Easy riding in paradise

A rainbow as we set off from Mt Cook. Photos by Rebecca Ryan.
A rainbow as we set off from Mt Cook. Photos by Rebecca Ryan.
On the way to the Mt Cook Airport.
On the way to the Mt Cook Airport.
Rocky riverbed riding after we set off from Tasman Point.
Rocky riverbed riding after we set off from Tasman Point.
A flat tyre.
A flat tyre.
Off-road trail to Lake Ohau.
Off-road trail to Lake Ohau.
Pukaki Flats.
Pukaki Flats.
Lake Ohau and the Ben Ohau Range.
Lake Ohau and the Ben Ohau Range.
At the finish line.
At the finish line.
Jim Jerram, of Ostler Wines, greets us on Racecourse Rd.
Jim Jerram, of Ostler Wines, greets us on Racecourse Rd.
Rakis Railway Tunnel.
Rakis Railway Tunnel.
Sailors Cutting.
Sailors Cutting.
Sunset over Ben Ohau Range.
Sunset over Ben Ohau Range.

Riding from the country's highest peak to the ocean by bike, the 301km Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail offers an unforgettable experience, writes Rebecca Ryan.


Aoraki/Mt Cook to Braemar Rd (34.6km)

As a light rain clears, our group of five cyclists, some meeting for the first time, gathered at the start of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, at the White Horse Hill Campground, 2km north of Mt Cook Village.

Our seven-day adventure starts with a 7.2km off-road trail to Mount Cook Airport.

To cycle the Alps 2 Ocean in its entirety from Mt Cook to the ocean, riders must take a two-minute helicopter flight across the Tasman River.

Once our bikes are unloaded at Tasman Point and the chopper has departed, there is silence in the totally remote location.

The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is a combination of roads and purpose-built tracks, and from Tasman Point it is rocky riverbed riding.

A welcome distraction from the increasing burning in my legs were the views - snow-covered alps, golden tussocks and the aqua-blue Lake Pukaki.

After 16.8km we stop for the day.

We are driven to Twizel for the night, ready to tackle an alternate start to the trail from Lake Tekapo the following day.


Lake Tekapo to Twizel (57km)

With the opening of a regional connector route from Lake Tekapo to Twizel, riders now have a choice of starting points for their Alps 2 Ocean experience.

Gates and bicycle barriers are installed along the length of the Tekapo Canal Rd to allow access to cyclists where vehicles are no longer permitted.

With the exception of the odd angler, we have the road to ourselves.

The route certainly has the ''wow'' factor - around every bend is beautiful scenery.

The weather is perfect and the easy riding allows for maximum absorption of some of New Zealand's most outstanding scenery before an exhilarating descent to Hayman Rd, where we reconnect with the official Alps 2 Ocean route.

After Lee and Jason brave Lake Pukaki for a swim, we pass over a dam to the Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre car park,which is buzzing with tourists all gathered for a glimpse of Aoraki Mt/Cook.

Towards Twizel, the cycle trail leads across Pukaki Flats, and the expansive views from here are well worth the effort.

We stop in Twizel for the night at the Jollie Biker and enjoy an evening meal at Poppies Cafe.


Twizel to Lake Ohau (38km)

After a great night's sleep in a cycle-friendly holiday house, we leave Twizel.

Until the edge of Lake Ohau, the trail is on road but the roads are generally quiet with little traffic.

Jason and Lee can not resist a swimming stop just 6.1km after setting off, at the beautifully still Loch Cameron.

Sarah, Steph and I are content to watch.

We then follow the Pukaki Canal to an off-road trail that descends to the lake foreshore, taking us to the Ohau Weir.

After the weir, the custom-built cycle trail follows the stunning shoreline of Lake Ohau.

This part of the track is largely flat and arguably the most spectacular.

We pass some other cyclists heading in the opposite direction and a couple of runners - many people are picking this section as one of the most scenic for day trips.

Connecting with the sealed Ohau Rd we embark on the final 17km.

Ohau is a Maori word meaning ''place of wind'' and, sure enough, a wind grips us head-on.

After stopping for a beer and nachos at Lake Ohau Lodge, three of us decide we have filled our biking quota for the day and happily load our gear and bikes and catch a ride to our accommodation for the night - Lake Ohau Quarters - while Sarah and Lee do the final 7km push on bikes.

We end the third day of our Alps 2 Ocean cycling adventure there in Ohau with a sense of isolation and we relax on bean bags on the lawn taking in a spectacular sunset over the Ben Ohau Range.


Lake Ohau to Omarama (41km)

We wake to howling winds and rain, aware of the 10.8km steady climb to the high point on the trail, 900m above sea level, to start the day.

Starting from the Lake Ohau Lodge driveway, the trail traverses the lower slopes of the Ruataniwha Conservation Park before narrowing for the climb.

Through the morning, the weather clears, though a nip in the air remains. It is a welcome relief after the previous day's scorching temperatures.

My climb to the Tarnbrae High Point was slow.

The view from the top is the reward for the low-geared uphill, burning thighs and saddle soreness, as is the following exhilarating descent.

Our speeds are limited only by some sharp corners, rough surfaces and courage. The ride changes character almost immediately.

At the Quailburn Road intersection, we are on gravel road again and we push on towards Omarama, stopping for coffee and pikelets and a delightful, albeit brief, tour of Ben Dhu Station.

We were treated to Omarama's famous dusk colours on arrival, our day ending in the town's hot tubs, soaking four days of cycling from our legs.


Omarama to Kurow (67km)

This was our biggest day on the trail, but by now my legs were beginning to adjust.

Leaving Omarama, we headed east down the Waitaki Valley, following an off-road trail to the top of the Chain Hills and then along the edge of Lake Benmore to Sailors Cutting.

From there the trail follows State Highway 83 and we embark on a long, slow climb to the top of the Otematata Saddle.

As with all climbs on the bike, we're rewarded with a fantastic downhill on the other side into the Otematata township.

After a refreshments stop, it's another hard slog, this time to the top of the Benmore Hydro Dam, which we traverse before skirting down to the edge of Lake Aviemore.

In the midst of summer, this shoreline crawls with holidaymakers but mid-week in early February, we were only passed by a handful of cars.

Back on SH83 we bike around Lake Waitaki and past the Waitaki Dam..

When we arrive at The Vintner's Drop, the Kurow cellar door and tasting room for Waitaki wines, we are welcomed by Ostler Wines managing director Jim Jerram and his wife Anne.

They take us through a tasting session sampling a variety from Ostler's range, in what once was the Kurow Post Office.

We are collected from the Kurow township by Samantha Laugesen, who drives us to her new venture, Westmere Lavender,on the Kurow-Duntroon Highway.

It's another 17km to our accommodation for the night - Campbell Park Estate.


Kurow to Tokarahi (35.2km)

Our day starts with a tour of the estate, set among trees, with a castle as its centrepiece overlooking green sweeping lawns.

We spend two hours wandering through the empty castle, restaurant and dormitory facilities, and past the orchards, old school classrooms, gymnasium, stables, huts and a cave.

After a later-than-usual start on the bikes, we cruise along SH83 for 6km before taking a detour for an experimental loop past Ostler's vines on Racecourse Rd.

Cruising down Earthquakes Rd into Duntroon, we're happy to reach Kowhai Cottage where we're treated to some refreshments - scones, home-made jams, cordial and apricots.

The bike trail may be just the tonic to breathe new life into some of these Waitaki Valley towns.

The trail is changing all the time, with constant improvement in the surface and facilities on the trail itself, and an increasing momentum in the provision of trail-focused services along its route.

From Duntroon we head southwest to the unique rock formations, the Elephant Rocks, and take an off-road trail through several farms surrounded by limestone escarpments.

Near luxury B&B Tokarahi Homestead is Homestead Farm. We are the first group to stay in the redeveloped miner-style huts on the working 202ha farm.

The barn has been restored and further converted to house bathroom facilities and a communal kitchen.

To top off an already incredible welcome to Tokarahi, we have an evening meal catered by Gumboots and Pearls using local produce.


Tokarahi to Oamaru (42.8km)

The cycling in the final section is on well-formed track and country roads but is fairly undulating, just to keep it challenging on the final day.

A highlight of this leg is the curved Rakis Railway Tunnel on the former Tokarahi Branch.

Then it is on to Weston where we join the old railway line for a beautifully smooth run to Oamaru.

The final stretch is through the Victorian precinct to the Harbour, where our 301km epic ends.

After a celebratory photo at the finish line, we dip our toes in the ocean - just to make it official.

I felt a great sense of satisfaction at having reached Oamaru by pure pedal power, but a sense of sadness that I had reached the end.

The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail had led me on an unforgettable journey.

Accommodation was provided by: The Jollie Biker, Twizel; Lake Ohau Quarters; Lake Ohau; Ahuriri Motels, Omarama; Campbell Park Estate, Kurow; Homestead Farm, Tokarahi; Luggage transfer and cycle hire: Cycle Journeys.


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