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Best advice for riding in New Zealand

Harley-Davidson Road King in New Zealand

The best word of advice I’ve received about riding in New Zealand is that if it’s wet on one coast, it doesn’t take long to ride across to the other side of the island and bask in sunshine!

I received that sage advice in 2015 while on the ferry from the North to South Island. When we arrived in Picton, we headed west because there was sunshine.

When it started to rain, we headed east and within a couple of hours we were in sunshine again.

However, you don’t have to wait hours for a change of weather and scenery if you are riding on the far north of the North Island.

I recently rode with a group of Harley-Davidson execs, VIPs and motorcycle journos from Auckland to the HD Iron Run rally (March 2016) at Paihia in the Bay of Islands.

If you look at a map of New Zealand, this is the skinny bit at the top. A place where you can ride from coast to coast in less than an hour and in some places you can see both coasts at the same time.

All while riding some of the twistiest, most challenging and scenic roads in the world.

While Auckland is an attractive harbour city with trendy restaurants and cafes, we couldn’t wait to escape its confines and head north on the highway.

In less than 15 minutes, we’d crossed the harbour and covered enough of the city to turn off and head for the secondary roads around Orewa and stop for the first of many photographs with a beach background.

Pacific Island beach at Orewa New Zealand
Pacific Island beach at Orewa

With the Pacific Ocean to our right and winding roads in front, we headed north, following the tar through quaint towns for our lunch stop at the Gumdiggers Cafe at the Kauri Museum.

It’s more than just a museum about the venerable tree, but a modern and interesting tribute to pioneers and the Maori culture.

Gumdiggers Cafe New Zealand
Gumdiggers Cafe

We’ve now left the Pacific behind us and are heading west toward Dargaville where we turn north again and follow the Tasman Sea at a distance.

We crest ridges and catch glimpses of the sea in places, surprised we have just left the Pacific Ocean behind us not so long ago.

Heading toward the forests New zealand
Heading toward the forests

Then we enter the Waipoua Kauri Forest where the road narrows and turns into a squiggly challenge.

We drop a gear or two and begin some aggressive riding. I’m glad I have the Road King which has a dynamic chassis and touches down less frequently than I’d thought.

We make good progress through the forest and are enjoying the ride immensely when we pull over to look at Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest.

Tane Mahuta New Zealand
Tane Mahuta

At 51.5m high, 13.8m girth and around 2000 years old, the biggest and oldest tree in the forest.

It’s suddenly all very serious and spiritual as we wash our shoes and scrape off any contaminants before taking the short walk to the humungous tree.

A Maori guide gives us a solemn and heart-felt guide to the magnificent tree and the dwindling kauri forests, now down to less than 3% of their original size.

It’s a daunting and humbling experience. Not a downer, just a solemn reminder of how insignificant we are, yet how much damage we can cause through neglect and thoughtlessness.

Clicking the mind back into riding gear, we kick up the stands and plough on along the challenging roller coaster roads.

Without warning and too soon, we crest a hill and are presented with one spectacular beach view of an estuary emptying out to see behind a dune-covered cape and a tranquil blue bay harbouring peaceful fishing valleys.


We stop for scenic shots and then wind our way down the corkscrew into Opononi and our overnight stay at the Copthorne Hotel.

Next morning we follow the tranquil waters north for a short spell before branching off through the dairy valleys dotted with cows and villages.

At Kawakawa we pull in for fuel and a quick photo stop at the toilets!

Yes, the 24-hour public Hundertwasser Toilets are actually a big tourist attraction.

Famous toilets New zealand
Famous toilets

They were made from recycled materials by expatriate Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived there from 1975 until his death in 2000.

Back on the bikes, we are now looming within half an hour of Paihia, but we turn off and head along Russell Rd into more switchbacks and the Helena Bay Gallery and Cafe for an excellent brew and seafood chowder lunch.

The cafe also affords us our first view of the Pacific Ocean for the day.

Cafe view New Zealand
Cafe view

After lunch, we saddle up and drop down the wiggly tarmac into the valleys that head out toward the sea.

Some wild riding brings us at a frenetic pace to a spectacular seaside road that clings to the low cliffs a little like the famous Great Ocean Road of Victoria.

Like the Great Ocean Rad New zealand
Like the Great Ocean Rad

But here there is no traffic and few tourists. Just stunning coastal scenery and equally stunning roads.

The corners come thick and fast and we start to loose our bearings. The sea looms up on the right, then around the bend it’s on the left. Then it’s behind me.

I crest a ridge and now it’s on both sides of me!

A few corners more and we’re back behind the coastal ridges and winding through dairy farms, only to crest another ridge to be greeted by more coastline.

East coast vista New zealand
East coast vista

We’re having so much fun on the roads, but it’s dangerous because the coastal vistas are so breathtaking, they also take away our attention.

The rider I’m chasing locks the Fat Bob’s rear wheel under compression braking then I have a moment where I momentarily lose the front in some gravel on a big lean.

I gather my thoughts, give myself a mental uppercut and settle down.

Anyway, we’ve now arrived at the vehicle ferry which takes us back across the Waikare Inlet to Paihia, a coastal tourist town where tourists head out into the bay on boats.

Instead, we’re heading to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where we’re staying at the neighbouring Copthorne Resort looking back at Paihia and the beautiful Bay of Islands.

As I’m settling into my room and this glorious sunset view, I’m tempted to get back on that ferry and head west again. I could be on the other coast in a couple of hours!

Sunset view of Paihia New Zealand
Sunset view of Paihia
  1. I did a bus tour of NZ before I got my license,it was a great place to visit both for the scenery and the food. I’ve done Europe and America and they had some good riding but if I were to have to pick one place to have my last riding adventure I think it would have to be NZ for the shear amount of stuff paced into a place you can see all of from the plane. I have done a bit of flying but my first time in a plane was the NZ trip it is also the most memorable both for the view out the window on the way in and for experiencing what it’s like to be in a plane that was literally flapping its wings trying to beat the high winds out of Wellington. It was one of the then new short body 747s the centre luggage locker was banging side to side like the clapper in a bell and the tips of the wings were just missing the runway, from what I remember the pilots words before takeoff were “they’re about to close the airport due to high winds if we don’t go now we’ll be stuck here !” I think he got a few stern words from Qantas about having to retire a new plane. I’ve been in car accidents and I’ve been knocked off my bike but the closest I’ve ever come to that same level of oddly enjoyable fear is when I got the tank slappers at 120k and managed to recover.
    Just one tip about riding in NZ if you go fast enough on the highway you can get airborne from the undulating terrain.

  2. I’ve done a couple of NZ trips in the last few years, both on the South Island, and it’s one of the best places I’ve ever ridden. Both times I’ve gone there in Sept/Oct so it’s not been full-on tourist season, which makes a difference, and I’ve rented a bike from these people and would highly recommend them. The South Island is spectacular, with any sort of road you care to mention, from dead straight to incredibly twisty, 3 different passes to travel East to West and more gravel roads than you can poke a stick at if you’re feeling adventurous. The rental company mentioned above are happy for you to take their bikes onto gravel (not all rental companies allow it) Distances aren’t huge, and there are plenty of accommodation options. NZ does tourism really well. For a really good guide, check out Twisting Throttle New Zealand by Mike Hyde – this lists 50 of the top rides in NZ, and Mike is a very entertaining writer. Also, if you want to do some gravel/dirt road rides, this site is a mine of information

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