Easy - Intermediate
New Zealand’s longest cycle trail serves up epic vistas on its way from the foot of the Southern Alps all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
New Zealand’s highest mountain – Aoraki/Mt Cook – is just one of many stunning sights on this unforgettable journey to the sea. Amidst the grandeur of braided rivers, glacier-carved valleys, turquoise hydro-lakes, tussock-covered highlands and rural plains are plenty of off-the-bike activities including wine-tasting, penguin-spotting, glider flights and soaking in alfresco hot tubs. Country hospitality, including food and accommodation, along with shuttles and other services, make the whole trip easy to organise and enjoy.
The Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) is divided into eight sections, with a wealth of visitor services including cycle tour companies making it possible to ride the whole trail pleasurably in 4–6 days. Multiple access points make it easy to tailor a shorter ride to suit all levels of ability.
The terrain varies, with easy riding on canal paths, quiet country roads, old railway lines and expertly cut cross-country track, and some rougher, hilly stuff for the eager. Around 37km of trail is currently routed along the main Waitaki Highway from Sailors Cutting to Otematata, and Kurow to Duntroon, with new off-road trails along these sections due for completion by the end of 2015.
The trail starts at Aoraki/Mt Cook, offering riders the opportunity to soak up the stunning mountain scenery and explore the national park village before pedalling off down a glacier-carved valley. After a helicopter-hop across the Tasman River, the trail skirts Lake Pukaki towards Twizel. An equally enjoyable alternative start follows canal paths and single track across the golden highlands between Lake Tekapo and Twizel.
Both these legs are rewarding day trips, but there are many others. A handy base for adventure, Twizel is the start of a relatively leisurely day ride to Lake Ohau, which connects with the more challenging section to Omarama that climbs over a moraine terrace offering truly outstanding views.
From Omarama, the A2O meanders down the Waitaki Valley to Kurow, passing two willow-lined hydro-lakes – Benmore and Aviemore – and an imposing but graceful power station.
The trail meets increasingly lush farmland as it reaches the lower Waitaki Valley, dotted with vineyards, a lavender farm, Māori rock art and oddly shaped Elephant Rocks, as well as the spooky tunnel the trail passes through as it follows the path of an old railway line through to Oamaru. The harbourside park alongside the town’s magnificent Victorian Precinct is a great place to savour a cold beer after a celebratory toe-dip in the Pacific Ocean.
Alps 2 Ocean has been picked as one of the world's top 16 attractions by Frommer's Travel Guides. The reputed travel publisher describes the trail as "stunning and cheerfully hospitable", and starting the trail at Aoraki-Mount Cook as setting the "perfect standard for awesome".
The trail ranges across grades 2–3 (easy to intermediate), with each section detailed on the A2O website. Although predominantly wide and smooth, some sections feature trickier single-track so riders should pay particular attention to terrain descriptions when planning their ride. The trail includes a number of sections on public roads where traffic sense is required. A mountain bike is recommended.
The trail is well signposted and frequently close to a main road, but riders should still carry a map, sufficient water and food, a basic tool kit and cellphone (although reception may be patchy). There are public toilets at regular intervals, along with food stops on certain sections.
The weather in these parts is changeable, particularly around the Southern Alps and high country, which may also be blanketed in snow in winter. It is vital that visitors check the forecast and track conditions before they set off, and take clothing for all eventualities.
This trail is well supported by tour companies offering bike hire, shuttles, luggage transfers and accommodation. These include ; Twizel-based Cycle Journeys and Jollie Biker; and Alps 2 Ocean Cycles, Trail Adventures and Vertical Ventures in Oamaru.
Christchurch-based PureTrails NZ, Alps 2 Ocean Tours and Tuatara Tours offer fully supported, multi-day rides on the A2O and other South Island cycle trails, as does Trail Journeys based in Alexandra, Bike It Now in Clyde, and Not a Rail Trail in Queenstown. Adventure South and Active Adventures offer multi-day cycle tours throughout New Zealand.
Lake Tekapo, Aoraki/Mt Cook Village, Twizel and Omarama are all visitor-friendly destinations as is Oamaru, famous for its white stone buildings. A wide variety of accommodation can be found in these towns and the surrounding countryside, many within easy reach of the trail. Accommodation providers partnered with the trail are listed on the Alps 2 Ocean website.