After decades of exploring, where do the boldest sea kayakers, whitewater boaters and canoe trippers fantasize about paddling? That’s the question that inspired Paddling Magazine to query some of our long-time contributors and favorite nomadic aquaphiles to ask after their dream destinations, most challenging expeditions and what a life of exploration really means anyways.
In this series of profiles, these exceptional water-wanderers share their top trips, best advice and biggest blunders. And whether their ambitious journeys were taken in the name of discovery, education, environment or glory, these legends affirm what we already know: There’s far more to explore by paddle than anyone could fit in a lifetime—but don’t let that stop you from trying.
[Check back in the coming weeks for the remaining profiles in this series.]
Paul Caffyn’s 1982 circumnavigation of Australia is one of the most remarkable journeys ever taken. Challenged by surf, cyclone and 100-mile-long stretches of cliffs, the 9,420-mile epic spanned 360 days. Caffyn also paddled around Japan, Great Britain, New Zealand and the entire 4,700-mile coastline of Alaska, challenging the limits of what was thought possible with a double blade. And all without the aid of GPS.
Location: South Island, New Zealand
Latest Project: Caffyn worked as a mining geologist until he retired in 2002. Earlier this year, he co-authored The Search for the Deepest Hole in the World, a history of deep caving expeditions in New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea (you can find out more from his website).
Q & A with Paul Caffyn
1One destination I dream of returning to is…
the east coast of Grønland. This location captivates me because of the dynamic, unforgiving coastline, with thousands of years of maritime history.
2One trip I dream of paddling but haven’t yet is…
the Northwest Passage from Inuvik east to Greenland. This trip excites me because it feels like unfinished business.
3My biggest pet peeve is…
getting my feet wet in icy seas and river delta mudflats.
4One thing I can’t live without is…
my two-piece, lightweight carbon fiber paddle.
5The greatest advice I ever got was…
“stay seated for the entire performance,” and that was from Australian veteran paddler Crocodile Winky (David Winkworth).
The kayaks I’m paddling most right now are…
my red Kevlar Nordkapp and a wave ski.
The best paddling companions are…
the best of mates, even when not paddling.
My biggest blunder was…
misjudging a late evening surf landing onto what looked like a sandy beach but was a boulder beach guarded by bumper dumpers. The result was a full loop, smashed helmet, a tooth through my lip, and serious cracks by the kayak bow. I learned never be impatient when faced with a surf landing.
The hardest part about making that dream trip happen is…
getting a good mate to share the ups and downs.
a bowl of hot sweet tea brewed over a driftwood fire after a big challenging day.
My most challenging expedition was…
around Alaska and it taught me how to paddle and navigate in icy seas.
Caffyn’s 1989-91 solo paddle around Alaska was a 4,700-mile odyssey (you can read about it here). He set out from Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and paddled to Inuvik on the Northwest Territories’ Arctic Coast. Initially conceived as a single-season trip, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989 forced Caffyn to stop at the north end of Alaska’s panhandle, and the journey was recast into two more summers. The trip included pre-GPS fogbound crossings, sea ice, storms of Alaskan magnitude and a bear-shredded tent.
What scares me most is…
the stuff I had not planned for or visualized.
My favorite camp meal is…
Pasta with lumps of bacon ends.
The true gift of big trips is…
experiencing nature as it was before humans buggered stuff up.
This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
Caffyn during his 4,700-mile Alaskan epic. | Photo: Paul Caffyn Archives