Guidance notes for a 7 day tour of the South Island of New Zealand.
These notes are general points to bear in mind when touring the South Island on two wheels. The suggested itinerary is for those planing to tour for 7 days, but personalised itineraries can be provided whether you are planning a 3 day, or 3 week tour.
The first point to make is that when touring New Zealand it is all about the journey and not the destination. In 7 days you will not be able to see all of the south island but you will certainly be able to sample many types of spectacular scenery from pristine beaches, to forests and lakes, snow capped mountains and glaciers.
The general opinion from both my own experience and from fellow bikers is that 350km in New Zealand is equivalent to 600km in Australia or Europe.
That is because in the South Island of New Zealand there are no motorways and it’s simply not possible to travel at 100km per hour on even the main roads where they travel through the mountainous areas. They are steep and twisty and you will want to stop often to take in the view and to stop for refreshments etc. Also riding on such roads is exhilarating but also tiring compared to riding on straight and level roads.
There is so much to do and see as you travel between places so you need to allow plenty of time for your journey each day. 350km will take you at least 7 hours of riding including coffee breaks and the mandatory photographic stops.
So unless you and your pillion (if applicable) wish to spend 10 hours plus per day on the bike without being able to spend time on various activities and lingering in special locations, I would suggest the following.
Day 1: You should aim for Hokitika on the west coast. This involves traversing the south island from east to west via spectacular Arthur’s Pass and is approx 260km.
Day 2: From the Hokitika area head south on the West coast highway (SH6) towards the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers, distance approx 160km.
Day 3: From the glaciers head south towards Haast and then on to Wanaka, a distance of 260km.
Day 4: Wanaka to Queenstown, (you’ll want to spend time in Queenstown and the area where there is much to do and see) a day with a little less riding and a distance of 113kms.
Day 5: From Queenstown to Mt. Cook and the large and spectacular Lake Pukaki. A distance of approx 260kms.
Day 6: Return to Christchurch area for return of motorcycle the same day or the following morning, a distance of approx 335kms approx from Mt Cook.
The above will take you through every type of scenery from mountain passes, to temperate rain forests, glaciers, oceans, lakes, forests and open plains.
You also need to be very flexible. The weather especially on the west coast can change quickly. There can be torrential rain which can close roads and wash away bridges on main highways, as happened in early January of 2013. It is not necessary to pre-book accommodation (except in Christchurch) as there is always a plentiful supply of good value B&B’s and small hotels in all areas and this also means that you have the flexibility to change your destination if desired or because of adverse weather.
NOTES ON RIDING IN WET WEATHER
For your safety and enjoyment avoid if at all possible: Most roads in New Zealand are chip seal which is abrasive and gives excellent grip in dry weather. However when the chip seal wears away, which is often on corners, its reveals the smooth tar underseal which in wet weather is like ice.
When the road is wet you cannot see the condition of the road ahead and potholes and worn surfaces are either hidden by the surface water, or at best very hard to see. You should never put your tyre in a place that your eyes cannot see. Another hazard of rain in the foothills and mountains is that landslips and rock falls onto the roads can occur.
So do not plan to travel in the rain. No destination is worth risking your safety for.
Listen to the comprehensive NZ weather forecasts and plan an alternative destination avoiding the bad weather, or wait until the wet weather passes through. The rain in New Zealand can be heavy but usually passes through quickly in less than a day.
If you are caught out in wet weather then reduce your speed to at least half the appropriate dry weather speed.
It is better to arrive late than not at all.