet, you don’t want the force of a wave-propelled kayak to the back of your head. I can say from experience that capsizing is actually a lot of fun and so is watching most of your friends follow suit.
After carrying the equipment up to the grass behind the beach, they ask that you rinse out your wetsuits and life jackets and hang them up to dry. There are no changing rooms, so it’s worth taking a large towel and a warm set of clothes with you. It can get quite chilly, especially in winter or on a windy day.
Cape Byron Kayaks provide a selection of hot drinks and a few packets of Tim Tams to help speed up the recovery process. The kayak shack is only a few minutes’ walk from all central Byron accommodation, so you can then rush off for a hot shower, and possibly a well-earned massage for those aching muscles.
I experienced Cape Byron Kayaks as an optional extra on Contiki’s Beaches and Reefs Tour from Sydney to Cairns, which was sponsored by Contiki. While they requested that I write about my trip, the choice of topics has been left entirely up to me. Any opinions expressed are a genuine reflection on how I feel about the experience.