New Zealand's best Motorcycle Rides - North or South Island?

Planning a Motorcycle Tour to New Zealand? How much riding time to spend in the North Vs South Island?
Let the experts give you some tips and inspiration!

Kia Ora fellow motorcyclists! By now you already know New Zealand is a fantastic country for motorcycling, but when you arrive where do you go? You only have a couple of weeks to see the country, which places should you bypass and which should not be missed? We have listed the best riding roads on each Island, to give you more info on where to spend most of your time. You're welcome!


The South Island - is undoubtedly where the best riding can be found, although riding in New Zealand is generally fantastic, the South Island has the Southern Alps which provide mountain passes and the most amazing scenery. There is also very little traffic out on the roads compared with the North Island, there are just 1 million people in the South and over 3 million in the North, although with 4 million people in the entire country which is roughly the size of the UK, that can't be bad at all.

  • Akaroa, Christchurch

The best local ride in Canterbury is to the French Settlement of Akaroa deep in the Banks Peninsula. It's 2 hours in, and 2 hours back with long sweeping bends beside Lake Ellesmere to the hills and volcanic crater rim ride to the town of Akaroa, a must do when visiting Christchurch.

  • Lewis Pass and Arthurs Pass

The Southern Alps separate the West Coast from the East and what better way to get over them than by using one of the two mountain passes. In either direction, ride over the braided rivers through Arthurs Pass or over the stunning Lewis Pass and detour to the Thermal Resort of Hanmer Springs only 1.5 hours from Christchurch allowing a nice relaxing day in the thermal hot pools before returning to Christchurch. 

  • Motueka Valley, Nelson

Motueka Valley (know locally as Mot Valley) is along the coast from Nelson at the top of the South Island and by travelling this way you bypass the main highway. It's a great ride through the Fruit and Wine Region, wending your way through the Orchards, beside tree lined rivers until you arrive at Murchison. 

  • Catlins, Southland

The Catlins has only been tar sealed since the late 1990s and we're sure glad they decided to do it. This is an area usually left out by many but is a great way to get from Dunedin to Invercargill, Home of Burt Munro, 'The Worlds Fastest Indian' and to check out New Zealand's Motorcycle Mecca. Also making this ride a great stepping stone on the way to Fiordland and the magnificent Milford Sound.

  • Glenorchy, Queenstown

Queenstown is an awe-inspiring destination, known as the adventure capital of the world there is almost nothing you cannot do there, however if you have some spare time Glenorchy/Paradise is only 40 mins away, the road there is well maintained, the corners are banked perfectly and the scenery is amazing. Stop at one of the Cafes at the end then ride the same great 40 minutes back. This area is also famous as filming locations for Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit movies!

  • Milford Sound, Fiordland

The ride to Milford Sound is simply magical, it starts with open roads and provides sweeping bends to get you warmed up, the bends then become tighter and tighter through rainforest and spectacular vistas till you reach the Homer Tunnel where you'll blast through a mountain to the steep valley on the other side. Take a cruise out on Milford Sound before another 2 hour ride back the same way.

  • Haast Pass

When riding from Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast, you MUST ride the Haast Pass, the whole day is brilliant (if its not raining, remember, you're riding through a rainforest!) You'll start with the ride over the Crown Range to Wanaka where you'll ride beside Lakes, over saddles an eventually arrive at Haast Pass, climbing through the Pass you'll experience steep twisty sections with waterfall walks along the way and before you know it you'll be riding through the spectacular forests on the West Coast to the Glaciers of Fox and Franz Josef.

  • Buller Gorge

From Punakaiki you ride up some of the most scenic coastal highway in the world before turning inland to Inangahua. Continuing to Murchison will take you beside the Buller River and through the Buller Gorge. The bends are endless and each bend is set up nicely to flow onto the next and so on. You climb up above the river and hug the walls of the Gorge as you ride the whole experience will amaze you, it's a favourite with all our tour guests, has a bunch of other great rides around it and this is why it's one ofour favourites!




The North Island - really is like a different country, the scenery is that of rolling hills, volcanoes and green farm fields. The roads are generally well maintained throughout NZ, but of course where there's more traffic there are more road works. The North Island is more cultural and has a lot of history with the Maori people who first settled in New Zealand before the Colonials arrived. The further North you go, the more the landscape changes, giving way to stunning Bay's and golden sand beaches.

  • Pyes Pa Road, Rotorua

When leaving Rotorua there's a great short ride along the top of the Lake from East to West before getting on Pyes Pa Road to Tauranga, it's one of a few great rides in the North Island and allows you to soak up New Zealand's Maori Culture along the way.

  • Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel on the weekend is full of motorcycles from Auckland and surrounding areas, it's about a 2.5 hours from Auckland City and is the best local ride. From Thames to Coromandel the traffic can be busy, but once you're into the hills the ride is fantastic.

  • Forgotten World Highway

Not for the feignt hearted, this rugged ride with some unsealed road riding, is sandwiched between the beauty of the Tongariro National Park, Whananui National Park and Mt Tongariro. A stop at the quirky Whangamamona pub is also a must. This ride is a great 'long way round' if you're heading to Waitomo for the glow worms and if the weather isnt kind to you on the day, an alternative seals road is also available.

  • Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highyway runs from Auckland down to the Art Deco town of Napier following a route carved by rivers. With steep and twisty roads you'll be testing your skills as well as enjoying scenic coastal views of the Pacific Ocean.


Summary - Both the North and South Island have an extremely abundant and diverse array of scenery with those jaw-dropping rides and views that New Zealand is famous for. Dont feel you have to visit both Islands to explore New Zealand or you'll 'miss out'. Most bikers tend to spend more time riding in the South Island and if you have an extra 4 or 5 days to spare, take the Ferry to the North Island. Either way, you'll see enough beauty to last a lifetime and you wont be disappointed by New Zealand or it's friendly people. If you're still unsure how much time to allow, contact your Motorcycle Tour company, we're always happy to answer any questions to make sure you have your dream holiday. Go on, Ride New Zealand and Live the Dream!

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