Six of the Best: Sea kayaking adventures

The Kuna Yala (formerly San Blas Islands), Panama

This trip offers the best of both Caribbean worlds: idyllic castaway islands just large enough for a dozen palm trees, and village islands inhabited to their very edges by the Kuna people, who fled the Darien forests of eastern Panama in the 16th century. Kuna women are particularly photogenic, their forearms and legs covered in colourfully beaded sleeves and leggings. They also wear embroidered tops called molas, featuring marine life such as turtles, fish and dugongs. Trips run from January to March and cost $US2495 ($3188) (nine days). See 

Palawan, the Philippines

Picture Ha Long Bay in Vietnam or Guilin in China, then relocate their karst islands to tropical Palawan, the third largest and least populated of the Philippines' 7000 islands. As exhilarating as it is to paddle alongside 600-metre fins of limestone jutting out of the South China Sea, it's trumped by Palawan's underwater world. The days go like this: kayak, snorkel, kayak, snorkel. With more than 1700 species of corals and fish in these waters, it's like swimming in an aquarium. The icing on the cake is camping on small beaches surrounded by gargoyles of rock with no one else around. Trips run in March (prices and itineraries vary from year to year). See 

The Na Pali Coast, Hawaii 

The 27-kilometre paddle along the rugged and roadless Na Pali coast on the island of Kauai may be just a day trip, but it's a big day. Not only are you on the water from dawn to dusk, but it's billed as the "Everest of kayaking" for its challenging conditions. The reward is a chance to experience one of the world's most spectacular coastlines as few others do, up close and from sea level, nosing your sit-on-top kayak into sea caves inaccessible from land, stopping at remote beaches that see more turtles than tourists and, if you're lucky, paddling with an escort of dolphins. Trips run from April to September and cost $US240 ($307). See

New Ireland, Papua New Guinea

The term "last frontier" is used too often, but island hopping in the Bismarck Archipelago of far north-eastern Papua New Guinea (Kavieng, where the trip begins, is a 45-minute flight from Port Moresby) is the real deal. You're more likely to meet missionaries than other tourists and the people you do see, in villages where you camp each night and in dugout outrigger canoes on the royal-blue sea, will be as curious about you as you are about them. Trips run from April to September and cost $3500 (nine days). See

The Arctic, Canada

Sea kayaking takes expedition cruising in the Arctic to a whole new level. Nothing beats seeing a glacier calve before your kayak, keeping your eyes nervously peeled for walruses and polar bears (the Canadian Arctic has two-thirds of the world's polar bears), gliding past icebergs and ancient Inuit hunting sites, particularly when you know there's be a hot shower, a warm meal and a comfortable bed waiting for you on the ship when you wriggle out of your dry suit. Baffin Island Explorer trips run in August and September and cost $11,870 (13 days). See

The Yasawas, Fiji 

If heaven is a time and place, it's four o'clock in the afternoon in the Yasawas, the least tourism-affected archipelago in Fiji, north east of Viti Levu. That's when, after a few leisurely hours of paddling across glassy blues and greens, you come ashore to a singing welcome and warm handshakes from every man, woman and child on the island where you will pitch your tent that night. Kayaking here opens a door to a Fiji that still exists beyond the resorts, a Fiji where you might join an impromptu game of footy, chat with locals over afternoon tea or stargaze from the beach after dinner, before retiring to your tent. Trips run from May to October and cost $2250 (eight days). See

The writer travelled as a guest of Southern Sea Ventures, Kayak Kauai, No Roads and Peregrine Adventures.