Paddling paradises: Ten of the world's most spectacular places to see from the water

Bay of Islands, NZ

Dotted with 140 subtropical islands, the North Island's Bay of Islands is a marine playground, a tranquil location for an introduction to sea kayaking. Setting off from the beach at Paihia, a guided 'coastal discovery tour' with Coastal Kayakers follows the main shoreline, diverting around uninhabited islands to spot wildlife and hear Maori legends about this history-rich region. See www.coastalkayakers.co.nz 

Fraser Island, Queensland

An early-morning paddle at Kingfisher Bay Resort is the perfect wake-up call, one that gives an intimate insight into the natural wonders of the largest sand island in the world. Led by a resort ranger, this guided tour takes you from the resort jetty and along the Hervey Bay coastline, before retreating into the serene mangroves flanking Dundonga Creek. See www.kingfisherbay.com 

Lake Tahoe, CA

Whether exploring in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard, there's no more glorious paddling location than glassy Lake Tahoe. With a visibility of up to 21 metres, you can play 'spot the mermaid' in the impossibly blue water, taking time to explore secluded bays and beaches. For something a little different, try SUP yoga, a great workout for the core. See www.hmountainlotusyoga.com/supyoga/ 

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

This archipelago off the northwest tip of West Papua is the final frontier for expedition kayaking, with gin-clear waters rich with marine life surrounding a patchwork of jungle-covered limestone islands. This is nature in its purest form – no cars, no noise, no pollution; Kayak4Conservation is just one company offering eco-tours, staying in rustic overwater bungalows with proceeds supporting indigenous communities. See www.kayak4conservation.com 

Okavango Delta, Botswana

The annual floodwaters of the Okavango River trickle like a leaky hose, slowly fanning out across the arid delta and transforming the landscape to a watery wonderland. Paddling silently through hippo and croc-infested waterways in a kayak or traditional mokoro dug-out canoe is a transformative experience, and an essential part of a classic safari. See www.kayakbotswana.com, www.okavangohorse.com 

San Diego, CA

The rugged coastline near La Jolla, San Diego, was once the domain of smugglers and bootleggers, who set up shop in sea caves during Prohibition. Now an ecological reserve, you're now more likely to bump into a frolicking sea lion than rumrunners, with the playful pups often tagging along with paddlers. See www.bikeandkayaktours.com 

Yellowstone NP, Wyoming

In general, the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone are best admired from shore, with signs aplenty warning of the dangers of the boiling steam vents and acidic pools. A kayak tour on Yellowstone Lake, however, takes you past little-known geothermal features, including steaming underwater vents in remote basins inaccessible by land. There's also a good chance of spotting wildlife such as elk and bison on the shore. See www.geyserkayak.com 

Atchafalaya, Louisana

Moody and surreal, the everglades of Atchafalaya is the largest wetland in the USA, featuring submerged cypress forests and live oaks dropping with Spanish moss. Watch graceful egrets on the wing and alligators lurking on banks, with early morning mist adding to the otherworldly silence. Guided photography excursions or canoe rentals available through www.mcgeesswamptours.com 

Phang Nga Bay, Phuket

For 35 years, John 'Caveman' Gray has been leading sea kayak tours through beautiful Phang Nga Bay in Southern Thailand, the original eco-tour of the region. John's Hong by Starlight tour is still the perfect day out from Phuket, taking you into the hidden worlds of 'hongs', sea caves located in the midst of limestone karst islands. See www.johngray-seacanoe.com 

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Glacier Bay, Alaska

Whether on a guided day tour, or as part of a backcountry camping trip, kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park is the ultimate way to experience this wilderness, described by John Muir as "unspeakably pure and sublime". Wildlife sightings are plentiful, with playful marine mammals as well as black bear, moose and eagles all part of the mountain landscape. See www.glacierbayseakayaks.com 

See also: Ten amazing places you can only reach by boat

See also: Australia's 10 best places to see by kayak

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