Cycling Alps to Ocean
A2O. Alps to Ocean. Aoraki to Oamaru. Described on the official website as: New Zealand in all its colour and beauty - from our highest mountain, past great lakes and rivers, and down to the ocean.… The A2O Cycle Trail is sure to be a memorable experience. 300km or so of cycling sounds a wee bit daunting, but it’s all downhill isn’t it? – from high up at Mt Cook Village down to the seaside in South Canterbury? And it is over a multi-day period. So, ’Bring it on’, I thought, and started making the bookings. We chose to use the help of Cycle Journeys in our planning, but getting online and booking direct with the accommodation and service providers is very easy too. We also hired bikes from Cycle Journeys, and arranged for our luggage to be transferred to our lodgings each night. This would make our holiday that much more of a ‘holiday’ .
We flew down to Christchurch on Friday night 20 March and stayed at the YMCA, as there were no Auckland flights arriving early enough to meet the 7.30 Atomic Shuttle to Twizel on Saturday morning. From Twizel, Cook Connections ferried us to our motel at Mt Cook Village.
Monday – Day Two. Guide Hill Station to Twizel (46km). We started the day with a lovely exhilarating downhill back to lake level, and then more cycling along the shoreline of Lake Pukaki on the flat gravel of Hayman Road. The cloud lifted slowly, giving tantalising glimpses across to the other side of the lake, but alas stayed too low to see the Southern Alps so there were only limited photo ops. Passing by the Tekapo B power station (well, the girls tried to pass it by, the boys all spent an inordinate amount of time there), we joined up with SH8. The A2O then became a cycle trail shadowing the highway but sticking to the foreshore, before crossing the Lake Pukaki Dam. After a brief stop at the Visitor Centre we headed cross-country over the Pukaki Flats grasslands and thence to our motel in Twizel, our home for the night. By now the skies were crystal clear and azure blue. Perhaps we should have slept in until lunch time.
Tuesday – Day Three. Twizel to Lake Ohau Lodge (38km). This was my favourite day, maybe because of the lovely weather but also for the beautiful and varied scenery. Early in the day we enjoyed a landscape of golden fields and rolling hills reminiscent of a Grahame Sydney painting, followed by beautiful reflections of the island in the middle of Loch Cameron. We then powered along the quiet sealed road beside the tranquil Pukaki and Ohau Canals, great riding on the long flat straights. Along the way we stopped to chat with one of the fisherman opportunistically casting his line across from the commercial salmon farms on the Ohau Canal.
Good pickings from what we saw. From the Ohau Weir we left the road and picked up the cycle trail hugging the lake, re-joining the sealed Lake Ohau Road for the final 10km run of the day – beware, this is traditionally a battle into a stiff headwind. We settled into our room at Lake Ohau Lodge, enjoying views of Mt Cook from the balcony, a homely fire in the lounge, and a superb dinner.
Wednesday – Day Four. Lake Ohau Lodge to Otematata (65km). This was the day of ‘the climb’. Leaving the lodge, the trail traverses the Ruataniwha Conservation Park, slowly winding its way upwards to the high point of the A2O at 900m. The gradient is very kind, and could be ridden all the way. After the requisite photos, it was downhill to Quailburn Road, where we experienced the quintessential New Zealand experience of a flock of sheep on the gravel road, before heading to Omarama. After lunch in Omarama we skirted alongside the road on the cycle trail, to reach the edge of Lake Benmore at Pumpkin Point. We then followed the picturesque path alongside the lake to Sailors Cutting, before cycling on the highway into Otematata – with a gut-busting hill at the end. At least we could coast downhill into town, and luckily we were staying at the pub for the night, so rehydration wasn’t an issue.
Thursday – Day Five. Otematata to Craigneuk Farmstay (76km). The Day of the Dams. Dam #1 – Benmore Dam. Even I must say it’s a very impressive structure, massive is how the brochure describes it. This was followed by a very scenic stretch along Lake Aviemore, with wilding fruit trees and autumn-changing poplars making for lovely riding ambience. We stopped at the Deep Stream track – do take time to ditch the bikes and walk at least part of the way along. Dam #2 – Aviemore Dam. Yep, another dam, moving on. We then cycled alongside Lake Waitaki, which along with Lake Aviemore was intriguingly lined with permanently-homed caravans, all currently deserted. Dam #3 – Waitaki Dam. Ah, um.
And on through to Kurow for lunch. From Kurow we powered along the highway to Duntroon (famous for the Flying Pig Café), stopping briefly en route at the Maori Rock Art. After another few kilometres we visited the Elephant Rocks, gently rounded rock formations that with a smidgeon of imagination can be formulated into prehistoric monsters and alien space ships (and elephants). Off road again through some picturesque limestone escarpments, before we finally reached Craigneuk Farmstay. It was a very welcome sight and a very hospitable place to stay after a very long day.
Friday – Day Six. Craigneuk Farmstay to Oamaru (51km). The home stretch. This last day is very mean in that it surely should all be downhill to the sea, but instead there’s some deadly little hills thrown into the mix. There’s trail section at the start of the day, which features the Rakis Rail Tunnel (have a torch or headlamp handy). The latter part of the ride is secondary roads. The final section is a flat run along the old railway line into Oamaru, followed by a meander across the botanic gardens, before the A2O wends its way through the historical precinct of town (go back later and visit the Steampunkt Museum, it’s radical! what planet are those guys from?), and at last hitting the ocean at Friendly Bay. There’s now only one last thing to do. Dip your toes in the ocean, and congratulate yourself on completing one of New Zealand’s most spectacular multi-day rides.
On Saturday we caught a bus back to Christchurch and then a flight home, and talked enthusiastically of when we will leave the Auckland rat-race and move south.
Would we do the A2O again? Yes, most definitely. Next time we would do it at a different time of year to get a new perspective – maybe spring, or late autumn when there’s more riotous colours in the trees. We may also do the alternative start from Lake Tekapo through to Twizel, or spend longer in Mt Cook Village doing more of the many spectacular walks there.
The ride is suitable for all abilities – we came across fit people doing it in three days, elderly people on E-bikes, and others just enjoying sections of it. The accommodations were all excellent, the trail surfaces well maintained, and the scenery second to none (it’s just a shame we didn’t see those snowy mountains!). A2O. Alps to Ocean. Aoraki to Oamaru. Call it what you will, but by any name it still equates to 300km of brilliant cycling in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.