About Us

Come explore our beautiful region with us!

Paddle Wanaka offer both guided Kayak and Stand up Paddleboard (SUP) activities and operate on both our region’s breathtaking Lake Wanaka and the fantastic Upper Clutha river, as well as further afield on demand.

Owned and operated by a passionate locally based kiwi couple, Chris and Bex Thornton. With over 20 years’ adventure tourism and international kayak guiding experience. Supported by a highly skilled and experienced wider team. Paddle Wanaka strive to create an unforgettable outdoor experience with 100% kiwi customer service as its core value.

General enquiries


Accreditations and authority 

We are proud of our high safety standards and service levels that we install in all of our activities. We hold all required licenses and permits to operate in the regions that we explore. We also hold the highly regarded Outdoors Mark certification, which is the NZ outdoors safety audit programme.

Meet our team!

We have a fantastic team of highly talented and qualified guides and operational staff that will make your experience with us a fantastic one!

Chris Thornton: Co-Director, Operations Manager and Guide 

After graduating from University with a Bachelor of Recreation Management, Chris worked in a number of roles on the West Coast  of the South Island, starting with the Conservation Corp, then as a Ranger with the Department of Conservation and then on to Glacier guiding.
This was his introduction into Adventure tourism which has since lead him around the world as a Glacier guide, Paragliding fanatic, Sea Kayaking Instructor, Skifield Cafe manager, Outdoor instructor and Skydive Instructor (Indoor & Outdoor).
In 2004 Chris had a terrible paragliding crash, (which as he says, was due to too much energy and not enough knowledge!).  He spent 10 days on life support with a multitude of surgeries on his spine, hip and left leg and 6 months later he was learning to walk again.
This experience strengthened his resolve and passion for the outdoors.  He has since spent the following 13 years working and training teams and individuals, in different outdoor forums, on how to have fun in the outdoors, but whilst being able to see and manage your risks! Ultimately this drive for safe, fun outdoor experiences has lead Chris and his wife Bex to develop Paddle Wanaka.

As Chris says “We only have one chance on this planet, this is it, let’s enjoy it and be around to tell the story”!  

Chris’s qualifications:

  • Bachelor of Recreation Management (Outdoor Leadership), Lincoln University, NZ
  • Diploma in Commercial Skydiving and Indoor Skydiving Instructor
  • NZOIA Sea Kayak 1 and NZSA SUP Instructor, Lower Glacier Guide
  • Trained in Pre Hospital Emergency Care (First Aid) and Swift Water rescue
  • Boatmaster, Coast Guard Operational Crew, Commercial shuttle driver
  • Skipper Restricted Limits (Maritime New Zealand) – (from Nov 2016)

Bex Thornton: Co-Director and Guide

Born and raised on a high country farm in Central Otago, with a passion for exploring the wilderness, an office job was never going to be Bex’s cup of tea! So with a Diploma in Applied Recreation in hand, Bex began her adventure tourism experience on the West Coast of NZ in horse trekking and rafting roles.

After this, Bex gained vast experience in outdoors instruction at a variety of locations in both Australia and NZ, including instructing at kids camps in the outback, sea kayak guiding, navigation and survival skills, mountaineering, abseiling, rock climbing and mountain bike guiding. After completing her commercial sky diving Diploma, Bex then travelled the world working in the sky diving industry, ski field industry and several years’ sea kayak guiding in the Norwegian fjords. Bex has been one busy lady living the dream!

Now settled in Wanaka with co-adventurer and husband Chris, she is still living the dream! As she says ‘I feel so grateful to share our slice of heaven with others doing exactly what we were put here to do’.

Bex’s qualifications:

  • Diploma in Applied Recreation (Adventure Tourism), Christchurch Polytechnic, NZ
  • NZSA SUP Instructor
  • Trained in Pre Hospital Emergency Care (First Aid) and Swift Water rescue, 
  • Search And Rescue Volunteer, Boat-master, Commercial shuttle driver
  • Diploma in Commercial Skydiving
We have a  wider team of 8-10 seasonal guides and operational staff working with us and we’ll have their bio’s uploaded for you very soon!