Pepin Island

Kayak trip around Pepin Island, Nelson.

Nelson is a city at the Northern end of New Zealand’s South Island. It is a popular holiday destination for tourists for many reasons including the many wineries, good mountain biking trails, a beautiful coastline and the benefit of being NZ’s sunniest region.

One popular kayaking spot is about a 20-30 minute drive, North East, out of the main town in a place called Cable Bay.

Cable Bay is the location of New Zealand’s first Trans-Tasman telegraph cable, the first time the country had been physically connected to another country. The other end of the cable was at Le Perous near the Australian city Sydney. The Maori name for Cable Bay is Rotokura.

There is a lovely beach at Cable Bay which is actually a shingle and rock spit that encloses the Delaware Inlet, behind it, and connects to Pepin Island.

This means that there is a great opportunity for launching a kayak, or other type of boat, from Cable Bay beach. You can paddle in an Easterly direction around Pepin Island until you reach the other end of Delaware Inlet, where if you have timed the tides right and there is enough water, you can continue paddling until you reach the back of Cable Bay beach, where you set off. See the annotated map below.

Source: Google Maps

The red line above shows the approximate route for kayaking around Pepin Island, a circular route. The start point is Cable Bay beach and the end is the back of Cable Bay beach in the Delaware Inlet. You could travel in the opposite direction if you wished.

The Delaware Inlet, despite having channels running through it from the river Wakapuaka is tidal so it is important to check the tide times if you wish to paddle through it.

This is a popular spot for fishing kayaker and day trippers, there are a number of guided sea-kayak tours here including the local Cable Bay Kayaks. When you visit, it is easy to see why so many kayakers are drawn here.

The Eastern side of Cable Bay leads to The Glenn, or Horoirangi Marine Reserve, a 1 km squared area where fishing is banned, designed to allow marine creatures the space to live largely undisturbed. Snorkeling and kayaking are two permitted activities here, and it is also worth a visit. I will try and write up a kayaking trip to the marine reserve soon.

The Pepin Island Trip

Inflatable kayak Pepin Island
The author and inflatable kayak at Pepin Island

The day we kayaked around Pepin Island was a weekday, February 12 2020, using our Z-Pro Tango 3, two people went and we took our lunch to have on a beach at the far side.

We traveled from Cable Bay to Delaware Inlet as per the map above. We checked the tides so that it was low tide when we set off and we would catch the incoming tide when we reached Delaware Inlet.

Transporting the inflatable kayak, as ever, was easy. It is a short, yet bendy, drive along Cable Bay Road from SH6 at Hira to the beach. Once there we unloaded and inflated the kayak on the beach.

In the water you have to be careful to navigate through a rocky reef that is in front of the beach, but it is not difficult to kayak through and over the rocks out to the open sea.

The Green Room Cave

About 100m or so from the start on the Western side of Pepin Island there is a nice cave to kayak through. You have to be a little careful as the waves can surge through, but it is easy enough.

We have been told that the cave is known locally as The Green Room. The rocks at water level are often a home for some large starfish, which I think are eleven-armed starfish, be sure to look out for them.


Pepin Island coastline is covered in coves and many are nice places to pull ashore for a moment or just paddle around in order to see the abundant wildlife.

One such cove is Fall Cove, here there are some rocks which you can paddle around. Shags and Oyster Catchers are popular birds on the rocks and foreshore. Here we saw seals playing in the shallow water off the cove’s beach.

A playful seal on their back at Pepin Island

There are plenty of opportunities to see seals at Pepin Island while paddling around.

There are often sightings of dolphins and even orcas here too from time to time, although we saw neither on this particular expedition.

The shallow sandy waters of Cable Bay and Delaware Inlet are good places to see some of NZ’s stingrays as they like to live and hunt on the sandy bottoms. Unfortunately we did not see any.

We carried on around in a clockwise direction, paddling through some rocks at Echinus Cove and round to Pier Cove where we stopped for a quick breather and some lunch.

Onwards again and we could see Maori Pa Beach in front of us. We had lovely sunny weather and this point and knew that we were almost on the final leg.

Maori Pa Beach

Maori Pa, Delaware Bay Beach (Pepin Island in the background)

Maori Pa, or Delaware Beach is a stunning, and often empty, beach named for obvious reasons, and there is still a Maori graveyard at the end, which should be treated with respect. We avoided this and paddled through the channel into the Delaware Inlet. This can be a bit choppy with a strong current at times, so be aware of that.

The final leg is the paddle around the inlet to the back of Cable Bay beach where the car was parked.


In all it only took us about 2 hours to compete this paddle. We did it relatively quickly and there is scope for a much more leisurely kayak if you wished.

Pepin Island kayaking is a beautiful round trip with opportunities to spot lots of wildlife and take in some caves and coves along the way.

There are two beautiful large beaches and plenty of places to stop off and enjoy the day.

Remember to try and get the tides right for kayaking in the Delaware, but if you don’t you can always paddle part-way around Pepin Island and just head back to the beach to finish.

As ever, it is important to watch the weather and get a good forecast as the waves can be quite choppy. We always advise wearing the appropriate safety gear such as a lifevest and taking a method of communicating, like a phone, just in case you get into any difficulties.

Image credits.

  • Main image: NZ Sotheby’s Intl Reality
  • Post images:
  • Map: Google Maps






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