Go motorcycle riding in New Zealand, and you’ll discover a new surprise around every corner. If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings movies, you know they were filmed in New Zealand. All those snow-covered mountain peaks, and the mossy green valleys with yellow sunlight filtering through the trees are real!
These are magical landscapes when you see them on a big screen. But when you ride a motorcycle through these landscapes, you become part of a moving painting that takes your breath away.
I’ve been riding on the back of motorcycles in New Zealand for 12 years. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see hobbits, wizards or a pack of galloping orcs on my travels. But even if you don’t have any close encounters with mythical creatures, there are plenty of surprises in store for you here.
Let me introduce you to three destinations you must see when riding a motorcycle in New Zealand.
Celebrating Motorcycle Riding in the Far South of the World
Right near the bottom of New Zealand, on the last stop to Antarctica, is a small, sleepy town called Invercargill. For most of the year, its 50,000 residents live a quiet life.
But every February, the town roars into life, as 20,000 bikers cruise down the wide empty streets of this little country town. If you didn’t book a motel room 6 months ago, you’ll be sleeping on the ground next to your bike. There’s not a spare bed to be found.
Because this is the Burt Munro Motorcycle Rally – a biking event that draws people from all over the world. There’s beach racing, a night time speedway, and Big Biker Breakfasts in every café.
The rally honors local legend Burt Munro, who modified an old Indian motorcycle in his back shed with largely home-made parts, and then travelled across the world to set several land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the 1960s.
And this tiny town has one more surprise in store for motorcycle lovers. It also boasts a state of the art motorcycle museum: Classic Motorcycle Mecca.
With over 300 vintage motorcycles parked over two floors, you’ll need plenty of time, and a fully charged camera battery to get the most out of this incredible display. Marvel at the line-up of 5 Brough Superiors from the 1930s, spot the handful of Vincents scattered around, and get up close to vintage Indians, Harleys, Hendersons and Thors.
The Flooded Glacial Valley You Can Sail Through
If you ride north from Invercargill for about 3 hours, you’ll at the flooded valley of Milford Sound. This is a landscape that Rudyard Kipling called “the eighth wonder of the world”. Park your motorcycle, and take a boat tour across glacial water, past towering cliffs and under wild rushing waterfalls.
The waterfalls are fed by the average rainfall of 6 metres a year. As you sail right up alongside the cliff, you’re splashed with pure freezing water tumbling from the sky. You half expect to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex around the next bend. This wilderness is timeless. Experiencing a landscape like this is astonishing, but if you’re riding a motorcycle, there’s an added bonus, too. The road to Milford is an experience in itself.
You’ll need to stay in the nearby town of Te Anau, which is itself built beside a large and beautiful lake. Although the road from Te Anau out to Milford Sound is only 120 km, it’s essential to get started early.
You want to avoid the tourists in hired campervans they can’t control. Many of them are not sure which side of the road they should be on (for the record: it’s the left!). But if you can outsmart the tourists, this is a stunning road for motorcycle riding.
It combines straight lines and twisties, sunshine and shadow, and eye-popping fields of pink, purple and blue lupins.
The White Sand Beach That’s Perfect for Motorcycle Riding
Right at the top of New Zealand is a place that makes you giggle like a 5 year old when you see it. 90 Mile Beach is a stretch of pure white sand. And it may just be the only beach that has a speed limit sign at its entrance.
Riding a motorcycle in New Zealand just moved onto a whole new level – sand!
Roaring along the glittering white sand on your bike, it’s just you, the throb of the engine and the blue of the ocean. You find that you’re smiling so much your face hurts. As the waves lap gently at your tyres, an arc of sea water splashes up behind you. The chrome of your pipes glitters in the sunshine, and seagulls squawk overhead.
But there are two things to remember when riding a motorcycle on 90 Mile Beach. We discovered both of them the hard way.
Firstly, salt water is not good for your alloy engine casings or chrome pipes. It’s a smart move to hose the bike down the moment you get the chance. And secondly, don’t leave your tyre puncture kit back at the motel, which happens to be 70 km away from the Beach…
But I always say a few surprises keep life interesting. And when you’re riding a motorcycle in New Zealand, you’ll see exactly what I mean.