good book on touring New Zealand will help you get the most out of your
trip. It will tell you about tourist destinations, what to expect when
you get there, accommodation, places to eat and just about everything
else. There are dozens of books and web sites out there but many people
find the Lonely Planet and Rough Guides literature incredibly useful.
information below will be useful to short and long term hires but is
orientated towards a trip planned mostly around camping/motels/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!
The 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 December 20 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 ahead,
as much accommodation and transport fills up. 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 traveler and the summer
months is 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$10-25 per day for a two man tent. National parks and other remote
areas often have bush campsites. These are off the beaten track and
provide useful basic facilities such as toilets and an area for a fire
(always check fire restrictions before starting one). 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
On those rainy, cold days 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 travelers easy. You can either
sleep in a dorm with a number of others (Approx. NZ$30-40 per night)
or take a room on your own (NZ$70 per night). Call if you are hoping
to stay in a hostel as they can be very busy. There are many books with
details of accommodation and a good one is invaluable. I've found the
Lonely Planet's guides to be excellent.
Flies can be incredibly annoying at certain times of year in some areas
but it's surprising how quickly you get used to a few hanging around!
Insect repellant is a must. Even if you think there's no chance of mosquitoes
or sand flies (common in the south island around water) there normally
is and so make it a regular routine to put it on in the morning and
if you stop for long periods.
Preparation before you leave:
Firstly, always 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 holiday!
Don't forget to take your bike/car license, passport with visa, flight
tickets, booking confirmations, credit cards/cash, travel books etc.
We strongly recommend you obtain personal health and general travel
insurance before you depart for New Zealand.
The more you bring the heavier the bike and the more difficult it can
be to handle so think carefully about your list of items and minimise
them where possible. The bikes often include panniers but you'll probably
need a rucksack (not one with a frame) and large zip up sports type
bag as well. A small rucksack for everyday items is useful so that you
don't have to keep unstrapping everything to get at your camera for
example. Remember you will need to carry water and probably extra petrol
at times. On top of that you'll need room for your tent. Cargo net type
bungees are good and you'll need at least a couple of standard ones.
It may be a luxury but a cheap collapsible chair means you have somewhere
to sit outside your tent when you're eating. It's much nicer than sitting
on the ground and keeps you away from the ants! Make sure you pack dry
items in waterproof plastic bags because the rain can be very heavy.
New Zealand is often hot in summer but it can also be very cold and wet.
On a bike you need to cater for these situations. Touring is no fun when
you're cold and wet and you're much more likely to make mistakes. A good
pair of biking gloves is essential as is an armoured jacket. Leather trousers
are useful if you are spending any length of time in the southern part
of New Zealand as the weather can be variable especially if you climb
in altitude. That means you'll need warm clothes too.
Proper bike boots are ideal but when you're trying to save space and
weight a good pair of walking boots will serve you on the bike and off
it. It goes without saying that an approved motorcycle helmet should
be worn at all times.
Useful extras include a small torch, headlamp, notepad and pencil,
self inflating bed roll, nylon chord or string.
At some stage of your trip you'll probably spend a long time holding
the throttle in one place. It hurts after an hour or two and you should
plan to stop and stretch regularly. Some ingenious devices have been
invented to act as a cruise control for bikes making use of various
items such as radiator hoses over the bar end and throttle grip. It's
obviously very dangerous if your throttle sticks open so beware. It
also helps to develop a simple routine of stretches and muscle contractions
if you're trying to cover a lot of ground each day.
You'll see signs all over New Zealand warning you of the consequences
of falling asleep whilst driving. It is one of their biggest killers
and if you feel drowsy don't take chances. Some of the mountain roads
are particularly unforgiving if you're feeling drowsy.
Some parts of New Zealand can experience extremely strong winds at times
which can literally blow a bike and rider off the road! Some of the
areas where it's advisable not to ride when strong winds are blowing
is the road to Mt Cook and the mountain passes around Te Anau on the
South Island. If in doubt ask the locals or don't travel until the wind
has settled - it's not worth risking an accident!
Most cars and campers have air conditioning but you can also take advantage
of it on a bike. "On a bike" I hear you say! It can get pretty
hot in New Zealand at times. Tarmac reflects this heat and it's like
riding in an oven. An evaporative air conditioning system is easily
available. Take an old T-shirt, soak it at every opportunity and put
it back on (don't use your drinking water). Do your bike jacket up and
as you go along the water evaporates making you feel cool! It never
stays wet for long so control the amount of cooling via the zipper.
The rule for traveling at night, dawn and dusk is simple - don't! Animals
feed at this time and hitting anything at night (or day for that matter)
can be disasterous on a bike. Make sure you're safely tucked up in bed
before the animals come out to play.
For the most part New Zealand tarmac roads are in good shape and you
can get to the majority of the tourist sites without leaving them. Many
tourists want to see some of the less traveled routes and to do this
you'll drive on roads without the 'black top'. The condition of these
can vary dramatically and it's worth asking locals/the police what to
expect. Many of them require a 4WD car/camper or a dual purpose enduro
type bike. If you've little or no experience off road just take your
time and drive within your abilities at all times. Don't try and be
a hero. 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. Mobile
cameras are used in many cities and if you are just 2-3kph over the
limit you'll be in for a fine. This zero tolerance policy means that
for the most part New Zealanders don't speed.
There was a day 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! Those days have gone and drink driving
is just as socially unacceptable as it is in most of the world. If you
do then one large, typically New Zealand authority billboard I've seen
sums you up…"If you drink and drive you must be a bloody
idiot!" No expensive marketing man needed for that succinct slogan!
Water crossings can be dangerous so don't go rushing in. Look carefully
and walk your route first. Check for large boulders and holes. If on
a motorbike take your luggage off 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. In some regions of New
Zealand water levels can rise very rapidly and the force of water can
be stronger than you think. Storms are very heavy but often short. If
you get stuck between two rivers the best thing to do may be to wait
as levels go up very quickly but come down just as fast. You may be
there for a day or two but that's better than chancing your luck in
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 for about 10 liters a day - more if you need it
for cooking or if you intend to walk in the bush or do other exercise.
Don't rely on other travelers to have spare petrol, oil or water - they'll
need it for themselves! Plan your route carefully and check that you
have plenty spare when you reach the next roadhouse or town. Be very
careful if you intend to go into remote regions - see sections below
on planning your route and preparation.
Always take a detailed map especially if you're in remote regions. In
these areas talk to local authorities about your intended trip. Always
plan your route carefully noting roadhouses and towns and work out the
distances to cover. Be aware of possible wrong turns - it can literally
save your life. Imagine traveling 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've gone the wrong way.
You may be stuck in a hostile environment for days before anyone comes
along - if you're lucky. It's no exaggeration to say that many have
died making this kind of mistake. Remote trips are incredibly exhilarating
but you must plan the distances and points of return properly. ALWAYS
let others know (local police for example) your route and estimated
time of arrival and be sure to check in as soon as you arrive. Buying
or hiring an emergency radio and/or beacon may be wise in very remote
A toolkit is often included with the bike but there's a couple of extras
you might find handy. Firstly, always carry a good knife. You may only
need it for opening beer bottles but it can also be put to many other
uses. Another handy item is a tube of "liquid metal" or similar
that allows you to mix two putty like materials together. It cures to
a solid and can be used to fill holes in sumps, repair petrol tanks
etc. Interestingly, soap can be used to fill a hole in a petrol tank
as fuel won't dissolve it. Another outback quick fix is putting pepper
into a holed radiator to stop the leak!
New Zealanders are generally extremely friendly and will help if you've
broken down and are really stuck. If on a long term hire bike or car
then the toolkit and spares will cover spare levers, belts, inner tubes,
clutch cables and the like helping to deal with many common problems.