Information and some advice for Motorcycle riding in New Zealand
The information you find here is to give you a rough idea of what you might be reasonably confident of experiencing in New Zealand.
The information should be useful for short and long term rides, but is orientated towards a trip planned mostly around camping, motels and hostels. Some of the advice may make you wonder what on earth you are letting yourself in for, but in reality you'll be safe if you take a few precautions and use some common sense!
A good book on touring New Zealand will help you get the most out of your trip. One that you may find very detailed and helpful is: ADAC Neuseeland.
You can also buy KIWIMAPS just for motorcycle tours around NZ in most of the shops. These will tell you about tourist destinations, what to expect when you get there, accommodation, restaurants, and just about everything else. There are more titles than could possibly be mentioned here, covering all styles of travel. Pick the one that suits you best.
The sun, weather and time of year to visit New Zealand is always the right one!
Our weather is never so miserable that there's no point in going to New Zealand: there are things to see and do all year round. The warmer months (November to April) are busiest, especially during the school holidays from the 20th of December through to the end of January. Ski resort towns are obviously busier during the winter months. If you're travelling during peak periods (especially the Christmas season) it's best to book as far ahead as you can manage, as much of the good accommodation fills up and bikes become hard to come by. It's probably more pleasant to visit either before or after this hectic period, when the weather is still warm and there aren't as many other travellers around.
New Zealand is extremely well prepared for the traveller and the summer months are perfect for the outdoors way of life. Campsites can be found almost everywhere and are mostly clean and well kept. You'll pay anything from NZ$10 up to 30 per day for a double tent. National parks and other remote areas often have bush campsites available for use. These are generally well off the beaten track and provide useful basic facilities, such as toilets and an area for a fire. Always check fire restrictions before sparking anything up! These sites are great, if you enjoy getting back to nature. You'll find birds and animals all around and there's nothing better than sitting round your fire cooking dinner, downing a beer and gazing up at more stars then you ever knew existed.
On those rainy, cold days (occasionally) when some comfort is welcome, then motels are a good choice and will cost NZ$100-150 per night. Backpacker hostels are also good value and make meeting other travellers easy, although depending on the facilities available you may find yourself sharing with some characters that like to stay up good and late! You can either sleep in a dorm with a number of others (generally around NZ$30-40 per night) or take a room on your own (starting from about NZ$ 70 per night). Call if you are hoping to stay in a hostel as they can be very busy.
Insects, flies and other creatures are not to be underestimated, let me explain.
Flies can be incredibly annoying at certain times of the year in some areas, but it's surprising how quickly you get used to a few of them hanging around! Insect repellent is a must. Even if you think there's no chance of mosquitoes or sand flies, there are normally some around to prove you painfully wrong. Therefore make it a regular routine to put it on in the morning and if you stop for long periods. You'll regret not taking precautions, the bites can itch so much you'll be scratching for days and most Europeans are also allergic to sand flies and believe me, I am not joking here.
New Zealand is thankfully almost entirely free from venomous creatures, biting crawlies and other such unpleasant characters. You might run into the occasional Orc or Ring Wraith, but they tend to wander off elsewhere if you just ignore them.
Due to the fact that there are a number of nocturnal animals in New Zealand, they sadly often become road kill and as a motorcycle rider, you need to be aware of these hazards, especially when driving at night.
Preparation before you leave:
It is always a good idea to prepare a detailed list of things to take and then check it thoroughly before leaving home. Leaving your credit cards and cash at home won't make for a good start to your bike trip! Ensure that you have packed all the necessary documentation such as your bike license, passport with visa, flight tickets, booking confirmations, credit cards and cash as well as your travel books. We strongly recommend you obtain personal health and general travel insurance before you depart for New Zealand.
It is vital that you obtain good travel insurance before arriving in New Zealand. It is important that you consider your own specific needs before selecting an insurance policy, something which covers rental vehicle insurance excesses would be best. You should check to make sure your chosen insurance policy covers your specific needs before purchasing.
Luggage on a bike:
The more you bring the heavier the bike will be and the more difficult it can be to handle, so think carefully about your list of items and minimise them wherever possible. The bikes often include panniers but you'll probably need a rucksack, frameless, or large zip up duffel style bag as well. It's always handy if the pack is waterproof too, just in case you encounter rain along the way. A small rucksack for everyday items is useful so that you don't have to keep unstrapping everything to get to often used items such as your camera.
If you ride some of the more remote tracks you will need to carry water and probably extra petrol at times, depending on how adventurous you're feeling.
New Zealand is often hot in summer but it can also be very cold and wet. On a bike you'll need to be prepared for these situations. Touring is no fun when you are cold and wet and you are much more likely to make mistakes. If you are going to spend any length of time in the southern part of New Zealand, you will find that the weather can be very variable (four seasons in one day) and these weather variations will be exacerbated when climbing into altitude and there are lots of climbs into altitude in the south island. You will need some warm clothes to use as extra layers if you are intending on spending any time in the mountains.
Proper bike boots are hard to find for real bikers. It is best to bring your own with you, but when you are trying to save space and weight a good pair of walking boots will serve you well on and off the bike. If you decide to bring your own shoes into New Zealand, be aware of very strict controls by the border control at any airport. Clean your shoes very well and store them in a plastic bag on top of your other items. This will help in getting you more easily through airport checks. It goes without saying that an approved motorcycle helmet should be worn at all times. See picture!
At some stage of your trip you will probably spend a long time holding the throttle open in one position. This will hurt after an hour or two and it would be advisable for you to plan to stop and stretch regularly. By stopping regularly, you will not only be giving your body a chance to rest but it will also enable you to enjoy our country and all it has to offer. You are neither in a hurry nor in escape mode. Relax and take your time for a world famous Kiwi café with a blueberry muffin.
You will see signs all over New Zealand warning for the consequences of falling asleep whilst driving. It is one of the biggest killers on the roads here, so if you feel drowsy don't take chances. There are plenty of rest stops along all routes in New Zealand. Some places even offer free “driver reviver” coffee stops. On top of all that, the scenery is so fantastic that you have to pull over to take pictures and suck in the beauty of this country.
There is something else you should be aware of, the UV here is stronger than anywhere else on planet Earth. It can get pretty hot in New Zealand at times, so there is a good chance you will get hot, sizzling hot. Asphalt reflects this heat and it's like riding in an oven. It is advisable to stop frequently for a shady place, such as a café. If you don’t stop often, you will miss a lot of New Zealand and friends back home don’t want to see Freeways on all the pictures you took.
Animals and travelling at night does not go well here.
Animals are most active at these times and hitting anything on the road will hurt a lot (or worse) and almost certainly wreck your bike. Not a nice way to end a trip. You'll need to be aware that sheep outnumber humans by quite a large factor in New Zealand and they're not terribly good at reading the road conditions.
Sheep (and other livestock for that matter) can frequently be found wandering into the road, so keep an eye out of all times. A helmet full of mutton is no fun!
For most parts of New Zealand asphalt roads are in good shape and you can get to the majority of the tourist sites without leaving them. Many visitors want to see some of the less travelled routes and to do this you will drive on roads without the 'black top'. The condition of these can vary dramatically and it will be worth asking locals what to expect. Many of them require a 4WD car or a dual purpose type bike. If you have little or no experience with off road riding, just take your time and drive within your abilities at all times! To be a hero is absolutely wrong. It's just not worth the consequences of a nasty accident especially in a remote location.
The police are extremely rigorous when it comes to speeding, even here in this quite laid back country. Mobile cameras are used in many cities and if you are just 2-3kph over the limit you will be in for a fine. This zero tolerance policy means that for the most part New Zealanders don't speed.
There were times, when distances were measured in the amount you could drink between two places. One town to the next might be a six-pack or a long journey could be a crate (24)! Those days have thankfully long gone and drink driving is just as socially unacceptable as it is in many other parts of the world.
Water crossings can be dangerous so don't go rushing in. Look carefully and walk your route first. We don’t have Crocodiles like our neighbour over the ditch, so no danger to be taken from one while you are walking your way first. The point is to check for large boulders and holes. It's generally best to take your luggage off the bike if necessary and carry it across first. Push the bike through if it's safer, rather than riding it and risking falling off and sucking water into the engine, or your lungs.
Water, petrol, oil and food are plentiful in New Zealand, but you have to plan smart, don't take chances with these. In hot areas you'll drink much more than you expect and if you reach the point where you are thirsty you're not drinking enough. Plan your route carefully and check that you have plenty spare until you reach the next town. Be very careful if you intend to go into abandoned regions.
Always take a detailed map especially if you are in abandoned regions. In these areas talk to local authorities about your intended trip and always plan your route carefully, noting towns and petrol stations to work out the distances between them. Be aware of possible wrong turns - it can literally save your life!
Imagine travelling on a track when you unknowingly take a wrong turn. You reach the point where you don't have sufficient fuel to return to civilisation before realising you have been gone the wrong way. You may be stuck in an unknown area for days before anyone comes along - if you're lucky.
Kiwis are generally extremely friendly and will help if you have broken down and really stuck somewhere. The locals, not the birds.
Hopefully you've found this information useful and interesting. If you have any other questions about riding in New Zealand, let us know. We'll be happy to help!