Author Topic: Biking New Zealand  (Read 7534 times)

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Offline briancoop

Biking New Zealand
« 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
Traveling the world, one pedal stroke at a time

Offline Galloper

Re: Biking New Zealand
« Reply #1 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.

Offline briancoop

Re: Biking New Zealand
« Reply #2 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.
Traveling the world, one pedal stroke at a time

Offline RonK

Re: Biking New Zealand
« Reply #3 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'
Cycle touring blog and tour journals: whispering wheels...

Offline briancoop

Re: Biking New Zealand
« Reply #4 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.
Traveling the world, one pedal stroke at a time

Offline wpr4u

Re: Biking New Zealand
« Reply #5 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?

Offline TomFoster

Re: Biking New Zealand
« Reply #6 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!
Check out my landscape photography site: Edinburgh Photography

Offline briancoop

Re: Biking New Zealand
« Reply #7 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:
  • Roads are narrow and have little to no shoulder. This is fine on less traveled roads, but can be anything from stressful to downright dangerous on busier thoroughfares.
  • Get used to roundabouts, one-lane bridges and riding on the left. You get used to it after a few days, but exiting the bridges in particular can be confusing to a right-hand mind
  • Outside of cities and towns there are few parallel roads, so finding less traveled routes often requires riding dirt or gravel roads, or cycle paths - make sure you have tires suited for this 700x32-35 minimum, 2"(50mm) tires are better.
  • Roads are busy during tourist season (Dec-Feb), so be wary of RVs piloted by right-hand drivers used to driving tiny vehicles
  • Avoid riding on Route 1. We took a bus from Christchurch to Dunedin - best decision of our lives
  • There are a number of cycle paths ( some of which are well documented, others are not.
  • Google maps is your friend. Coupled with a guide book (we used Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails) and we planned our route as we went and converted the Google maps directions into gpx files. We learned to plan about a week out just in case we didn't have good internet access for a few days
  • Use a combination of paved and gravel roads, cycle trails, ferries (TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu), buses and trains to get to places you simply won't be able to get to by only traveling by bike on paved roads
  • Internet access is not what you'd expect in an first world country. WiFi is slow and either very limited data/speed or not free.
  • I highly recommend bringing a GSM cell phone with you and purchasing a Travel SIM from Vodafone (at the airport) for $49 - coverage is decent, but there are some big holes on the west coast.
  • If you're using a Garmin GPS there are some free NZ basemaps available, but directions on how to download and install them would require an entirely separate post :)
  • Freedom camping has been largely outlawed (since ~2011) unless you have a "Fully Self Contained" RV. If your tent doesn't have a toilet and grey water storage you can't legally freedom camp
  • There are a multitude of hostels and fun/quirky 'backpacker' lodging options. We found these to be relatively inexpensive (~$30NZ/night/person) with full bath and cooking facilities
  • Holiday Park camping was nearly as expensive as indoor sleeping ($20NZ/night/person) but also has full bath and cooking facilities
  • DOC campsites are generally cheap ($6NZ/night/person) but typically only have pit toilet facilities and occasionally have potable water. They rarely have showers
  • Yes camping rates are per person and not per site. We learned this the hard way by sharing a site with a fellow bike tourist only to realize we all just got less room to spread out
  • If you plan to camp (other than at Holiday Parks), make sure you carry a reliable water purification system. Actually, carry one no matter what so you can refill during the day in case there are no potable sources
  • The west coast is beautiful, but wet and buggy. Even if you camp the rest of your tour, plan to sleep inside during your time on the west coast. You'll get to enjoy the sights instead of drying out your gear
  • Did I mention the bugs? The sand flies will eat you alive if you're not covered up. This worked out well for my wife who can wear rain pants while riding, not so well for me :)
  • Did I mention the rain? Some areas on the west coast can get 6-9meters (240-360 inches) of rain per year. It seriously rains more than you can imagine. Seattle is a desert compared to the west coast of the South Island
  • Get off the bike for a couple days a week. Go kayak Milford Sound (you can take a round trip bus/kayak trip from Te Anau or Queenstown) and do a few day hikes (we didn't do any multi-day treks, but I kinda wish we had)
  • We missed Aoraki/Mt Cook because there was no easy way to incorporate it into our route in the time we had. Looking back, we should have done this and Alps2Ocean Trail instead of the Catlins and southern coast
  • Dunedin and The Otago Peninsula are amazing. Condors, penguins and a castle all in one 40 mile day ride. Just make sure you arrange you Condor tour in advance
  • Queenstown is busy, very commercial and a big party town where you can blow a ton of money. It's also naturally beautiful and worth a visit even if you're not going to jet boat or bungy jump
  • Visit Christchurch. They're rebuilding from the earthquake slowly, but it's worth seeing both the recovery and just how much a natural disaster's devastation can affect even a first world place years after the event.
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!
Traveling the world, one pedal stroke at a time