Since its inception back in 2012, the 300km trail stretching from Aoraki Mount Cook down the Waitaki Valley to Oamaru on the coast, has drawn many accolades from cyclists. The diversity of the scenery, majestic mountains, lakes and rivers, the emergence of great accommodation options and the challenge and satisfaction of completing NZ’s longest continuous cycle trail, have created a cycle experience that is set to expand and get better and better.
As the trail enters the sixth season of business, it’s timely to take a moment and consider two of the issues that come up when you are planning to ride this trail.
How long do you need to ride the trail?
The Alps2Ocean trail has 8 sections – with a 9th section offered as an alternate start from Lake Tekapo. These sections range from as little as 24kms up to 54kms – so clearly you can run a couple of these sectors together if you are pushed for time. At Cycle Journeys we find a 6 night / 6 cycle days itinerary the most popular option. For some, cycling is not the major attraction so expanding the time out to a full 8 days cycling isn’t an issue.
The cycling involved is diverse – from smooth sealed roads, gravel roads through to occasionally rough shingle trails. Riders expectations of how long they will take often ignores the trail surface as they compare what they ride in a single Sunday ride to facing day 6 of the trail. Over estimating how you may feel on Day 6 sometimes leads to a feeling that this 50 kms feels much longer than yesterdays! Currently the trail is 54% off- road (or 62% if you take the Lake Tekapo start option).
Where is the best place to start from?
There are actually three options – each with their own charm and appeal.
Option 1. To ride the trail start to finish, then the Aoraki Mount Cook village is a must. Starting right underneath the spectacular Mt Sefton is inspiring, and from here the trail heads away from the Southern Alps out to the airport and an exciting heli-hop across to Tasman Point on the eastern banks of the Tasman River. From here the 10kms across the trail crosses shingle outwashes, small bridges and streams to finally emerge at the Jollie River road end. From there the ride takes you down Haymans Road to the bottom of Lake Pukaki.
Option 2 is to take our morning shuttle up to the Jollie River car park, complete with the amazing views across the valley to the Southern Alps. From here you have the chance to ride the 59kms back to Twizel that day.
Option 3 involves starting at Tekapo (catching the early shuttle across to from Twizel and having breakfast at Run 77 overlooking the lake) and then riding the 54km canal road back to Twizel via the Lake Pukaki lakeside track and across the Twizel flats into town. Twizel has had a make over in recent years and is now a cool place visit and hang out. The two salmon farms on its boundaries do a roaring trade and optimistic fisher people line the banks near by, hoping for a mass break out. Its permanent population of around 1100 swells to more than 10,000 during the bi-annual Maadi Cup rowing regatta – usually held in March. So if you are looking for accommodation, don’t leave it too long.
From Twizel, the ‘journey’ starts in earnest. Beautiful lakeside riding into Lake Ohau Lodge and out again over the Tarnbrae track, taking in the trails highest point. The run down the Quailburn gravel road out to the dedicated trail into Omarama takes you past the turnoff to the famous Clay Cliffs for those with energy remaining. Its easy to miss the fact that Omarama is the home of one of the worlds best gliding sites as the long winged pods dance on the waves formed by the North West winds the region is famous for.
From here the trail is eastwards and now the Waitaki River becomes the dominant feature with the 3 hydro lakes and dams dating back to the 1950’s. The trail to Sailors Cutting is our family’s favourite ride and once the planned developments through the Benmore Gorge are realised, the ride to Otematata will be one of NZ’s ‘must rides’. Formed by NZ’s largest earth dam, the lake backs up forming beautiful bays and coves, ideal for picnics.
Beautiful Lake Aviemore attracts half of nearby towns and cities holiday makers over the month of January, while outside of this time, the ride around the lake shore on the sealed road is a dream. The trail sidles via historic cottage ruins and start up vineyards to enter the small township of Waitaki and then onto Kurow.
The nearby Waitaki River creates the trail companion for Section 7, which ends at funky Duntroon. The Kurow / Duntroon region is a classic example of what happens when you create opportunities. From the irrepressible Kate White’s conversion of the beautiful Waitaki Braids Lodge, to the spectacular views from Valley Glamping high above the valley and the numerous rural based accommodation. Throw in the community spirit that has developed the local wetlands, funky sculpture and the historic Maori Rock Art, and this section is stunning and worthy of slowing down for.
Section 8 feels like it’s almost over but the final 54 kms belies the rolling trail as it weaves into the beautiful limestone scarps and boulders of which Elephant Rocks are just the most famous. The trail weaves through the rural farmland, sometimes bringing riders closer to rural life than they wanted as they weave around the inevitable cow poo. Dropping down onto the old railway line, the trail encounters the Raki tunnel, requiring riders dismount and fumble in the dark, wishing they had taken our advice and bought a headlamp!
Passing through small rural towns, the trail drops into the outskirts of Oamaru through the beautiful gardens and into the maze of brilliant white Oamaru stone buildings of another era. In recent years Oamaru has discovered an identity and is celebrating the historic Victorian quarter and the wacky Steampunk HQ. The Victorian fete celebration weekend in November is a great weekend to finish up from your trail ride and spend a couple of days exploring. Well worth the extension to your trip.
The A2O trail will cement its position as New Zealand’s premium ride. With new trail sections scheduled to continue to come off-road through to the 2019/20 season, this trail will be one to ride again and again – in different seasons, in different groups and focusing on different experiences. For the fishing enthusiast, the athlete, the family unit, this trip offers it all. Day ride options abound, stunning accommodation options with the most outrageous backdrops and all linked together by Cycle Journeys network of shuttles, bike hire, trip planning and luggage transfers.
We look forward to seeing you in the Mackenzie.