The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail (A2O) is the longest cycle trail in New Zealand. At a total length of just over 300km, the trail runs from Aoraki Mt Cook all the way to the ocean, finishing up at the seaside town of Oamaru. The trail is an easy grade, and
suitable for everyone – from grandparents to grandchildren.
To cycle the full trail takes an average of 4-6 days. However, with so much to experience along the way there is no rush. The A2O is more than a cycle trail – it’s 300km of attractions, dining, shopping and activities. It’s not a race but rather a leisurely journey with plenty of opportunities to get off the bike and discover the region. Hot springs, giant watersides, wine tastings, boutique shops, penguin tours, stargazing, and music concerts are just some of the enjoyable diversions along the trail.
One of the positive aspects of the trail is that it can be enjoyed on almost any budget: from the basic backpacker level through to 5 star luxury lodges. Groceries can be purchased in bulk at the start of the trip and carried along in your support vehicle, or you can choose to eat out along the way. It’s entirely up to you how much to spend. The trail itself is free to ride.
There are several ways to experience the trail. The A2O has a number of Official Partner tour companies that offer supported tours. These tours can be customized to a client’s particular needs, or simply joined as they are. Some of the companies also offer luggage transfer and pick up/drop off services, thus allowing you cycle the trail without joining a tour.
For those wishing to tackle the trail themselves without engaging the services of a tour company, a handy option is to make Oamaru your first stop. There are businesses in town that hire out vans, bike trailers, child trailers and such. Simply find a family member or friend who’s keen for a holiday, but doesn’t want to be on a bike and make them the default driver. That
way all your luggage and supplies can be easily driven to each section. With the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail you’re never too far from a nearby road, so it’s easy for a support vehicle to cruise ahead and park up while waiting for the cyclists to arrive. This sitaution is perfect for those who would like to spend some time fishing, reading, walking the trail, or even cycling back to meet the cyclists.
The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail begins at the bottom of Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. After 6km of cycling, it’s time to board a helicopter for a short but scenic flight across the Tasman River. This is a large braided river, with the source originating from the glacial terminal lake. There are often large icebergs floating in the lake. After being dropped off at a remote point on the other side of the river, the only way back to civilization
is by bike.
This coming season will see an exciting new development for the trail. Thanks to Genesis Energy, cyclists will be allowed to use the Tekapo Canal Road (no vehicles permitted) as a link up to the main Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. Featuring new activities, new scenery, and expansive views from the paved canal road, this is sure to become a popular alternate starting point to the A2O experience.
Cycling alongside the eastern side of Lake Pukaki you reach the Tekapo B Power Station. This utilitarian building is completely surrounded by water, sitting like a massive brick amongst the surreal turquoise colour of Lake Pukaki. The vibrant colour is caused by the glacial ‘rock flour’ – finely ground particles refracting the sunlight.
The winding trail at the bottom of Lake Pukaki is first class, affording excellent views of the lake and Aoraki Mt Cook towering above all
in the distance. There are three main colours on the landscape canvas: gold (grass), white (snowy mountain peaks), and turquoise (Lake Pukaki).
Leaving the edge of Lake Pukaki there is a cross-country trail leading over the Pukaki Flats with golden grass and no trees - a wide open expanse typical of the Mackenzie Country. The town of Twizel awaits, with plenty of accommodation, activities, and dining options.
Shawtys Café in Twizel provides
specially created packed lunches to help keep your strength up. The Pukaki lunch has more comfort food and a mini bottle of bubbles, whereas the Ohau option includes low GI and carbo-loading foods to keep you sustained longer.
The trail from Twizel to Lake Ohau Lodge is quite easy to ride. The first portion is along the canal road, followed by a very scenic section along the Lake Ohau foreshore. This part of the trail is a highlight; a high grade trail surface, native bush, and the peace and quiet of the lake. Although Ohau means ‘place of the wind’, when it’s not windy the lake is still and mirror like. The trail is far from the road; silence and serenity are the dominating themes here. There are some pleasant isolated bays that are
perfect for a lunch stop.
From halfway up the driveway of the Lake Ohau Lodge, the trail climbs steadily into the hills. Crossing over mountain streams and surrounded by patches of native beech forest, this is truly some inspired cycling terrain. This section has been rated as the top highlight of the trail by the cycling public, and it’s easy to see why. It’s also worth noting that this is the steepest section of trail, featuring a winding 6km uphill climb. It’s not excessively steep, but there are a lot of ‘false summits’ where the trail reaches the top of a hill and you think that must be the end, only to round the corner and discover it continues onwards and upwards. This is a good point to take breaks and walk a little if needed. Cresting the summit of the high point the views are remarkable and well worth the effort. Panoramic scenery abounds, with unparalled
views of Lake Ohau and the surrounding mountain ranges.
From there the downhill fun begins, with a 4WD grass track leading down off the hills. You can simply coast without pedaling, enjoying the wind in your face as you cruise downhill. This is one of those parts that are so enjoyable - you really want to get back to the high point so you can coast downhill again!
This section finishes up in Omarama, the gateway to three spectacularly scenic areas - the Mackenzie Basin, Lindis Pass and Waitaki Valley. Located at the South Island’s widest point, Omarama was originally an overnight stop for the famous Cobb & Co coaches. Today Omarama is host to a wide range of shops and services. From an eclectic antique shop/ movie memorabilia museum to the
country’s highest producing vineyard, Omarama continues to surprise. The area is also famous for the fantastic gliding conditions in the nearby mountains. World and national gliding records are regularly broken here, as pilots take advantage of the clear, empty skies and accommodating updrafts.
Leaving Omarama on the offroad trail you reach the top of the Chain Hills. The trails skims along the Lake Benmore foreshore, with plenty of secluded spots for quiet contemplation. After reaching the town of Otematata you cycle to the top of Benmore Dam, New Zealand’s largest solid-earth dam. The engineering involved in the hydroelectric scheme is very impressive, and on a scale rarely seen these days.
The trail follows the Te Akatarawa road on the northern side of Lake Aviemore - a popular holiday destination, with plenty of caravans
and boats tucked up amongst the trees at the lake’s edge. This is a fantastic section to ride during the autumn with impressive foliage on display. This section finishes up in Kurow, a town blessed with two local wineries - Pasquale Kurow Winery, and Ostler Wines. Both are making ample use of the cool climate, warm summers and long, dry, autumn seasons to produce wines with a distinctive minerality and complexity of fruit flavours.
After Kurow comes the village of Duntroon, long since dormant but now awakening as an influx of business comes into town in the form of cyclists requiring food, drink, and a place to sleep. Duntroon is rising to the challenge, with new businesses popping up to cater to the requirements of the cyclists.
Just past Duntroon are the Elephant Rocks, a bizarre collection of large weathered limestone rocks, sticking out of the ground like they were thrown about by a giant. This is a fun place to wander around for awhile. Climbing some of the rocks is a popular activity.
The trail then meanders amongst verdant green paddocks, onto gravel roads and then back onto off-road trails. There are a few sandstone tunnels to cycle through. Limestone cliffs rise out of sheep-mown grass, and you begin to see glimpses of the ocean far off in the distance.
The closer one gets to Oamaru,
the more tangible the pull of the ocean becomes. The effect is almost tidal, sweeping one away into a zone of complete abstraction, with the only sounds that of your wheels cruising along the trail. It is a beautiful experience when you reach Friendly Bay, and step lightly into the sea foam. Somehow, words are not needed for a moment such as this.
Oamaru is an attraction unto itself, a charmingly eccentric town. The beautifully preserved historic Victorian precinct abounds with interesting arts, crafts, and dining establishments. Steampunk HQ is a curious example of “What the past would look like if the futur had happened sooner.” Steampunk works are often set in an alternate history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use.
Then of course there are the
penguins. At the Blue Penguin Colony you can sit in the stands and view the penguins in the evening, as they arrive home from their days fishing, walk up the stony ramp in front of you and cross into the breeding colony.
The lasting impression of the A2O is the sense of having achieved something remarkable, yet within easy grasp of anyone with even a moderate level of fitness. This is New Zealand, in all its colour and beauty - from the highest mountain, past great lakes and rivers, down to the ocean. The memory of completing such a journey will stay with you always.