Cycle Touring in New Zealand

 Bruce Robertson

Not the easiest place to get to unless you're from Australia, New Zealand is well worth the extra travel. There is very little of the country not suitable for cycling and the level of services and facilities are among the best in the world - plus a big advantage for many is it is an English speaking country. Why should Aussies and Kiwis have it all to themselves!

The population is just over 4m and in a country 10% larger than the UK there is no shortage of space. Urban areas and some highways can be busy and not always cycle-friendly - particularly in the smaller North Island which has three quarters of the population. However of far more interest to most, is the extensive coastline and scenery plus the mixture of mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, and hot springs.
The climate is mild and temperate most of the year, ranging from sub-tropical up north to alpine in the south - however despite the abundance of excellent snow fields, the weather is rarely extreme either way. Rainfall is fairly high (especially in the winter on the North Island and summer on the South Island) with the effect of making the landscape lush with vegetation across the country.


To best appreciate the landscape one or more of the 23 "Great Rides" should be part of your tour. These trails are in the most scenic locations and are all built or designed with cyclists in mind. They are mostly off-road, following rivers and contours, and are unpaved making road bikes unsuitable. Many are rail trails - conversions from old railway lines, which are ideal as trains hate hills as much as most cyclists.
The trails range in level of difficulty but most are easily achievable by average fit riders. Some can be easily combined to make longer rides and they are well dispersed across the country. The first, best known, and probably easiest, is the 150km Otago Central Rail Trial that can be done in between one to five days depending on the rider.
Mountain bikers are also very well catered for with rugged mountain landscapes in most regions as well as purpose built mountain bike parks in Auckland, Kaiteriteri and Queenstown.
New Zealand Regions


As a relatively small country there are tours linking most parts and a tour of either the North or South Island is very popular - there are longer versions that do both over two or more weeks. The road network is extensive but roads are often quite narrow away from the highways, and New Zealand motorists are not known as the most considerate to cyclists. Many of these roads can be very busy so are not recommended, particularly in the North Island, but otherwise are very enjoyable and a terrific way to take in the surrounding countryside - and a knowledgable tour guide will take all the best routes.
Long distance rides are very popular with over 1,600km from north to south, and with the major centres and attractions well connected, the route options are endless. However a deeper exploration into any particular region can be just as rewarding, if not more so.

North Island

Most tours on the North Island start from the gateway and largest city of Auckland. Further north and along the west coast do offer some good cycling, but the riding is more popular and interesting on the Coromandel Peninsula and especially around the sulphuric hot springs of rugged Rotorua. Rotorua is a springboard to several trails as well as the less populated north east coast.
Inland is Lake Taupo, New Zealand's largest lake, and the surrounding area has a lot of cycling, both on and off road. East of Taupo is Napier and Hawke's Bay which is one of the most popular regions with cycle tourists. The cycling is generally flat and easy and the abundance of wineries helps explain the area's popularity.
Wellington in the south, the nation's capital, is very hilly as well as notoriously windy. The best cycling around here is the four sections of the Rimutaka Rail Trail. You can also get a ferry from Wellington across to the South Island - taking a bicycle is allowed and is inexpensive.

South Island

Marlborough, at the top of the island, is justifiably famous for it's wines and this unsurprisingly makes a bike tour even more attractive. There are three good trails up here ranging from the quite advanced Queen Charlotte Track to the easy Tasman's Great Taste Trail which is very accessible from sunny Nelson.
The sparsely populated wild west coast offers quiet roads, stunning Alpine scenery, glaciers and even rainforest. The 120km West Coast Wilderness Trail has 2-3 days relatively easy riding in a stunning setting.
Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island and many tours start or finish from here. The Canterbury region has lots to offer from mountain biking and hot springs around Hamner Springs to the varied options of Little River, the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa.
Further south is the longest Great Ride, the 312km Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail which has eight stages over the best of the South Island - including mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, plains and beaches.
In addition to the Rail Trail, Otago has other shorter trails that together can make up a longer more challenging tour - if that's what you're after. Otherwise each is a fantastic ride in it's own right. Dunedin also has some great road riding to complement the great trails and mountain biking in Otago.
Finally Queenstown, the skiers playground in winter, becomes a mountain biking paradise in summer. As well as the off-road Queenstown Trail and the longer Around the Mountains, Queenstown has one of the country's best mountain bike parks. There are also great wineries and restaurants for attractions off the saddle.
Check out some of the awesome tours available from dozens of operators at For more information on cycle touring we recommend the Tourism New Zealand website and the independent and