The roads of New Zealand are a mixed bag for cyclists. Despite its beautiful landscape, the country doesn’t have the best reputation for caring drivers or good roads.
Don’t expect to find a paved shoulder. Sometimes it will be there but often it won’t be. Prepare as well for fast-flowing traffic (especially on the North Island), logging trucks and ignorant motorists who may yell at you or pass too closely. A mirror is invaluable and don’t even think about cycling while listening to music on your iPod.
That said, you shouldn’t be put off your trip to New Zealand. There is some good news: in more remote areas, you can ride through fantastic scenery, meet wonderful people and hardly see a car all day.
A successful bike trip to New Zealand is all about picking the spots where you plan to go.
Many of the best bike routes are on dirt roads (or metal roads as the Kiwi’s call them) with few services around, so we recommend come equipped with fat tyres and plenty of camping gear. Bring a racing bike and you’ll be limited to main roads for sure. Taking buses and trains around the less appealing bits is another good idea.
If you can, come outside the peak seasons of Christmas and Easter, when every Kiwi family will be on the move, adding to an already booming tourist industry. And pick up some detailed maps that will let you use local roads to their full potential.
The AA publishes excellent maps and Kiwi members can get them for free so if you have a friend in New Zealand, see if they’ll order some for you or just ask around once you’re here. Many families have bucketloads of AA maps sitting in their closets.
SOUTH VS. NORTH
On the whole, the South Island offers far better cycling than the North Island. Its light population base (just 1/4 of the country lives here) means traffic is rarely heavy here, unless you’re coming into the big cities Christchurch and Dunedin. Even then it’s possible to get in on two wheels without too much stress.
The heaviest traffic tends to be around the edges of the South Island, particularly on the East Coast from Dunedin all the way to Picton and on the key cross-island routes like Highway 7 between Christchurch and Greymouth, where you should be prepared to share the road with every local resident, logging truck and tourist in a camper van for miles around.
It’s much harder to get away from traffic on the North Island. The Coromandel Peninsula is nice if it isn’t peak holiday time. We can also recommend the Tongariro National Park, the Wairarapa between Napier and Wellington and the Whanganui River Road, not far from the city of Wanganui.
Cycling into the big cities of Wellington and Auckland isn’t a good idea unless you like motorways.