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motorcycling in new zealand

Motorcycling in New Zealand: What’s it Like?

Motorcycling in New Zealand just might blow your mind.

New Zealand is a tiny little country right at the bottom of the world.
It’s about the same size as California, and you’re never more than 170 km from the sea.
The population is just over 4 million (not counting the hobbits, elves and dwarves you’ve seen in The Lord of the Rings).

When you look at a map, the travel distances in this country seem very very small.
But a map doesn’t tell the full story.

A map won’t prepare you for moving through completely different worlds over the course of an hour.
It won’t explain why it can take most of the day to ride 200 km.

Because New Zealand is full of surprises – and the best way to discover them is on a motorcycle.


motorcycling in New Zealand is intense


When motorcycling in New Zealand, you’ll wonder if you’re in a Lord of the Rings movie.
Between the endless sunny corners, the snow covered mountains, and the friendly locals, you’ll need to stop often to calm down.
Oh, and then there’s the food…

Here’s what to expect when riding a motorcycle through this challenging (and distracting!) country.

Motorcycling in New Zealand: 5 Surprises Waiting for You

It still amazes me that what looks like a fast, easy ride will actually take at least twice as long as you expect.
And there are 5 very good reasons for that.

1.  The Roads

Riding a motorcycle in New Zealand involves experiencing every kind of road.
There are:

  • busy three-lane city highways with the usual homicidal car drivers
  • quiet country lanes with only birdsong and thick green hedges for company
  • rough gravel roads and unsealed dirt tracks, and
  • even a long white sandy beach you can ride along.

But it’s not the road surfaces themselves that you’ll notice.
It’s the lack of straight lines.

If you’re partial to twisty roads, you just might decide to move here to New Zealand.
The twisties are everywhere you look.

There are roads that follow the flowing lines of deep blue rivers.
There are lazy endless corners through the chocolate-brown fields of newly-ploughed farms.
And hairpin bends that are cut right into and through mountains.

Sometimes you glide through a corner so long that time seems to stop.
It’s just you, and your purring machine leaning into an never-ending sunny curve.

And on many roads, you might not see a car for 20 minutes at a time.
With these riding conditions, who even cares about the destination?


motorcycling in New Zealand - the roads

2.  The Scenery

Sure, those armies of monstrous orcs in The Lord of the Rings movies were created with special effects.
But there was a reason that these movies were filmed in New Zealand.

The jaw-dropping landscapes you see on the screen are real.
And they are crazy – CRAZY – to ride a motorcycle through.

Visitors on New Zealand motorcycle tours are always overwhelmed by the larger-than-life scenery here.
And when you’re riding a motorbike, you’re a moving part of landscapes that will leave you at a loss for words.

The landscapes are often so beautiful that that they make you dizzy.
You’ll pull over, take off your helmet and stand there with your mouth open.
You’ll be gaping at snow-capped mountains, fields of purple lavender, and mini-waterfalls tumbling down cliff faces.

And in this country, there are more shades of green than you’ve ever seen in your life.

The big challenge is to keep your eyes on the road, instead of the scenery.
Good luck with that!


motorcycling in New Zealand - the scenery


3.  The Weather

Motorcycling in New Zealand demands flexibility on a whole new level.
That’s because of the weather.

There’s a reason the band Crowded House wrote a song years ago called “Four Seasons in One Day”.
Yep, they’re from New Zealand.

Here, the sky can change colour in a matter of minutes.
Temperatures can suddenly soar or plummet, as blazing sunshine quickly becomes a thunderous downpour.
One minute, you’re riding through hot, dry orchard country with apples and apricots ripening on their branches in the sun.
And just as you’re thinking of pulling over to unzip your jacket lining and take off a couple more layers, the sky opens up.
Now you’re riding in a heavy, soaking rain that threatens to drown you.

The key is to remember this is an adventure, not a staff meeting.
There’s no agenda.

Carry wet weather gear, and be prepared to change your plans.
If you’re suddenly soaked to the skin, find a motel and re-start your New Zealand motorcycle tour tomorrow.


motorcycling in New Zealand - the weather

4.  The People

In New Zealand, the people are compulsively friendly.
Especially outside of the bigger cities.

Around here, bikers are not viewed as axe murderers who probably just broke out of jail.
A huge number of Kiwis either ride motorcycles themselves, or they used to, want to, or are related to someone who does.

So motorcycles are not a source of suspicion here.
In fact, they’re the perfect ice-breaker with the locals.

When you’re out on the road, prepare to be accosted by complete strangers who want to talk about motorcycles.

Every time you stop for lunch or a coffee, add an extra half hour to your travelling time.
At least.
Because, look out: the locals have spotted you’re riding a motorcycle.

You’re bound to meet the delightful, slightly deaf 78 year old lifetime biker with the 1964 BSA that “still runs as good as new”.
And the reluctant family man who talks longingly about the Norton he had to sell, while his wife and kids glare at him from his new ride: a depressingly sensible station wagon.

People are friendly here.
They’ll talk to you any chance they get – and often just because you’re riding a motorbike.


motorcycling in New Zealand - the people

5.  The Food

Another factor that will slow down your progress from Point A to B on a motorcycle tour of New Zealand is the food.

Oh, man.

It’s a good idea to buy some motorcycle jeans in the next size up before you land on New Zealand shores.
You won’t be able to resist the old-fashioned home-cooked delights on offer in the rustic little coffee shops and bakeries you’ll find every time you stop.

New Zealand is an island (well, two islands, really).
We’re surrounded by water, so fresh seafood abounds.

And it rains a lot, which explains the 500 different shades of green in the landscapes.
All that thick green grass makes for some very happy cows.
Their milk turns into ice-cream that’s so rich and creamy, you’ll wonder if you’re hallucinating.
Don’t be embarrassed if you grunt in joy while you eat it.

That’s completely normal.

Be prepared for some rough-and-ready service in restaurants and coffee shops, though.
A gum-snapping, bored teenager will be behind the counter.
She’ll be too busy texting to take your order.

And when she finally looks up, sighs loudly, and asks in a bored voice, ARE YA RIGHT? she really means:
“Good afternoon, and welcome! Can I take your order?”

Happily, 90% of the time, it’s the food you’ll remember, not the appalling service.


motorcycling in New Zealand - icecream

Motorcycling in New Zealand leads directly to sensory overload.

You can’t rush riding a motorcycle in New Zealand.
You can’t predict what you might see or experience next.

All of this has me wondering: Are we actually hobbits?
It’s a real possibility.
We live among green hills and snowy mountains.
We never say no to a second breakfast.
And the hubby even has hairy feet.


motorcycling in New Zealand - hobbits


Either way, I bet that if The Lord of the Rings was written now, most of the characters would be riding motorcycles.


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    The name “90 Mile Beach” has nothing to do with speed limits. Someone’s pulling your leg. It’s about 55 miles long and no-one really knows where the name comes from.

      Thanks, Chris; you’re right. I’ve amended accordingly. Appreciate your trouble. 🙂

    Excellent article, and not a single mention of Burt Munro. (which is probably a whole another article). Keep up the good work. NZ certainly is paradise. Speaking of Paradise, that was my favorite ride – from Wanaka, over the Crown Range, up beside Lake Wakatipu to Paradise and back, a great day!

      Thanks, Moosee! That’s right, there are so many amazing roads and destinations in New Zealand, I couldn’t cover it all in one article. Yep, I did write about Burt Munro separately: that post is here – https://www.pillioness.com/bike-rally-with-indian-motorcycles-hobbits/ 🙂

    This article brings back memories from 1975. I was just 21 when I cruised to New Zealand, leaving my cb 750 Honda at home on Vancouver Island, Canada.
    I thought at that time that I would return with my motorcycle one day but life took a turn when I met my wife of now 41 years. I’ve never been back but we still ride and it still is on my bucket list. Thanks for rekindling the memories and desire!

      Fantastic, Glen! You’ll notice a difference when you do come back – we have good coffee now! But the lack of traffic on the country roads we were on 2 days ago was at about 1975 levels – I think we saw 5 cars in an hour!

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