Cycling New Zealand: Tips
New Zealand is a country of changing landscapes, and changing weather. When you first think about cycling the country, you may be put off by the mountains, but the country has a lot more to offer and with some careful planning you can choose a route with gradients that will suit you and use the well established network of backpacker busses and the occasional train to negotiate the rest.
Pedallers’ Paradise by Nigel Rushton is a self-published set of two books comprehensively covering the cycle routes around each of New Zealand’s North and South Islands. It’s difficult to get hold of outside of NZ so plan on picking a copy up in one of the bookshops in Auckland or Wellington. The author’s website lists stockists. If you’re used to the turn-by-turn directions offered by books like Bicycling the Pacific Coast then you may find Pedallers’ Paradise a bit lacking in detail, and more confusingly laid out. However it offers options for almost every route you might need, it has gradient profiles which are useful and lists amenities in each town. It’s not a perfect guide, but is certainly the best of the slim list of guides available. You will also need a decent map to accompany the guide. Kiwimaps produce a good set of map books, we used the Compact Travellers Atlas.
The Department of Conservation provide a small network of state camp sites which vary in facilities from basic (running water and drop toilets) to full service (hot showers, kitchen, hook-ups). You can pick up a DoC list of campsites at any iSite (tourist info centre).
The private campsites are generally very well provisioned, compared to what we were used to in the UK and US. They will usually have a kitchen with cookers, sinks, microwaves and sometimes plates and pans too. Often a lounge, laundry and pool too. These private sites charge per person, usually between $15 and $20 each.
Wild camping is technically allowed public land unless otherwise signed, but in practice is almost impossible to find. A better option is to ask a local farmer or homeowner if they’d mind if you camped in their field, and being a friendly people, they will often let you.
You can look as carefully as you like at prevailing winds and long term forecasts, but the truth is that New Zealand’s weather is changeable and can be very windy. Just take a look at Wellington’s new art installation. The West coast of the South island is covered with beautiful rainforest which makes for fun riding but it’s also a testament to the amount of rain which falls here each year. They measure the rainfall in meters here!
For details of the routes we took, take a look at