New Zealand is famous for (cycling) tourism. Traveling is therefor pretty straight forward. I had a great time in NZ and not many reasons to complain. The only negative thing was, like at a lot of places, traffic. It’s recognizable that most Kiwis are not cycling themselves (no wonder if they call it push bike) and therefor don’t have a lot of experience with cyclists on the road. But also tourists in their camper vans are not really better. The conclusion out of that is, that you really have to pay attention when you are cycling and you should make sure to be always well visible (think about getting one of those bright wests).
I don’t want to write now about the good things and the bad things and will split the rest in topics instead. I think that it will be more useful that way.
People: Kiwis (the humans, not the fruit or the bird) are very friendly and helpful. I got several times during this journey invited to coffee, ice cream or even staying with them. And this were more or less always older Kiwis. A lot of tourists seem to be too busy with themselves to interact with others, which is kind of sad. If I will be on the other side in the future again, I want to do it better because it makes life much more fun. Let me know, if I’m not following up on this…
Safety/Crime: New Zealand is a very safe country and I didn’t have any problems. However, the usual pre caution should be taken, e.g. lock your bike.
Transport: The train system in NZ is a bit limited and also pretty expensive. Nevertheless, it’s very easy to take your bike along. Most cities are reachable by Bus (InterCity, Naked Bus, AtomicShuttle) for a reasonable price. Space for bicycle should be reserved in advance and it’s sometimes needed to take of wheels and pedals and to cover the chain. You should ask, when you book your journey and be at the bus stop some time ahead. Bike transportation is also possible on most ferry services, e.g. between the North and South Island (InterIslander, BlueBridge).
Traffic: I personally underestimated traffic. It’s generally not too bad outside of the bigger cities but the roads are frequently pretty narrow and don’t have shoulder or even a cycle lane. Additionally, the speed limit is typically 100km/h even if the roads aren’t that great. Therefore, you really have to pay attention during cycling and also to be ready to stop or get off the road if needed. It’s recommended to avoid the main roads and choose calmer side roads wherever possible. Those are also more interesting most of the time. However, some of them are unpaved and this should be considered, if you choose your tires. The New Zealand Cycle Trail is getting build up at the moment but the focus seems to be more on mountain biking or similar tracks. It’s a bit patchy therefor but nevertheless worth to be checked.
Food: You can get food almost everywhere and you don’t have to transport a lot of groceries therefor, except in remote areas. Tap water is more or less always drinkable except at the simple DOC campgrounds and remote places. Water out of streams and lakes should be treated because it could be infected with Gardia or polluted through stock. On most campgrounds (except the DOC ones), you will find a kitchen. However, some of them don’t have pots and similar stuff. You only need a stove if you go to remote places.
Accommodations: NZ is offering the whole spectrum from free campgrounds till expensive hotels. A great deal are the campgrounds of the Department Of Conservation DOC, which are frequently situated at beautiful locations and pretty cheap as well. The next more expensive offer are the various motor camps like Kiwi Holiday Parks and Top10. Another possibility are the various hostels (e.g. BBH and YHA/HI). Some of them allow also to camp in their garden which is a pretty good deal because you get all the advantages of a hostel but don’t have to deal with a snoring guy in the room… And even pay a bit less. Wild or stealth camping is more difficult because almost all land is private and used for agriculture. However, it’s of course also a possibility. Rankerz.NZ gives a great overview of the various camping spots, including some free ones. Another option are of course Warmshowers and Couchsurfing.
Money/Credit Cards: Credit cards are pretty common in NZ. However, at some places and especially remote places, only cash is accepted. Additionally, on some ATMs foreign cards are not supported. It’s therefor recommended to always have enough cash with you, especially e.g. at the west coast of the South Island.
Maps/GPS/Books: It’s recommended to have a good road map, which can be bought at e.g. book stores. I also recommend to get the two volumes of the Pedallers’ Paradise (one for each island). It’s also available at some book stores and gives you a lot of information, e.g. about the road, accommodation and stores on the way and is updated regularly. I also used heavily various apps for my smartphone, e.g. Google Maps, Nestfinder (BBH and DOC), CamperMate (All kind of information including accommodation; very good), Locus Map and so on. Those are changing frequently and it’s worth a search before you start your adventure. It’s also recommended to already download some online maps already at home because it can get pretty expensive in NZ.
Internet/phone: Most hostels and also motor camps are offering WLAN for accessing the Internet. However, in most cases it’s not free and can be even pretty expensive. An alternative is Internet access through your mobile phone. In this case, you should get a local prepaid SIM card and buy a data package. Make sure that your smartphone is supporting the used frequencies (different by provider) and is not SIM locked (e.g. if you bought your phone through your phone company). A list of the offers is available here.
Activities: New Zealand is the country of the unlimited outdoor fun. There is something for everybody, e.g. hiking (which is called tramping here), kayaking, river rafting, caving, … The only question is how much money you want to spend and how much time you have. However, NZ is definitively not cheap but there are also some free activities available and at some places you get discounts for e.g. YHA/HI/BBH members (It’s always well hidden…).
Weather: That’s a topic for itself. At the end you have to be prepared for everything. It can be very sunny and dry (like the summer 2012/2013) but it can also be rainy and cold. Wind is also a fact. Typically, it’s blowing from west/south west but it can also turn, especially if the weather is changing. The weather forecast is a thing by itself and you should take it as a tendency only. Reality can be completely different. Or how some other ones said it: it’s most of the time correct but the day could be wrong. Snow is more or less only falling in the mountains. However, that is also possible during summer. NZ is an island nation and that makes it a bit complicated.
Best time to travel: In general, you can cycle NZ around the whole year. However, the main travel time is probably between October and May. Especially around Christmas and New Year and till end of January, it can be pretty busy because there are school holidays in NZ and the Kiwis are traveling as well. It’s recommend to book the ferry between the island ahead (also for cyclists!) during this peak time.
New Zealand is definitively worth a journey and it also better shouldn’t be too short. It would be a pity, if you would have to hurry through the country. If you want to do that by bike is another question. NZ isn’t flat and you will for sure have some head wind. However, it’s a great experience as always and also a good training ;-).