Jonathan & Ruth Jarman – cycling advocates, keen cycle tourists and New Zealand residents – answer the question, “Is New Zealand still safe for cyclists?”:
“Thanks for your question “is NZ still safe for cyclists?”. The answer is a big “yes” with a little “but”.
Ruth and I started cycle touring 30 years ago. Since then we have noticed a lot of changes in New Zealand. 30 years ago touring cyclists were a novelty on many roads and it was common for people to wave. There was less traffic and it was cycling heaven. Tea was made with tea leaves and it was almost impossible to buy a decent coffee. Those were the days!
Since then the number of motor vehicles in New Zealand have increased significantly but the roads have not changed. Many of our main roads are narrow and poorly designed for cyclists.
In recent years Ruth and I have changed the focus of our cycle touring in New Zealand to something we call “heartland touring”.
There are many parts of New Zealand which are off the beaten track which are like stepping through a time warp to 30 years ago. People wave and there are spontaneous acts of kindness and hospitality such as people inviting you in for a cup of tea or offering you somewhere to stay. On the quiet country roads farmers will sometimes stop and have a yarn.
So how do you find these roads?
The first thing is to stay away from the busy state highways if possible. There are some really delightful places to cycle with hardly any cars which can be used to travel from destination to destination. I always have a very close look at a detailed map when planning trips and work out which are likely to be the quietest roads.
Sometimes these roads are unsealed and can be rough. A couple of years ago we did an amazing trip in the South Island where we did 7 gravel road mountain passes in 3 weeks. The scenery was outstanding and the number of cars per day in places could be counted on one hand.
Examples of interesting (and at times challenging) “heartland touring” routes in the South Island for example include Mavora, the Nevis Valley, the Dunstan trail, the Rail Trail, the Rainbow and of course Molesworth. There are similar routes in the NorthIsland such as the Forgotten Highway, Gentle Annie and the Rimutaka Incline. The key ingredient is to stay away from busy state highways as much as possible.
Some people do not like to travel on the road to Milford Sound because they say it is too busy. We personally think that the Milford road is one of the most beautiful roads in New Zealand. Looking at the mountains and waterfalls as you slowly climb up to Homer Tunnel in your granny gear is beyond compare. Each day thousands of cars and motor homes drive to Milford Sound in the morning and then return to Te Anau in the afternoon. The secrect is to clock up the miles first thing in the morning and then have a large cup of tea and a snooze under a tree (if the sandflies let you!) during the traffic surges.”