Canoeing & kayakingin the Northern Territory
Explore the water and rocky escarpments lining Darwin’s coastline from a canoe or kayak. Nothing can beat a day of paddling that’s sure to give you a unique perspective of the Top End.
Canoeing & kayaking around Darwin
With thousands of kilometres of coastline and a network of incredible lakes and lagoons, Darwin is a paddler’s paradise.
Harbour & beaches
Darwin Harbour is a beautiful spot for kayaking but only for experienced paddlers with a sea kayak. The harbour is busy with both recreational and shipping traffic so make sure the area you want to explore is out of the way of the shipping channel. Darwin is also the home to crocodiles and sharks so remember to be Crocwise.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the harbour, the enticing ocean water is perfect for a paddle. Mindil Beach, Casuarina Beach and Nightcliff Beach are all patrolled by lifeguards in the dry season (May to October). If you’re an experienced paddler, bring your sea kayak down to the beach. Just remember to stay between the red and yellow flags and follow all signs and directions given by lifeguards.
Kite Corner – so named because of the windy conditions ideal for kites and kite surfing – is also a popular spot for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding on the Nightcliff foreshore. Darwin Fun Supply is a local hire company that regularly sets up-to-hire kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. Check out their timetable, call ahead to book and they’ll meet you there with all the equipment you need. Lessons can also be provided individually or as a group to those with limited experience. Finish the day off with a lovely dinner from the food vans situated nearby.
For those looking to turn their paddling into a more competitive sport, Darwin is home to several canoe and paddling clubs that regularly host training sessions and come-and-try days. The Darwin Outrigger Canoe Club is based at the Ski Club while the Arafura Dragons Paddlers Club is based at the Cullen Bay Marina.
Lagoons, lakes & dams
Lake Alexander on the East Point Reserve is one of the most popular kayaking spots in Darwin. The artificial lake is big enough for an interesting paddle and it’s safe to swim in so it’s ideal for beginners. Darwin Fun Supply have a regular visit schedule so you can get out and about with friends or family. BBQs, playgrounds and public toilets are nearby so you can really make a day of it.
An hour’s drive south of Darwin is Lake Bennett, an artificial freshwater lake surrounded by private cabins, bungalows and the De Lago Resort. It’s safe to swim with access available to the public only through the resort. Canoes and kayaks are up for hire. Many of the private cabins that are available for hire come with canoes, kayaks, small boats and other swimming toys you can use during your stay if you don’t have your own.
Darwin Waterfront Recreation Lagoon is also a great spot for a quick paddle. The lagoon is surrounded by a sea wall and is patrolled by lifeguards so it’s safe for swimming. For parts of the year, an inflatable obstacle course is accessible in this area with kayaks and stand-up paddle boards available as part of your ticket.
Manton Dam was originally Darwin’s first drinking water supply but now it’s known as the place to get out on the water. It’s popular with jet skiers, power boats and water skiers. The dam is split into areas for particular activities, so seek out the canoeing section in the low-speed boat zone for an enjoyable day on the water. The Manton Dam park area has BBQs, picnic tables and toilets that are open from 9am to 5pm weekdays and 8am to 7pm on weekends. Swimming isn’t recommended as there’s the potential for saltwater crocodiles to be present. Be Crocwise and follow all signs.
Canoeing & kayaking in Katherine
Katherine’s intricate river systems and rich cultural history gives you lots to take in during your visit. Take a guided tour or bring your own craft for a relaxing and idyllic day on the water.
The stunning Nitmiluk Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park is a sight to behold. During the dry season (June to October) Nitmiluk Tours has canoes available for half-day, full day or overnight hire.
Gorge one and three aren’t accessible for kayaking, but the other gorges offer you a river experience that requires a range of different paddling skill levels. Incorporate an overnight stay at the 4th, 6th or 9th gorge campsites to complete your canoeing experience. Check out the canoeing guide and then book your permit from the visitor centre for your adventure.
The beautiful sandy beaches, rocky gorge walls and unique native wildlife give lots for you to explore. Animals are most active at the start and end of the day so if you’re looking to spot the local residents of the gorges, pick a paddle time that suits.
Further out from the gorges, Katherine River runs through the town of Katherine and out to the Daly River.
Gecko Canoeing and Trekking offer a range of canoe tours that get you deep into the heart of the region. Choose from a 3-day Katherine River tour or a 6-day Katherine Flora Daly Rivers Explorer which combines canoeing with camping for a true Territory experience. You’ll rest at a designated campsite toward the end of the day and enjoy a campfire dinner accompanied by undisturbed views of the stars.
Canoeing & kayaking in the Red Centre
Being in the middle of the desert, you might think that Tennant Creek has no canoeing or kayaking opportunities. Tingkkarli/Lake Mary Ann, just north of Tennant Creek, is a popular place for families and water enthusiasts to take a dip or enjoy a spot of kayaking and canoeing. You’ll need to bring your own craft with you but it’ll be worth it for the cool and relaxing time you can enjoy on the water.
Alice Springs has its own fair share of surprising paddling spots with a number of waterholes perfect for canoeing and kayaking. Along the West MacDonnell Ranges, the Glen Helen Gorge, Redbank Gorge and Ormiston Gorge are both suitable for kayaking. Other waterholes along the ranges are too small for paddling but are great for a chilly desert swim.
If you want to see something incredible, check out the Central Desert Canoe Club. Mixing canoeing and polo, they put on a impressive show in Alice Springs’ local pool.
With such a warm climate, canoeing and kayaking in the Northern Territory can be great fun but it’s important to stay safe.
Follow all signage and only canoe or kayak where it’s marked safe to do so. If you’re not an experienced paddler, make sure you learn somewhere that’s safe to swim and always Be Crocwise.
Check if the park is open
Before heading off on a great adventure, make sure you check whether your paddling spot is open. Many natural waterholes in the Top End are closed during the wet season when it’s unsafe for swimming and paddling.
Be aware of submerged objects
Natural waterholes can have unpredictable depth changes and can be hiding submerged objects like rocks and branches that can cause serious injury or damage to your craft. Take note of signs, especially in the waterholes of Central Australia, where these submerged objects are common.
Even in the shade you can get sunburnt. Remember to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on your sunglasses.