Teneale Hatton admits she and partner Lisa Carrington are "a bit nervous" ahead of the world canoeing championships, starting in Nova Scotia early tomorrow.

That's understandable, considering they've been paddling together only a few months and they're dipping their toes into the hottest competition in the sport.

They've made rapid progress since linking up in April, and winning a bronze over 1000m at a strong World Cup regatta in Hungary in June.

And armed with a new boat from Slovakian designers Vajda, Hatton said they feel significant progress is being made.

"It's been really good, especially in the new boat which was specially made for us," Hatton said from Lake Banook, the small freshwater setting in Dartmouth for the championships.

"We're definitely going faster and having time between the World Cups and these champs we've been able to gel a bit better."

The pair have known each other for years, eyeing each other across the sand during countless surf lifesaving events since their mid-teens. Carrington, who sits in the stroke, or front, seat, competes for Mt Maunganui; Hatton, a year younger at 19, for Orewa.

The New Zealand squad contested the World Cup regatta at Szeged, Hungary in June, and returned home for more training before heading to Canada. Hatton and Carrington are targeting A finals in the Olympic 500m and non-Olympic 1000m disciplines. And they have the London Olympics in 2012 in their sights.

"After racing World Cups at least we know some of the crews and who we're up against, but there's probably triple the amount of people [compared] to World Cups so it's a huge step up," Hatton said.

They are still learning the requirements of the sport, and the two-person boats, but there's no hiding that canoeing officials realise they've got plenty to enthuse over among their top women.

"To be perfectly honest, they've probably superseded our expectations of what they were capable of achieving," high performance manager Wayne Maher said.

"They've laid a great platform for the women's programme, given it's the first year post-Olympics, and we're looking to build through to London."

K1 paddler Erin Taylor just missed the A final at Beijing last year but won silver over 1000m in Hungary. Maher believes her to be "probably the most organised and focused of the group, and that's reflecting in her results".

"She's still on an exponential performance curve at the moment, and she's only 22, so she still has a way to go before she hits her straps."

Steven Ferguson, the veteran of the squad, is first of the New Zealand squad into the water in heat four of the K1 1000m shortly after midnight tonight. And while it seems Ferguson has been round a long time, he is still only 29, and in his prime.

Having made both A finals in Beijing - finishing sixth in the 1000m and eighth over 500m - Ferguson should be among the contenders this week.

The team is rounded out by a new K2 combination, Troy Burbidge and Scott Bicknell, who will contest both distances.

They were given a strong incentive on the World Cup trip: made the top 12 and you get a trip to the world champs. Finishing sixth in the 1000m and winning the 500m B final in Hungary fulfilled that requirement.

Maher said conditions at Lake Banook hinted at moderate times this week.

"I don't think the times will be spectacular. We're almost expecting a slight head wind but the good thing is the prevailing winds seem to be head or tail, and it's only when it goes across the water that it gets a little unfair," he said.

* NZ team

Steven Ferguson (K1 200m, 500m, 1000m).
Erin Taylor (K1 200, 500, 1000m).
Teneale Hatton/Lisa Carrington (K2 500, 1000m).
Scott Bicknell/Troy Burbidge (K2 500m, 1000m).