Motorcycle Travel Guide: New Zealand

Welcome to New Zealand – an absolutely incredible place to ride an adventure bike. This motorcycle travel guide explains everything you need to know about motorcycle touring and riding in New Zealand and will help you get the most out of your biking adventures there.

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Contents

Motorcycle Travel Guide New Zealand

Welcome to New Zealand! Those two little islands tucked away somewhere in the bottom right-hand corner of your map make up one of the absolute best motorcycle destinations in the world. For such a small country, New Zealand packs a serious punch with epic roads, glaciers, off-roading, mountains, stunning lakes, beautiful beaches, culture, volcanoes, waterfalls, fjords and sounds… the list goes on. What makes it so good for a motorcyclist is that all those incredible sights are crammed into a small place. Every day is something new.

This guide will help you motorcycle travel in New Zealand. Our guides are focused on round the world motorcycle riders using their own motorcycles, so you’ll find info on shipping and import info, but the info included will also be handy for those flying in to rent a bike or join a tour. However you do it, you’ll love riding in New Zealand.

Paperwork for motorcycle travel in New Zealand

Paperwork must be sorted in advance for New Zealand. Primarily, you need to have a valid passport and visa and carnet de passage if you are flying or shipping a foreign motorcycle into the country. Of course, no import paperwork is necessary if you’re flying in to rent or join a tour. 

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Visas

British citizens do not need a visa to enter New Zealand if staying for under six months. Instead, Brits can travel to New Zealand with an NZeTA. This must be done before you land in New Zealand and can be completed via a mobile phone app. You usually get confirmation immediately, but it can take up to 72 hours.  

You also need to pay for an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy of 35NZD.

Check with the official New Zealand Immigration website to see if your nationality and citizenship requires a visa, NZeTA, Levy or other documents.

Driver’s licence

To ride a motorcycle in New Zealand you need a valid motorcycle licence. You need a 1949 International Driver’s Permit if your licence is not in English. You need to carry your licence at all times when riding.

Motorcycle insurance

Motorcycle insurance in New Zealand is recommended, but not mandatory. It is recommended to purchase motorcycle insurance regardless. 

Personal travel insurance

Personal motorcycle travel insurance is important wherever you travel. Make sure your policy covers you to ride a motorcycle in New Zealand – and the type of motorcycle you want to ride too as a lot of policies only cover 125cc bikes. For more info on travel insurance, have a read of this guide.

READ MORE: Motorcycle Travel Insurance Explained

Temporary import / Carnet

For New Zealand, a carnet is not compulsory – however, the customs process is much simpler with it. You can get a temporary import with NZ customs, but you will need to pay a bond equivalent to the import GST and then it is refunded upon export. If it is not being imported using a carnet, then the latest information we have is that it will also need to go through the full compliance/registration process. The NZTA have abolished the temporary WOF’s for vehicles with overseas plates.

So, instead it is recommended to use a carnet de passage to get your motorcycle in and out of New Zealand.

As New Zealand is an island country, you will either need to ship your motorcycle in by boat or plane, in which case it is highly recommend to use a shipping agent – they will be able to help arrange getting your carnet or temporary import paperwork stamped in and out and will advise on the current regulations. More on shipping in and our recommended agent below.  

You can also find more info on the New Zealand Gov website.

READ MORE: Carnet de Passage Explained

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Getting in and out of New Zealand

New Zealand is an island country in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean. So, it’s highly likely you’ll be flying in and out. You can fly to either the North and South Islands of New Zealand. To get between the two islands you can take a ferry. More on that below.

When flying in, it’s likely you’ll find the cheapest and easiest flights are to Auckland airport in the North Island. It’s a great place to start if you are going to be riding both islands anyway. We recommend checking skyscanner.net for the best prices.

Shipping a motorcycle to New Zealand

Shipping a motorcycle to New Zealand is similar to shipping to Australia. Your motorcycle must be exceptionally clean in order to pass quarantine. That means no traces of dirt, insects or bio hazards. If you haven’t cleaned your motorcycle well enough, it could stay in quarantine until you’ve paid for it to be re-cleaned (you won’t be able to do it yourself), paid for storage and paid for a reinspection.

But don’t let that put you off. Just make sure your motorcycle is showroom clean and you’ll be fine.

To ship your motorcycle into and out of New Zealand, get in touch with Rocket Freight as they specialise in motorcycle shipping. They will also be able to handle customs clearance and storage and will advise on the latest shipping and paperwork entry information. Their website is rocketfreight.co.nz.

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Renting a motorcycle or joining a tour in New Zealand

Flying your own motorcycle to New Zealand, dealing with customs and carnets and then flying it back out again is an expensive process – especially coupled with the shipping time it takes to get there. You’ve got to either be on a round the world trip with your own bike or just really like your own bike to go for this option. An alternative is to fly in and rent a bike for your time there. Or, join an organised motorcycle tour. These two options take away all the stress of shipping and mean you can just turn up and ride straight away.

Take a look at the Rental and Tour Companies Finder for more a selection of companies based in New Zealand.

READ MORE: Rental and Tour Companies in New Zealand

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

When to motorcycle travel in New Zealand

The best time to ride a motorcycle in New Zealand is during their summer months – from December to March. Their winter is between June, July and August and you’ll find it bitterly cold with mountain sections closed off because of heavy snowfall.

We rode through New Zealand between April and May and only had a few cold days. We found these to be great months because it was far less busy than during summer. 

The weather in New Zealand can be temperamental though. Bear in mind that when you’re in the South Island, it might be raining on the west coast but perfectly fine on the east coast. The ‘Main Divide’ (mountain ranges running up the middle of the island) can be easily crossed via its road mountain passes, so if you have flexibility with your route, you can simply switch sides within about three hours.

We recommend using yr.no/en to keep tabs of the weather while motorcycling in New Zealand.

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Accommodation in New Zealand for motorcycle riders

New Zealand is an expensive country to travel through. You’ll find everyday food items and accommodation are rather expensive in comparison to countries like the UK, US and even Australia.

Hotels

There are budget style hotel rooms throughout New Zealand, but in general, hotels and accommodation is expensive. You’ll find better deals outside of peak season and it depends on location and time of year. Booking.com is a good website for finding accommodation in towns and cities. It’s always recommended to book in advance, especially in bigger cities and popular tourist spots.

Here’s a Booking.com map centred on Queenstown so you can quickly gauge the current type of prices in and around New Zealand.

Booking.com

AirBnB

AirBnB is also a good option, although a pricier one. However, with some luck, you may be able to find some good deals. Booking in advance helps and it often makes a difference if you’re travelling with other people to help bring costs down. You can find good deals if you want to rent a place out for a longer period of time and have it as a base.

Cabins

This was our preferred accommodation choice in New Zealand. As it started to get a bit colder in the South Island, instead of camping we stayed in private campsite areas that also offered cabins. These are usually very small, with a heater and a bed. The toilet and showers would be in a communal block and there would also be a communal kitchen. We went for these because they are so much cheaper than hotels.

Bunk a Biker

Try out the Bunk a Biker network. It’s a brilliant and free resource for motorcycle travellers and we stayed with some amazing people using this while riding through New Zealand. Here’s the link for Bunk a Biker New Zealand. 

Motorcycle camping in New Zealand

You can camp with your motorcycle in New Zealand. But camping is nowhere near as easy in NZ as it is in the neighbouring country of New Zealand. You’ll find plenty of privately run campsites throughout the country. These are generally quite expensive.

Wild camping is allowed, but only on Department of Conservation and council land. And the big caveat affecting motorcyclists is that your vehicle must be self-contained – meaning you need to be able to store and remove your toilet waste from the site – not possible for bikers. So, you will need to look for ‘Serviced DOC’ campsites that have at least pit toilets, these one’s aren’t free but are a lot cheaper than privately run sites.

We highly recommend downloading the WikiCamps app, where you can find lots of different camping spots, with the latest updates and reviews. You will also be able to find plenty of free spots to camp with this app. We used it all the time and always managed to find an acceptable camping spot. The app also shows wild camping spots that people used before. This way you can be sure you’re not camping where you’re not supposed to. The iOverlander app also works in case WikiCamps fails.

READ MORE: Motorcycle Camping Guides

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Safety for motorcycle travellers in New Zealand

New Zealand is an exceptionally safe country to travel through and often referred to as one of the safest countries in the world.

But, there is still crime – especially in big cities so take standard precautions when travelling.

Other than crime, you don’t have the big expansive nothingness of Australia to contend with. There’s no ultra harsh environment either so carrying fuel, food and water into remote lands is not a concern.

However, if you are venturing off the beaten track and tackling off-road routes, you may not find or come across other people for long stretches. So, it’s always worth carrying an emergency device in case you run into trouble. And make sure you have travel insurance in place before you go that covers you to ride a motorcycle.

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Motorcycling on and off-road in New Zealand 

You can easily travel around New Zealand on both asphalt or gravel, it depends what type of riding you’re after. Here’s some info on each. 

Paved and asphalt roads

You can ride around the whole of New Zealand using tarmacked roads. And these roads are excellent. You’ll find straights, twisties, hairpins – the lot. The road riding in NZ is brilliant and you’ll love it. Simply plot your destinations into Google Maps and it’ll stick to tarmac for you. If you’re into trail riding and off-roading though, you’ll find phenomenal routes too. 

Off-road riding in New Zealand

There are some brilliant off-road motorcycle routes throughout New Zealand and you’ll find varying levels, grades and tracks throughout the country.

New Zealand has a great network of amazing gravel backroads that are publicly accessible, and also a network of remote tracks that exist on Government land, with public access in the form of DOC tracks (Department of Conservation). Some DOC tracks are easy access such as gravel roads while some are challenging and up to grade 5. Some DOC tracks are open all year and some are seasonal due to snow or limiting track damage.

However, it’s not always clear cut where you can and cannot ride as there are limitations in New Zealand. For example, a significant portion of New Zealand is farmland. While there are many public easements through some of these properties, unlike some countries where you can legally pass through, in New Zealand, you must seek land access first. And another consideration is that a significant portion of New Zealand is forestry land and is often impossible to get access unless you are in an organised event that has public indemnity insurance in the millions.

So, while New Zealand is an incredible country to ride off-road and filled with brilliant tracks and trails accessible to the public, there are places you can’t ride and must take this into consideration.

To make life easier, we recommend checking out adventureguide.co.nz. It’s a huge online resource filled with thousands of routes, GPX files and the best off-road rides in New Zealand. They’re also producing a new navigation app too, which will make it even easier to find these routes as you won’t need to use GPX files and can easily and quickly see which tracks you can and can not ride.

You’re going to love off-roading in New Zealand, it’s incredible!  

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

New Zealand’s North vs South Islands

New Zealand is split into two main islands: the North and the South Islands. The North is beautiful, filled with farmlands, beaches and is very green. The South is what you’ll find in the Lord of the Rings. It has the snow capped mountains, gorgeous lakes, forests and all the adventure stuff. The best road and off-road riding as well as the best scenery can all be found in the South Island.

However, we did absolutely love our time riding through the North and you will too, so don’t completely disregard it and ride there if you have the time.

Getting between the North and South Islands

There is are two ferry services operating between the two islands: Interislander Ferry and Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry. Both services take around three hours and are roughly the same price. The ports are Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South Island.

When we were riding in New Zealand in 2022, both ferries had huge delays and cancellations and lots of people were left stranded. Our advice is to book well in advance (we had to book a month in advance) and go for whichever is cheaper.

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Our favourite motorcycle rides in New Zealand

We have a dedicated article on the best motorcycle routes in New Zealand as well as a guide outlining our entire route. So, we won’t repeat the whole lot here and instead just list our favourites. Check out the Best Routes guide for detailed info on these routes and the Ultimate Tour for our downloadable map.

  • The Rainbow Road
  • Mount Cook Road (Lake Pukaki)
  • Southern Alps Ranges
  • Queenstown to Glenorchy
  • Coromandel Loop
  • Akaroa Loop
  • Westport to Haast Pass and Wanaka
  • The Road to Milford Sounds from Queenstown
  • Crown Range Road

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New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Fun things to do in New Zealand

Here’s a selection of some of our favourite activities we did while riding around New Zealand.

Motorcycle Mecca

Tucked away in the bottom of the South Island is the Classic Motorcycle Mecca Museum. You’ll find hundreds of vintage motorcycles here. And a couple of minutes away are Burt Munro’s bikes too.

READ MORE: Motorcycle Mecca Museum Guide

Helicopter ride to Fox Glacier

This one was special. How often do you get to ride in a helicopter and land and get out and walk around on top of a glacier. If you can spare the time and cash, we definitely recommend this one. If you can, opt for the tour that runs to either Fox or Frans Josef Glacier and Mount Cook.

Here’s a link to Viator to see the latest prices and current tour offers: Helicopter Fox Glacier

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Mad or Nomad Fox Glacier Helicopter Ride

Lord of the Rings: Hobbiton and Weta Workshop

Of course, you need to be a Lord of the Rings fan to enjoy these two experiences. If you are, then check out the film set of Hobbiton (well worth it) in the North Island. And also check out Weta Workshop – the guys who made all the props and costumes for the Lord of the Rings film.

Check out our dedicated guide on how to visit Hobbiton and Weta Workshop. 

READ MORE: How to Visit the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

New Zealand Hobbiton

Milford Sound

This one is special and can’t be missed. The Milford Sound cruises are spectacular. Waterfalls, seals, dolphins on pristine blue waters with overhanging mountains…

Here’s a link to Viator to see the latest prices and current tour offers: Milford Sound Tours

New Zealand Milford Sounds Motorcycle Trip

Seals

This one is free. You’ll find hundreds of seals along the east coast of the South Island as you near Kaikoura. We spotted them as we rode north from Christchurch, parked up and strolled along the beach taking pictures. Kaikoura is also the place to go whale watching if you fancy it: Kaikoura Whale Watching Tours

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Adventure bike riding gear for New Zealand

New Zealand’s weather can change very quickly. It could be scorching on one side of the South Island and hammering it down with rain on the other in the same day. So, it’s advisable to wear a Gore-Tex or waterproof lined motorcycle riding suit unless you’re riding in the height of summer.

Make sure you take warm clothing and a compressible down jacket as some areas can get chilly quickly and ensure your riding suit is fully waterproof. Two pairs of gloves are always a good idea too (one warm and waterproof pair and one lightweight summer pair).

For more info on riding gear, check out the below section for all of our guides.

READ MORE: Adventure Bike Riding Gear

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Further help

There are some great New Zealand Facebook groups out there and we recommend joining them.

The people in New Zealand are among the kindest we’ve met in all our travels. Joining Facebook groups and just saying, hi, we’re coming to New Zealand were met with so many offers of a place to stay and we made lifelong friends from travelling around. Join the groups, introduce yourself and you’ll be surprised at impressed at just how friendly, kind, helpful and cool New Zealanders are.

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Kind People Mad or Nomad (14)

Top tips

Mobile data – we recommend using the Airalo app to download an eSIM onto your mobile phone for New Zealand. This way, you can get mobile data on your phone ready for when you land in the country. You can find more info here: airalo.com

Book in advance – Ferry tickets and accommodation can get booked up fast – especially in peak seasons. The same goes for activities. If you are going at a busy time, then make sure you book early.

Join Facebook groups – We mentioned this above, but can’t recommend it enough. New Zealanders are exceptionally friendly and joining NZ FB groups is a fantastic way to meet up with fellow bikers and get great advice on routes and recommendations.

Set a lot of time aside – New Zealand is relatively small, but there’s so much to see and do – not just with the motorcycling. A solid month should give you enough time to explore both islands on a motorcycle and take your time seeing the sights. Longer would of course be better. We spent seven weeks and that was just too short.

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel

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Read more on motorcycle travel in New Zealand

Thanks for checking out the Motorcycle Travel Guide: New Zealand. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on motorcycle travel in New Zealand that we recommend you read next. 

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Are you planning a motorcycle tour in New Zealand? Do you have any questions, tips or suggestions? Let us know in the comments below. 

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