Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Regional Discussion Area => International => Topic started by: briancoop on October 17, 2014, 01:47:10 pm

Title: Biking New Zealand
Post by: briancoop on October 17, 2014, 01:47:10 pm
My wife and I are planning to explore both islands of New Zealand for two months starting in January 2015. Right now it looks like we'll be using a mix of paved roads and cycle tracks and would love to get some firsthand feedback from anyone who's done either. Links to useful (and up to date) web resources on road/track conditions, mapping tools (GPS), routes taken, etc, would be great.

The amount of information available on the net is overwhelming in its breadth, yet underwhelming in it's depth. Right now I've found lots and lots of cycle track information, but it all seems to be lacking much detail about conditions.

We'll be traveling on unsuspended drop bar adventure touring bikes - both capable of fitting 26" x 2" tires and making some decisions on our route will go a long way towards choosing the best tire. I'd rather not put 900+ gram tires on if we're going to be mostly on paved country roads, but if the best sights are along the less traveled muddy tracks then perhaps reasonably fast rolling mountain bike tires do make sense.

Thanks for any input.

Brian and Kathleen
Title: Re: Biking New Zealand
Post by: Galloper on October 20, 2014, 09:16:09 am
May I suggest you get hold of a copy of "Long Cloud Ride" by Josie Dew, it will give you a good idea of what to expect.
Title: Re: Biking New Zealand
Post by: briancoop on October 20, 2014, 01:21:16 pm
Thanks for the recommendation, Galloper.

The book reviews lead me to believe she has a rather consistent negative tone - do you have first-hand experience with touring in New Zealand that corroborates this viewpoint? Should these reviews be trusted?

Since many of her complaints seem to be centered around bad roads, traffic and weather, do you think spending more time on less traveled roads and mountain biking tracks might help? Of course the weather is something that cannot be avoided, only prepared for.
Title: Re: Biking New Zealand
Post by: RonK on October 21, 2014, 04:11:21 am
I have done two tours in New Zealand since 2010, both on the South Island, so I can only make general comments about the North Island.

The North Island is hillier, more densely populated, the roads busier, and reputedly, the drivers more aggressive. I've heard negative comments from a few cycle tourists, but I've experience few issues myself.  This may be because my visits have been in the spring when the roads are less busy. But generally the roads of the South Island have been mostly quiet, with the exception of State Highway 1, which runs the length of the east coast and is the main north-south artery. Plan to avoid this route as much as possible.

Your January visit coincides with the summer vacations, and is the height of the backpacker and tourist season as well, so it will be busier. It would be better to defer your vist by a month or even two if possible. The locals have gone back to school and work by February and the tourist season is starting to wind down by March, which is also likely to produce the most stable weather conditions.

Also, don't be deceived by the miniscule size of NZ on the map, depending on how far/fast you want ride and how much time sightseeing, it will take around 5 weeks to cover the South Island and maybe most of the North in the remaining available time. So far I have done two month-long tours to cover the middle and the bottom of the South Island, although to be fair I did go back over some parts that I enjoyed so much I wanted to do them again.

Last tour I rode several hundred kilometres on unsealed back roads. I found these roads well-formed and manageable (with just a little more than normal care) riding on 32mm Schwalbe Marathon Supremes, but the main touring routes are sealed. 1.6"x26" Supremes would be fine for your bikes.

NZ has a well-developed tourist route and it's quite possible to tour without camping if preferred, although you may need to do the odd 100km+ day. There are many motor camps (rv parks), backpacker hostels and camping grounds, and most towns have a domain where free camping is allowed, although there may not be much in the way of facilities.

The best touring guide is Nigel Rushtons Pedalers Paradise - there is a volume for each island. It's very basic but covers all the information you'll need with little weight penalty. There are very few roads in NZ so you don't need much in the way of maps or navigation - a simple road map from a newsagent or gas station is generally sufficient. I used Google Maps with an earbud to get voice navigation prompts passing through some of the bigger cities, which ofter have motorway approaches and convoluted cycle routes to avoid them.

Have a look through my touring journals - you'll find links and reference to the information I found most useful. Any questions you are welcome to ask.

Chasing the Long White Cloud  (
Gone Fishin' (
Title: Re: Biking New Zealand
Post by: briancoop on October 23, 2014, 02:51:36 am
Thanks for all the pertinent information, RonK - it's exactly what I was looking for.

I'm currently using Continental Travel Contacts in 26 x 1.75, but while they've been tough as nails and work reasonably well on all surfaces, they're also very wobbly - enough that it really affects handling. My wife has Schwable Marathon Pluses in 26 x 1.75 - they seem much higher quality, but are ridiculously heavy. I have the Marathon Supremes on my shortlist, but didn't know if they'd be sufficient for gravel or less technical mountain bike tracks.

We aren't going to arrive in Auckland until January 28th and we plan to take transit to the south island to avoid traffic. We figured that doing the south island first made sense so we could move north as the weather cooled off. We do plan to camp some as it seems like we'll be able to explore more out of the way places (especially in the far south) if we don't always have to rush back to town before the evening.

Now I just need to get a copy of those books.
Title: Re: Biking New Zealand
Post by: wpr4u on August 16, 2015, 11:38:36 am
How did your NZ trip go?  I'm planning a January '16 monthlong ride around the South Island.  Anything you would have done differently?
Title: Re: Biking New Zealand
Post by: TomFoster on September 19, 2015, 06:46:02 am
Hmm I would love to cycle round New Zealand! It's just so far away that a trip is unfortunately a major expedition! I'm thinking of doing Iceland first perhaps, should be hopefully a similarly awesome experience!
Title: Re: Biking New Zealand
Post by: briancoop on December 10, 2015, 05:33:30 pm
Sorry for my slowness on replying. For anyone interested in touring NZ by bike, we did end up having a great time and put together a blog about our travels: (

We purposely tried to make the blog more informative than artistic, but I'm sure there's still a lot of info we missed. :) We posted most of it from our phones so there are some interesting autocorrect revisions and a number of places it's incomplete as life has gotten in the way of going back to complete all of our desired updates with a computer.

Day 16-Day 47 cover the South Island. The rest of our time was spent on the North Island, and while we wouldn't suggest that anyone miss the North Island (we loved it) two months was not enough time to cover both islands, so if you've got less time than that stick to just one island. We reduced our 'normal' tour mileage (of 60-70 miles per day) to 60-70km per day for this trip so we could spend more time seeing the sights instead of just racing from place to place. It's a tough balance to make. The islands are bigger than you expect and you end up making a number of compromises.

The South Island is amazingly geographically diverse and beautiful. It's also very sparsely populated with limited infrastructure.

Here's a quick overview of our thoughts and observations:
I'm sure I could go on an on, but that what the blog is for. I'd be better off heading over there to clean that up and fill in some of the many blanks.

I do have gps tracks for our entire trip if you're interested. I did a great job annotating the North Island (with restaurants, places to stay, and things to do), but the South Island is pretty much just our route.

No matter what, I hope you have a great trip!