The Best Motorcycle Routes in New Zealand

Welcome to New Zealand! It has got to be in our top three favourite places to ride in the world – it’s jaw droppingly beautiful and the perfect adventure bike riding destination. So to help you plan your ride there and get the most out of it, we’ve listed the best motorcycle routes in New Zealand here…

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

Contents

The Best Motorcycle Routes in New Zealand

New Zealand packs a serious punch. It’s a strong contender for one of our absolute favourite motorcycle riding destinations. It has everything from insanely good roads, endless off-roading, incredibly kind people, culture, out of this world scenery from epic glaciers, snow capped mountains, jaw dropping lakes and lush forests. It’s easy to see why they filmed Lord of the Rings here…

We spent seven weeks riding both islands in New Zealand on our round the world trip and could have easily doubled that time as there was so much left to see and do.

So, to help you plan your motorcycle tour of New Zealand and get the most out of it, we’ve pinned down the best riding routes in one easy guide. 

The Rainbow Road

The Rainbow Road is our favourite off-road route in New Zealand. It’s located in the South Island and runs for 70 miles from Saint Arnaud to Hamner Springs, although it can be done in either direction. The route runs across private land and there is a ‘toll station’ around quarter of the way in from St Arnaud, which is manned by a lovely chap who also sells honey. Expect to pay around 20NZD for a motorcycle and 40 for a car. But don’t let the payment put you off, it’s 100% worth it.

We rode this route two-up, with full luggage on a BMW R1200GSA, so it can be done on big bikes, but bear in mind there are plenty of water crossings – so you will need to take this road on at the right time of year otherwise the water can be too high to cross. Make sure you’re confident with water crossings too, as it’s an easy way to damage your bike. Have a read of our Field Mechanics Guide for info on how to clear water from your bike.

Difficulty level is subjective, the lighter the bike the better, but it can be done on bigger bikes. The only catch is the water crossings (all located closer to the St Arnaud side).

Towards Hamner Springs is Lake Tennyson, you’ll see diversion signs for it as it’s a short ride off the main path and well worth it. There’s a campsite there (as well as other points along the Rainbow Road). In case you’re considering tackling this route in a car, the road from Hamner to Tennyson can be completed in a two-wheel drive car, the rest of the route will require a 4WD.

You will absolutely love this road. It’s stunning and a really adventurous motorcycle ride.

Mount Cook Road (Lake Pukaki)

The ride to Mount Cook will have your jaw poking out the bottom of your helmet. Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and riding right up to it is a must. It’s located in the South Island, start in the little town of Twizel, head up the number 8 and hook a left on the road leading to Lake Pukaki (the number 80). This is a direct road all the way up to Mount Cook.

The road itself is beautiful with snow capped mountains in front of you, mountains to the left and a blue sparkling lake to your right. It’s one road in and one road out, but obviously take your time going in because that’s when you’re riding towards the mountain. Get right to the end, head into the huge hotel, order a coffee, sit on the terrace and soak it all in.

Southern Alps Mountain Range

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

The Southern Alps are New Zealand’s largest mountain range – stretching over 300 miles from Nelson at the top of the South Island to Milford Sounds at the bottom. This humungous mountain range is home to endless snowy mountains and the gigantic Mount Cook. You can ride either side of the Great Divide along the west or east coasts.

But, as you’re on a motorcycle, of course you’re going to want to cross the Southern Alps! There are three main passes, which take you across the dividing range: The Haast Pass, Lewis Pass and Arthur’s Pass. If you have time and enjoy tight switchbacks and technical riding, then these are for you. See if you can link all three up.

This map doesn’t provide an actual route, but simply pinpoints where the three passes are.

Coromandel Loop

The Coromandel Loop is located in the North Island and is a beautiful ride. The road hugs the coast with beautiful views and gorgeous little beach towns. It’s very easy to spend a long time here constantly stopping off for coffees. It’s a slow and easy ride and can be very busy if you catch it at the wrong time.

The 25A road between Hikuai and Kopu took serious damage during the storms in January 2023 and may still be closed when you read this article. Check for updates before taking planning your loop as you may need to continue all the way down the 25 to Waikino and up the 26.

Akaroa Loop

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

The Akaroa Loop will blow your socks off. You’ll be chasing switchbacks and hairpins into the sky – literally. It’s a short ride from Christchurch in the South Island and if you’re anywhere near the area I would say this one is an absolute must. It’s very different from riding on the west side of the island as it’s so green. The ultra twisty road weaves up mountains so you can overlook the entire harbour and it’s truly stunning.

Make sure you stop off in Akaroa Harbour as well and take some time to sip a drink, eat some good food and let the world pass you by.

There are also so many turn off and additional little roads that branch out from the main loop. Zoom in Google Maps and take your pick!

North Island Loop

There’s no doubt the South Island has some of the absolute best and most jaw dropping rides in New Zealand. But, the North Island holds its own on this stunning loop. Head over to Russell (the old capital) and take the ferry from Paihia, then work your way back to Kawakawa via off-road trails and over to ninety mile beach. If the weather’s good, head all the way up to Cape Reinga at the northernmost tip. 

You’ll find stunning views and incredibly twisty backroads around Opononi and to Tane Mahuta (the world’s largest kauri tree around 2000 years old).

Check out the Ultimate New Zealand Motorcycle Tour Guide (links below) for our exact route of this area. 

Westport to Haast Pass and Wanaka

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Mad or Nomad Fox Glacier Helicopter Ride

This is a long but beautiful ride hugging the rugged west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. From the town of Westport, keep the Tasman Sea on your right shoulder and just keep going south. You’ll hit Hokitika and then keep going until you reach the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Here’s where you can take a helicopter flight to the glaciers, they’ll land you on the actual glacier itself so you can get out and walk about – it’s a worthwhile and pretty incredible experience.

Keep on going until you reach Haast Pass (mentioned above in the Southern Alps route), cross it and make your way to Wanaka.

You’re now poised to do the Crown Range Road and are only a stone’s throw from Queenstown.

Motorcycle rides from Queenstown

The Road to Milford Sounds from Queenstown

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

No doubt, if you’re in the South Island of New Zealand and anywhere near the adventure packed Queenstown, you’re going to be making your way to the legendary Milford Sound too. It’s a must. Gliding out on still water while watching for dolphins, seals and rainbow filled waterfalls. But importantly, don’t jump on a bus there – it’s too good of a ride to miss!

Queenstown to the Crown Range Road

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

The Crown Range Road is known as the highest main road in New Zealand. And it’s pretty spectacular too. So if you’re heading in or out of Queenstown, try and take the Crown to Wanaka. We also recommend taking the off-road route to Skipper’s Canyon, which is very close to Queenstown. 

Queenstown to Glenorchy and Paradise

New Zealand Motorcycle Travel Tour

This is a very pretty and easy little ride. Head out of Queenstown and follow signs for Glenorchy. The road hugs Lake Wakatipu until you reach it. Stop for coffee and cake, and if you fancy it you could keep going until you hit Paradise.

More things to do in New Zealand

Aside from riding, there are so many awesome things to do in New Zealand. We listed a selection of our favourites in the Motorcycle Travel Guide for New Zealand, so make sure you check that out too. Here they are in bullet form in case you wanted a quick look.

Read more on motorcycle travel in New Zealand

Thanks for checking out The Best Motorcycle Routes in New Zealand guide. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on motorcycle travel in New Zealand and Australia that we recommend you read next. 

We may receive a commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase a product using the affiliate links on this page. We’re not sponsored, are completely impartial and don’t run ads. So this helps us keep the site running. Thank you for your support.

Try these next…

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

Leave a comment