New Zealand travel series: overnight kayaking

We got down and dirty with New Zealand during this part of our trip. We had experienced the luxuries and were ready to experience the untouched parts of the beautiful land. And I must say, the sounds of south New Zealand might forever be the most breathtaking place I’ve been.

Click here if you want to learn about our 17 hour flight to New Zealand, click here for our travels in the north island, and here for our travels around the south island.

Getting There

Starting in Queenstown, we drove to Te Anau, which is about a two hour drive. Our only reason for being in Te Anau was our bus picking us up the next morning at the crack of dawn. It was a cute little town that has some outdoor exploring attractions, but our main goal was to eat some dinner and get packed up for what the next day held.


Our accommodations for the night was a hostel called Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers which served its purpose for a bed for the night. I have stayed in plenty of shared rooms at hostels before, but this was our Honeymoon so we splurged for the private room and shared bathroom.

We booked our trip through a company called Go Orange who does many of the guided tours through New Zealand. You can book our exact trip here. The bus picked us up bright and early from our hostel at 6:00am and took us to the ferry in Manapouri. When booking your kayaking trip, you are given the option of meeting in Manapouri at the ferry dock or getting picked up in Te Anau. We originally wanted to stay in Manapouri in order to not have to take the bus (about an hour ride), but everything decent was already booked. I would suggest booking accommodations early in Manapouri so you don’t make the same mistake we did!

New zealand kayaking 1.jpg

After the ferry, we took yet another bus to our remote kayaking location.

Once arriving at the starting location, time is taken to carry the kayaks and supplies down to the water and packing the kayaks with all the necessary equipment/food is a feat in itself. Each overnight trip has no more than 8 people (4 kayaks) each.

What Go Orange provides:

  • Kayak

  • Waterproof bags

  • Tent, Sleeping bag (For rent), Sleeping mat

  • Thermal layers, wetsuit, life jacket, and rain jacket

  • Cooking supplies for dinner at the campsite

What we brought:

  • Our own sleeping pads and down quilt

  • Personal rain jacket

  • Food

  • Clothing for underneath wetsuit and sleeping

  • Personal items/toiletries

Everything provided and brought for the trip was stored in the compartments of our kayaks, which also means that if you tip over, it’s going to get wet. It also meant we were not able to refrigerate food that we brought and made deciding what we were going to bring to eat significantly more difficult. We decided on these options and were pleased:

  • peanut butter, jelly, and bread to make sandwiches

  • soup from a can

  • a couple rolls

  • Yogurt we thought would keep cold long enough until we ate them

  • fruit snacks and granola bars

  • some apples (also good with peanut butter)

  • beef jerky, crackers, and cheese

All of this food had to be stored in the kayak for the majority of our trip, but we kept the granola bars and fruit snacks in our life jacket so that we had some snacks on the water as well as plastic water bottles strapped to the kayak that were easily accessible.

New Zealand kayaking 2.jpeg

Our trip was advertised a kayaking through Doubtful Sound. During the experience our guide educated us on all the terms of the land. We learned that a sound is a narrow stretch of water connecting two areas of water and the narrow water ways stretching out from the sound are referred to as “arms”. The typical sound that people visit in New Zealand is Milford sound. However, Doubtful Sound is considered just as gorgeous with a fraction of people.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 2.54.06 PM.png

We started our kayaking trip at the Manapouri Power Project Shipping dock and paddled up to the island you see north of it, up into crooked arm, then back down into Hall Arm where our campsite was located. There is a certain level of physical fitness that is required to paddle this much and D and I both were popping advils because our backs were hurting from the kayaking position. However, it truly felt like we were in another world that was untouched by civilization.

New Zealand kayaking 6.jpeg
new zealand kayaking 5.jpeg
New Zealand kayaking 4.jpeg

Go Orange has a campsite that is specifically set up for these overnight excursions that is not able to be seen while out on the water. Hidden in Hall arm, they have set up an area where kayaks and clothes can dry off from the day out at sea and a communal tent set up for hanging out and making food. Sand flies were everywhere and ridiculously annoying, so needless to say, we were relieved to have somewhere to escape the bugs and eat. Campsites are cleared for tents and a drop toilet father along the path is located for convenience.

Morning view from the campsite

Morning view from the campsite

Although the weather was favorable while we were out on the water, it dropped significantly when it came nighttime. We brought our own sleeping pads that blow up to about 3 inches (find them here) compared to their pads that are similar to a thin cushion. This makes all the difference for me while sleeping, but a cushion is better than nothing so don’t worry if you cannot bring your own sleeping pad. D had recently received a sleeping quilt rated for 15 degrees for backpacking and was excited to use it for the first time during this trip. I did not want to carry my sleeping bag around New Zealand, so I rented one from them to use for the night. I would have been freezing in the sleeping bag they provided if it wasn’t for D trading me his fancy sleeping quilt knowing that I would not sleep from being so cold. Thank God for husbands. Keep in mind the time you go and plan accordingly for temperature overnight.

Day 2 on the water

Day 2 on the water

The next morning while we were packing up the kayaks, we spotted a pod of dolphins swimming by about 20 feet away from us. Naturally, we all stopped in awe for the next 10 minutes watching them swim by. Once we all stopped obsessing over the dolphins, we were off to do some more exploring before heading back to the power shipping dock where we changed into some dry clothes and took the bus back to Manapouri.

New Zealand Kayaking 10.jpeg

Overall, we had a phenomenal time on this trip that allowed us to see a different part of New Zealand. Our tour guide through Go Orange clearly had a passion for kayaking and the country as he told stories, educated us, and laughed with us through the duration of our trip. We were exhausted and full of wonder heading back to Queenstown and then home after this experience. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or a thought about this part of our New Zealand experience!

Click here if you want to learn about our 17 hour flight to New Zealand, click here for our travels in the north island, and here for our travels around the south island.