I'm going to have January-March available for bike touring, and would like to make that my first experience at cycling outside the mainland United States. I prefer road biking to mountain biking, and am inexperienced at international travel and wilderness survival, so ideally I'd like to ease into this with a fairly "soft" choice for my first time.
In a perfect world, the country/route I'd choose would be such that I'd be riding only on paved roads (i.e. so I could use my regular touring road bike), the weather would be decent (i.e. warm with at most moderate rain during that time of year), and there would be low risk of kidnapping, packs of problem dogs, or banditry. Furthermore, it would be nice if the traffic situation wasn't openly insane (e.g. a lot of single-lane travel up and down mountains with twisty-turns, speeding drivers, and poor visibility). I'd also like to avoid long multi-day slogs through unpopulated areas where no water or food is available.
I would be traveling on my own, with an ultralight tent.
So, what country would you recommend, and what route through that country?
In 3 months, you could ride on both islands, start on the south and work north with the season. There's nowhere on the south island I would give a negative comment about. (I rode very little on the north, and enjoyed it, but didn't cover very much.) East coast is drier and flatter (but not by any means flat). The west coast is very rainy, but still excellent, and there are so many hostels you don't have to camp in the rain. Scenery is spectacular and incredibly varied. Towns are 10-25 miles apart, most have a pub with rooms, a camp ground ("holiday park"), and/or a hostel. Don't bother taking a stove, camp grounds have kitchens, but you do need your own pot/plate/fork/etc. Roads are mostly chip-sealed (paved, but not very smooth) and totally fine for regular road touring tires. Traffic is light in most areas of the south island, most of the population is on the north island, but many roads there are also OK. There is some truck traffic but the truckers are good and safe drivers. The RV's in NZ are the size of a small van in the USA, so a lot less scary than here. It takes a couple of days to get used to riding on the left, but it's worth it. Very few dogs, and most are working dogs, well trained. No scary animals. No scary people. They speak english. The food and water are safe and fresh. You won't be the only cycle tourist.
Guide book: Pedaler's Paradise (one for each island)
So, southern hemisphere or non-monsoon tropics. I think monsoon season in SE Asia starts later than this so you should be OK but northern Vietnam would be rainy and cool in Jan-Feb.
Australia and New Zealand would be perfect weather wise and about as safe as you can get (much safer than the USA!)
South America - no 1st hand experience, all my friends who've been there have had no problems at all, but you hear the occasional story about kidnappings and bandits
South Africa - I guess this is the highest risk in some areas, but again most of the people I know who've been there haven't had any problems (although 1x armed robbery and 1x malaria).
You'll get lots of votes for both Australia and New Zealand. Both are great. If you are going for the whole 3 months you could easily do both - see NZ in 3-5 weeks then east coast Australia. The distances in Australia are bigger, so you'd have to be selective and use some air/rail transport to see all the highlights.
Worthwhile places in Australia:
- Great Barrier Reef
- Uluru/Ayers Rock
- Tasmania, east coast and Tasman peninsula
- Southwest Western Australia forest areas and Margaret River wine area
I have to agree with other posts, New Zealand would ideal at that time of year. The weather is about as good as it's going to get. You're most likely to arrive in Auckland, so start in the North Island and work your way south. I rode extensively in the South Island when I first arrived in NZ. The standard wisdom is the ride the west coast of the South Island north to south to catch the prevailing wind. However, you do the have to climb the Haast pass at the southern end. I rode it south to north and didn't encounter any problems.