Chris & Liz – This bike touring couple on their way from New Zealand to the UK, give their answer to the question “Is it still safe to tour in NZ?”:
“Our experience of cycling in both the north and south islands was very positive and compared to the UK and Australia, there is a lot less traffic on the roads in general – less people, less cars etc. We toured there from September to November 2009, so not in the main tourist season.
NZ doesn’t have lots of roads. Often there is only one road or one way to get from A to B. The roads can also be winding, hilly, flat, up down, narrow or wide and all traffic from bikes to big trucks will share the same route for many miles – there is no other way you can go.
A reasonable amount of traffic is made up of trucks, mostly long 2 trailer trucks, logging trucks and diary trucks. These trucks are much bigger than anything we have back home (UK) and take a bit of getting used to as they have a tendency to blow you sideways a bit when they passed. However, we had no problem with the majority of trucks. They gave us space and on the whole seemed to drive with consideration Some of the trucks knew they created a lot of draft and would warn us with a few beeps before overtaking. Our least favorite trucks were the Linfox, yellow and red, they seemed to pass much closer than the rest, noticed this in OZ as well but could be just because we are looking out for them.
Car drivers are generally considerate and give you space, however there is a tendency to overtake for the sake of overtaking. So if a car is going 80km and another car comes up behind it, chances are they will overtake even if they don’t want to go any faster.
NZ has lots of small bridges and these tend to be narrower than the road, sometimes one lane. This was the only time we found that cars are eager to pass you and won’t necessarily wait until it’s clear, so it can be a bit of a squeeze. Keep your wits about you and if in doubt we cycled in the middle of the lane to prevent them overtaking ( for 30 secs!). The only other impatient driving we encountered was going through roadworks. There is nowhere to cycle except in the orange coned area, so the traffic crawls behind you. Some drivers don’t like this much.
Some of the bridges have cycle lanes and if you did not take them some car drivers would beep you to get off the road. Getting to the cycle lane was not always that well marked. We started to look for the cycle lanes on long bridges and then weighed up the pros and cons of getting off the bike, stopping, sometimes crossing the road as supposed to just going on the bridge.
Most people said that we should take a train going into Wellington but the cycle ride is quite doable and pleasant taking side roads to avoid the motorway. There is a section of coast road before Porirua that has a central reservation, rare for NZ. We took the cycle path on this, and were very glad of it the road was very narrow in section, without a shoulder. The cycle path here was not clearly marked.
We cycled up Mt Messenger North of New Plymouth. We reckon this was one of the steepest, narrowest roads we did. Just before the top there is a small tunnel. Chris pulled over to let a truck overtake. Chris reckons the driver saw him as the last moment and slowed down quickly. When Chris got the the top the truck driver was waiting. He saw Chris and took off again. Chris reckons that the truck was waiting to make sure that he had not pushed Chris over the side. Nice to know they care.
On the whole, our over-arching feeling is that you have the road to yourself quite a lot, especially in the South Island and it can be quiet and peaceful. We felt very safe and comfortable on the roads in NZ, with only the occasional car hating driver, that you get in any country.
Chris has only just started cycling with a mirror in OZ. It would have made a big difference in NZ to just know the size and shape to vehicle that is about to pass you.”