How to Experience New Zealand by Bike
Photo by Kristen Koss.
This guest post was written by Allison Hail.
With its well-established cycling trails, incomparable scenery, and rugged natural topography, New Zealand is a biker’s delight. Here are some tips on how to experience New Zealand by bike.
Planning: Choosing destinations, Avoiding crowds.
New Zealand has a small population relative to its size. When tourists visit in the summer and children are off school, main highways and dedicated cycle trails can get busy. If you prefer less busy trails, consider booking outside of the busiest mid-December to mid-January holiday period.
Also, don’t forget to include the incredible South Island in your cycling plans – although the North Island also has great biking trails, its population is three times larger. Thus, tracks in the South Island will be less crowded, and many contain glorious scenery that even the locals prefer over most found higher north in the country.
Join a cycling tour.
Cycling solo can be plenty of fun, but you’ll learn so much more if you join one of the many biking tours on offer across the country. Tour companies will lead you directly to the local sights, such as great vineyards if you’re in wine country, and they’ll often also cater your food and drink.
Know the rules.
Like most countries, New Zealand has some unique legislation for cyclists. In particular, not wearing a helmet while cycling is a punishable offense. It’s best to cover your head with a helmet before you get pinged — legally and physically! Also, don’t forget that everyone rides on the left side of the road in this country – including cyclists!
Get the right gear.
New Zealand has innumerable newly-established or rough-gravel trails, which means that you’d be smart to invest in some wide tyres (tires) before embarking on your cross-country cycling adventure. That way, you won’t be restricted from exploring less-traveled tracks! However, apart from absolute essentials like the proper tyres (tires), this tip really means that you should only carry the essentials. Much of the terrain in the Land of the Long White Cloud is extremely hilly, so if you overpack for a long ride, you’ll likely live to regret it.
Biking routes and destinations
Cardrona, Queenstown – Cardrona is an Alpine Ski Resort on the South Island famous for its pristine ski-fields (slopes?). However, what you may not know is this destination morphs into an epic mountain biking park during the summer months. Situated near Queenstown at the bottom of the South Island, Cardrona park boasts a variety of trails for all abilities and skill levels. There are also some great food and beverage outlets nearby, so you can fuel up between rides and have plenty of exergy and motivation to get back out on the dirt.
St James Cycle Trail, Hamner Springs – The St James Trail is close to the famed Hamner Springs. This is a true high-country trail and not for the faint-hearted. Expect 1-2 days of sore legs tempered by stunning sights for a true Kiwi cycling experience!
The Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail, Ruapehu – Ruapehu is a National Park on the North Island. Found close to Whanganui in the lower North Island, the Mountains to Sea Cycle trail is 317 kilometers long, crosses two national parks, and takes around 3-5 days to complete. The sheer beauty and variety of the terrain you’ll traverse on this stunning track will render you speechless.
The Great Lake Trail, Taupo – In the centre of the North Island, the Great Lake Taupo is a long-standing favourite with national and international cyclists alike. Once you experience the 71km-long Great Lake Trail, you’ll understand why. This trail will take you all the way around the lake via numerous waterfalls and bays and give you photos to savour for years to come.
When to Go.
Cyclists are usually able to enjoy riding through New Zealand’s beautiful, natural scenic routes and even urban trails for most of the year. The only times when cyclists are urged to stay indoors is during severe weather in any season, such as heavy snows or thunderstorms.
Before you set off on your cycling trip, check the weather forecast and consider how it will affect the terrain that you will ride. Always tell at least one other person where you going, and make sure you pack enough drinking water for the length of your trip.
The NZ Transport Agency is actively working to promote the health and social benefits of cycling and to consistently improve the trails and cycling options available to all people in New Zealand. As long as you ride in accordance with NZ’s cycling road rules and have a respectful attitude to your fellow cyclists, you will be welcome!
Getting there and Around.
You can take a direct flight to the North or South Island if you are only planning to cycle in one part of New Zealand. For the North Island, international travelers usually land at Auckland Airport – and at Christchurch Airport for the South Island.
You can also take domestic flights between New Zealand towns and cities on both Islands, with the major national airline Air NZ offering flights between 20 domestic destinations, including Taupo, Wellington, and Queenstown.
Another option for traveling between the North and South Islands in good weather is via a ferry from Wellington (at the south of the North Island) to Picton (at the top of the South Island). You can choose between two companies: the Interislander and Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries.
Schedules vary depending on the weather and season – but for example, the InterIslander usually offers five trips between the islands each day. Once you are in the country, you will have ample choices of companies from which you can rent a car or van to transport your bikes and gear between trails and destinations.
I’m Allison, your average twenty-something book obsessive. I’m also a freelance writer, hailing from Wellington, New Zealand. Being from an island nation at the edge of the world, I’ve developed a unique appreciation for egg-based desserts and flightless birds, as well as a characteristic aversion to Vegemite. NZ was a great place to grow up, and after a few brief stints living and studying overseas in Berlin and Melbourne, I couldn’t resist returning to put down roots here.
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