to Cycle Touring in New Zealand

Every year people discover the delights of cycling as a means of touring New Zealand. It is an excellent way to see the country, with its many quiet roads and varied, magnificent scenery. It is truly a Pedallers' Paradise, hopefully the following will help in regard to planning your trip...

LENGTH OF STAY: New Zealand is a relatively small country but there is a lot to see. It may sound a long time but a month on each island may not be enough, especially if you plan to have a good look round, walk some of the tracks, linger in special spots or just sit out the bad weather. If unable to manage so long then consider visiting one or two small areas rather than attempting to do too much.

WEATHER: This is the third most important thing in the whole Universe after Pedallers' Paradise and a bike! It is so important and so much can be said, perhaps it should have its own page.

NZ has a predominantly maritime climate which means we sometimes get a lot of wind and precipitation (rain). That is why it is so clean and green! As with anywhere, weather has a major influence on the enjoyment of cycling, so come prepared.

On the South Island the strongest winds usually come from a westerly quarter. These often happen after the spring & autumn equinox and can wax and wane for weeks. When they do, the West Coast has the deluges for which it is famous, some areas have up to 8 metres annually! At the same time, east of the Southern Alps has strong dry blustery winds that have been known to overturn cars.

The North Island also has similar windy seasons from the west, but not to the same extent. Instead they have occasional cyclones drop in from the north and these are accompanied by torrential rain and strong winds. The cyclone season is between January and May.

Also care needs to be taken with the strength of the sun. During the height of summer it is recommended to wear a hat and use sun cream, even on cloudy days. The burn time can be as short as 15 minutes.

WHEN TO COME: Most people come during the warmer summer months of November to April on the South Island and October to May on the North Island. North Island can be hot and humid during December to February. Many people start on the North Island in spring and head south spending the summer months on the South Island before heading back to the North Island for Autumn. February to April is often the most settled time, but not always!

On the South Island temperatures sometimes fall below 5 degrees celcius at night even in summer. Some areas have been hit by a blizzard on New Year's Eve! The North Island is generally a few degrees warmer. If you're planning to camp bring more than a thin cotton sheet!

Although temperatures are usually lower during the rest of the year, cycle touring is worth considering in the cooler months for the well equipped. Being well equipped means having layers of warm clothing sandwiched between wool or thermal underwear and a wind proof outer shell.

Autumn colours and crisp calm winter days can make for a rewarding journey. Days are shorter in the off-season but accommodation is less crowded. Snow may fall on the high country and on some coastal South Island regions during these times, but it's rare even for alpine highways to close for more than a few days.

WHEN NOT TO COME: When the weather really BAD, unfortunately this is so unpredictable that it is senseless to even try to guess. Probably the worst time to come is Christmas/New Year holidays (26th December to about 7th January) unless visiting friends and/or rellies (relatives). All of NZ heads off somewhere and many of the popular places are competely full.

ORGANISED GROUP OR INDEPENDENTLY: This depends on the individual. If time is limited then a number of companies offer guided cycle tours, usually from 6 to 18 days. Unencumbered by a ladened bike, you don't need to be super fit and there is usually the option of using the "sag wagon" when tired. But New Zealand is such an easy country to travel round that most people go independently. Indeed, in the more popular areas such as the North Island's Coromandel Peninsula and South Island's West Coast, one may sometimes think there are too many on bikes!!

BIKE RENTAL OR BYO: There seems little value in bringing a bike all the way to NZ if coming for only a week or so. If deciding to leave the bike at home, long term rental is possible from Auckland, Christchurch and Nelson. Also worth considering if touring for longer than two months are "buy back" schemes. This is where half the purchase price is refunded if the bike is returned in reasonable condition. Some shops may have a time limit. Also bikes can be hired for simple sightseeing in many cities and tourist resorts.

DAILY DISTANCES: Daily distances are up to each individual, from 20 to 200kms, but it is important to avoid overdoing it, especially at the start, unless you're a masochist. You're on holiday and this is supposed to be fun! The first four days are usually the hardest on the, er proverbial bottom, and allow a week to acclimatise. Unfit people should allow longer.

TERRAIN: New Zealand road builders had little time for the niceities of finding the easiest gradient. Straight up and over was the order of the day. Consequently there are no long all day climbs as found in the European Alps, but most of the NZ alpine passes have steep sections.

Overall, gradients tend to be easier on the South Island, which is surprising considering the number and height of the mountains. The South Island is said to have most of the mountains to look at and the North Island has most of the hills to cycle up, and down! Do not under-estimate North Island hills!

POPULAR PLACES TO VISIT: The following are considered the most popular places to visit, I'll get into trouble for those areas I didn't name. Having said that, try to find time to go to the less touristified places as they are often more rewarding than going with the herd. Often these places are still quite scenic when compared to the less scenically endowed countries (the rest of the world!). The lists are not in any order of priority.
North Island: Northland Circuit; Coromandel Circuit; East Cape; and Rotorua - Lake Taupo - National Park - Whanganui River - Wanganui.
South Island: Everywhere really but particularly... Queenstown - West Coast - Nelson - Picton; Christchurch - Mt Cook - Oamaru - Dunedin - Queenstown; Picton - Christchurch (sometimes Chch is used).

BIKES ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Most trains, ferries and long distance buses take cycles, usually for a fixed charge regardless of the distance travelled. Sometimes the bikes may not be on the same bus due to space constraints. If travelling on a tight budget it makes sense to take one longer journey rather than two shorter ones.

BIKE SHOPS & SPARES PARTS: Bikeshops are found in most locations with populations over 5,000 people between Kaitaia and Invercargill. Unless your bike is a rare breed then spares shouldn't be hard to get and are readily available in larger centres, but you may have to wait for it to be delivered at smaller centres. Local car mechanics may be able to help with temporary repairs where no bikeshop exists.

RELEVANT TRAFFIC LAWS: NZers drive on the left, as in Britain, Australia and Japan, although in some places this may not be apparent. Vehicles turning left no longer have to give way to those turning right into the same street. This law has been changed to be similar to other countries. Cycling is illegal on most national park tracks and motorways. Helmets are compulsory. Cyclists should give way to cars and trucks... or you may be run over! Seriously.

New Zealand might be a Pedallers' Paradise but it isn't Utopia! So it might be worth investing in a mirror to keep an eye on the moronic drivers approaching from behind. If you have a bad experience try to record their details, such as registration number, date, direction and distinguishing features and report to the police.

MOUNTAIN BIKING: Most parts of New Zealand have suitable terrain for mountain biking and many visitors use mountain bikes for combined off and on-road touring. Bring or buy a set of smooth tread tyres to reduce vibration on tar-sealed highways. "Great NZ Mountain Bike Rides", written and published by Kennett Brothers, Wellington, is useful for off-road enthusiasts.

NATIONAL CYCLEWAY:> Is a collection of bike paths proposed by the Prime Minister have been developed in scenic areas throughout both islands. Care needs to be taken which ones to use. They are not all suitable for bikes carrying heavy panniers, usual when on a long distance cycle tour.

ROAD CONDITIONS: All major highways and many secondary roads are tar-sealed (paved). If staying to highways and occasionally using gravel roads then a hybrid bike may suffice. Usually the unsealed (gravel) secondary highways in popular tourist areas are well maintained.

CHRISTCHURCH: Suffered a series of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The South Island's biggest city is still recovering from the effects and will do so for a long time to come.

That is it for now. Any more cycling related topics, or corrections to errors gratefully received.

For information on cycle touring in New Zealand or details of your nearest stockist, write to...
Nigel Rushton,
New Zealand.

Updates of older editions of Pedallers' Paradise.
Links to other New Zealand Web Sites.
Accommodation for cyclists on the South Island.
Pedallers' Paradise New Zealand cycle touring guide books description.