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Paul Jurak

Australia is a country of beautiful coastline but seeing it from water level is incomparable.

Australia's national anthem is clear about this: home is girt by sea. It is a country of coastline – about 35,000 kilometres of it – and while you can drive parts of it and walk others, seeing it from water level in a kayak is incomparable.

There are countless kayaking opportunities across the country, both along the coast and in the rivers that vein the land, running from mild to wild and everything in between.

Here are 10 of the best kayak trips. HINCHINBROOK ISLAND, QUEENSLAND Australia's largest island national park is a double-edged sword for kayakers. Paddle the inside Hinchinbrook Channel and you'd be croc bait, but paddle the outside coast and you have one of the country's most spectacular sea-kayak trips. The island is best known to bushwalkers because of the presence of the spectacular Thorsborne Trail, but I've hiked the trail and I've kayaked the island's length, and the paddling wins hands-down. The island's steep peaks rise behind palm-lined beaches, while turtles and even the occasional dugong surface regularly from the sea. All the while, beaches and camps give easy access to many of the Thorsborne​ Trail's signature sights, such as Nina Peak and Zoe Falls.

Once you reach Hinchinbrook's northern tip, it's an island hop north – Goold​, Hudson, Coombe, Bedarra​, Dunk Islands – into Mission Beach. World Expeditions and Coral Sea Kayaking run kayaking trips along Hinchinbrook Island.

Hinchinbrook Island nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/hinchinbrook World Expeditions worldexpeditions.com Coral Sea Kayaking coralseakayaking.com.

NGARO SEA TRAIL, QUEENSLAND Though curiously listed as one of Queensland's "Great Walks", the Ngaro Sea Trail is a kayaking circuit through the Whitsunday Islands, linking a handful of short walking tracks. The complete trail loops around Whitsunday Island, but in reality you can make up the route yourself, picking and choosing islands, beaches and campsites depending on wind and ocean conditions. Walking trails along the way lead to expansive viewpoints at the likes of Whitsunday Cairn and Spion Kop (South Molle Island), and an Aboriginal rock-art site on Hook Island.

If you want to skip the long open-water crossing of the Whitsunday Passage, Salty Dog Sea Kayaking's water taxi service can deliver you and your kayaks to a variety of island campsites.

Ngaro Sea Trail nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/whitsunday-ngaro-sea-trail Water taxi service saltydog.com.au NINGALOO​ REEF, WESTERN AUSTRALIA To many it might only be Australia's other reef, but to a kayaker Ningaloo is Australia's true great barrier reef. Along the shores of Cape Range National Park, this World Heritage-listed ribbon of coral runs close to land, creating lagoon-like conditions for paddling. Roll overboard into the azure sea and you can be snorkelling among coral bommies, reef sharks, loggerhead turtles and a marine rainbow of fish. Capricorn Sea Kayaking runs a range of trips on the reef, from day paddles to five-day trips exploring a new section of reef each day.

Capricorn Sea Kayaking capricornseakayaking.com.au

FREYCINET​ PENINSULA, TASMANIA Let's make this clear from the outset: you won't see Wineglass Bay from a kayak when you paddle at Freycinet​. But once you've nosed around this peninsula's other bays and beaches, you probably won't care.

You can take the leisurely paddling path and join a three-hour kayak tour around Coles Bay, cutting across the foot of the Hazards mountains, or come for a night and kayak to a camp on Hazards Beach – from here you can walk across the isthmus to Wineglass Bay, after all. You might even want to settle in for a few days with an expedition trip to little-visited Schouten Island to camp among penguins and explore sea caves in your kayak.

Trips are operated by Freycinet​ Adventures.

Freycinet​ Adventures freycinetadventures.com.au

KATHERINE GORGE, NORTHERN TERRITORY Paddle into a classic slice of outback scenery. The centrepiece of Nitmiluk​ National Park, Katherine Gorge is a series of 13 gorges chipped into the Arnhem Land escarpment, and is a place best seen from a canoe.

Nitmiluk ​ Tours hires out canoes for half-day, full-day and overnight paddles into the gorge. A half-day of paddling will only get you into the first gorge, while a day in a canoe can take you into the second gorge, considered by many to be the most spectacular.

Paddlers prepared to camp can push through as far as the ninth gorge, though there are a series of portages –carrying your canoe over rock barriers between gorges – to negotiate. The Parks and Wildlife Commission publishes a canoeing guide.

Nitmiluk​ Tours nitmiluktours.com.au

SYDNEY HARBOUR, NSW

Few would dispute that Sydney is blessed with one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world, and while the multitude of water traffic on Port Jackson might be intimidating in a kayak, Middle Harbour is a paddling dream.

The waters in this harbour are more protected, making for typically gentle morning conditions. Sydney Harbour Kayaks runs four-hour "eco tours" that head under the Spit Bridge and through the narrowing harbour to the shores of Garigal​ National Park – luxury homes yielding to luxuriant bush – where tours glide ashore for morning tea before paddling back through Middle Harbour to Mosman.

Sydney Harbour Kayaks: sydneyharbourkayaks.com.au

NOOSA RIVER, QUEENSLAND If glass-smooth waters are your thing, the Noosa River is your place. Begin in shallow Lake Cootharaba​, making the short crossing to the mouth of the river and then into Fig Tree Lake. If you're lucky, the lilies here will be in bloom, providing a spectacular avenue of purple flowers.

From here the river contracts into the Narrows, where paperbark trees hang over the water and, at times, the river can be so still you feel as though you're sitting on a mirror. The river is lined with almost a dozen campsites, reaching almost to the headwaters (about 40 kilometres from Lake Cootharaba​), so paddle as near or far as you like. Kanu Kapers​ runs guided and self-guided trips.

Kanu Kapers kanukapersaustralia.com

SOUTH WEST TASMANIA Draw a circle 100 kilometres around any capital city and you don't expect a place like Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey. As you launch your kayaks from beside the remote Melaleuca airstrip, deep inside Tasmania's South West Wilderness, it's like paddling off the grid, with a week of unknown water and coastline ahead.

Roaring 40s Kayaking runs expedition trips through Bathurst Harbour and out into Port Davey, camping on and exploring little-visited beaches. You might wander into the largest Aboriginal midden in Tasmania, paddle through the gorge once known as Hell's Gates, or climb low peaks for a perspective on the waterways you've paddled.

If you fancy something a little shorter and more introductory there's a three-day exploration trip into Bathurst Harbour, staying at a permanent camp.

Roaring 40s Kayaking roaring40skayaking.com.au

PORT RIVER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA Marine encounters are one of the true pleasures of kayaking. I've paddled beside reef sharks at Ningaloo, dugongs around Hinchinbrook Island and orcas​ in Canada, but in Adelaide's Port River it's all about the dolphins.

The river is part of the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary, and is home to about 40 bottlenose dolphins. From Garden Island, Adventure Kayaking SA operates three-hour tours (and has kayak hire), paddling among beautiful old-growth mangroves, observing dolphins and exploring Australia's largest ship graveyard, which contains the hulks of around 40 vessels. All within 30 minutes' drive of Adelaide's CBD.

Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary naturalresources.sa.gov.au/adelaidemtloftyranges/coast-and-marine/dolphin-sanctuary Adventure Kayaking SA adventurekayak.com.au

LAWN HILL GORGE, QUEENSLAND

Far north Queensland's Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is laced with walking trails leading to the waters of Lawn Hill Gorge, but when it's this hot, wouldn't you rather paddle there? Hire kayaks are available near the ranger station, from where it's just a few minutes of paddling into the entrance of the upper gorge.

Cabbage palms line the banks, and turtles and freshwater crocodiles might be seen basking along the base of the cliffs. About a kilometre into the gorge, a barrier of rock blocks the creek, creating Injarri​ Falls. Here you can portage around the falls to continue through the gorge, but most will be content to tie up to the pier and swim a while before paddling back to the ranger station.

Boodjamulla​ (Lawn Hill) National Park nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/boodjamulla-lawn-hill/index.html

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