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 September 2020.
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.