Riding the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail © Miles Holden

Going with the flow: cycling the Alps to Ocean Trail


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The 300km Alps to Ocean Trail (the A2O) connects Aoraki Mt Cook with Ōamaru, flowing as the water does, from the mountains to the sea. 

While the original trailhead is near Mt Cook village, the first few kilometres the journey involves a scenic, if pricey, helicopter hop across the Tasman River. Since I’m riding on my own, I opt instead for a shuttle drop-off on the eastern side of the river. As the shuttle bus leaves, the silence returns. There are only the mountains, the surreal blue of the glacial lake and the road ahead.

The trail follows the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki; the imposing form of Aoraki, at times reflecting in the turquoise lake, is my constant companion.

An alternative start to the A2O cycleway is in Lake Tekapō township, under Mt John Observatory, where white domes of six telescopes protrude from the tussock like giant puffballs. The two gravel-road trails merge part way along the lake and, near its southern end, a purpose-built cycling trail begins. 

Once on that single track and away from the road, the riding gets even better. This is what a mountain bike was made for! Fat, knobby tyres bite into the trail, but the dual suspension adds a sense of floating over the ground. By late afternoon, I land in Twizel, happily exhausted. 

Most riders choose a more leisurely pace. It’s definitely encouraged, as there is so much to see along the way.

The trail has brought a whole new vibe to the little towns along its length: new cafés, funky places to stay, no end of cars carrying multiple bikes and a lot of active, enthusiastic people.

It’s a mix of gravel roads and trail to Lake Ōhau, then on to Ōmarama, another solid day’s ride. Here the A2O turns east and down the Waitaki Valley, meandering along the shores of lakes Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki, taking in the Elephant Rocks and the Māori rock art site near Duntroon, the Vanished World of fossilised giant penguins, dolphins and an old railway tunnel and, finally, the Victorian historic precinct of Ōamaru to finish at Friendly Bay and the Pacific Ocean. 

from above . . Looking over the Penguin Colony, Portside Resturant and breakwater

A post shared by otownmagic (@oamarunz) on Jan 14, 2018 at 11:26am PST

At Ōmarama, alas, it’s time for me to part with the trail and I retire my steed to its towbar bike rack and continue home by car. Parts of the A2O are still on roads, but eventually, the entire cycleway will be a custom-built, off-road trail, including a section through the Lake Benmore narrows which alone will be worth coming here to ride. Don’t be intimidated by the length of the trail and the time commitment required. You can, as I did, ride the sections that take your fancy and arrange the logistics accordingly. 

Ride for a week, a day, or just a couple of hours, but ride.

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