Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Alps 2 Ocean: a kiwi cross section

The neat thing about the Alps2Ocean cycle trail is that it's effectively a cross section of the South Island: you start near the divide, and follow a major river, the Waitaki, out to the Pacific Ocean. On the way you pass through high country tussock, 1960s mega power schemes, ancient fossils and rock carvings, dairy conversions, and end up in the Steam Punk Port city of Oamaru.

After a week of mountain biking in Wanaka, the Blokes dropped me at Pukaki to start the ride. Officially the ride starts even closer to the divide, with an $800 chopper ride from the Hermitage across the Tasman river to Braemar Station, but most people start from Pukaki.
Obligatory selfie, looking back up Pukaki to the divide
Cruising the Pukaki lakeshore
The trail bounced around the lakeshore to the Pukaki Dam, where I stopped at the Salmon Shop for a traditional high country salmon sushi lunch. Yes, that's right - lamb no longer rules the McKenzie country.
Salmon sushi, Pukaki dam
After the dam, the trail heads cross country through tussock land to Twizel, where I shared a room with a couple of French lads and their well worn sock collection. Next morning I headed out of town to join the hydro canal leading down from Lake Ohau. 
Salmon farm on hydro canal, local angling for escaped salmon
On the way I passed the salmon farms, big floating cages seething with the fish. On shore, the odd angler cast their lines for escaped salmon.
Moa nest, Ohau
A surprise was stumbling on a late season Moa nest. The Alps2Ocean is of course the only one of the Nga Haerenga/ NZ Cycle Trails where cyclists have a chance of seeing these shy creatures in the wild. During the breeding season (starting 1 April) cyclists are advised to sound their bells frequently to avoid surprising Moa - adults, particularly if accompanying chicks, can be aggressive.

At Ohau the well graded Tarnbrae trail climbs the hillside from Ohau lodge to a 900m high point with great views back up the Hopkins and Dobson, across the lake to Ben Ohau, and south across the tussock to Omarama. Since Ohau Lodge was closed, I took a steeper shortcut up Sawyer's track from the lakeshore, rejoining Alps2Ocean at the Sawyers Creek Bridge. 
Tarnbrae high point - all downhill from here
From the high point, it's a cruisy downhill through the grasslands to Omarama, particularly with a tailwind coming down from the mountains.
Across the grasslands to Omarama
Curious alpine technology: either an incinerator, or an early model robot
From Omarama the Alps2Ocean follows the main road down the Waitaki. This could be busy in the summer holiday season, but the road is fairly quiet in May. For the first time on the trip, I had rain.
Racing the rainbows from Omarama
Off road trails are being developed, unfortunately often just paralleling the road, which doesn't seem much fun, so most of the time I took advantage of the smoother surface on the road.

At Otematata I warmed up with a hot chocolate, then turned off the main road and across Benmore Dam, one of several 1960s mega energy projects in the Waitaki. On the other side the trail follows the almost deserted road around Lake Aviemore, reputedly teeming with thousands of campers in the holiday season.
Autumn colours on the Aviemore Road
Soon the rain stopped and I completed the Aviemore circuit in sunshine.
Good signage on the A2O
My stop that night was the Kurow Pub. Usually I'm an early riser, but I was put to shame by the bridge building gang occupying the hotel. By 5:30am eager workers were clomping up and down the corridor, and by the time I made the breakfast room, I was definitely on the second or third sitting.
Kurow Pub
Hakataramea Motors, Kurow
Dawn shadows south of Kurow
At Duntroon I stopped for coffee from the Van Cafe - the Flying Pig cafe had closed for the season - and got a personal tour of the Fossil Museum, with introductions to the giant penguin and toothy dolphin that had populated this part of Zealandia tens of millions of years ago.
When good dolphins go bad - or at least sabre toothed
The trail turns south of the main road at Duntroon, onto quieter rural roads through the limestone landscape of Elephant Rocks, used for location shooting on the Narnia film, and occasional caves harbouring Maori rock art.
Elephant Rocks
Near Ngapara, I experienced a Hitchhikers Guide/Dr Who moment when confronted by a row of concrete water towers - at least I think they were just water towers.
"Do you think the humans have noticed us, O One Eye?" "No, they're so stupid they don't even know the answer to life the universe and everything"
It was a bit of a shock when the sky started to turn red, and the light faded, with 10 km still to go to the end. I dashed through the Oamaru suburbs on the rail trail, through the botanic gardens, past Steam Punk HQ, and out along the pier to where there was only ocean still to go.
Dusk, and journey's end
Then it was uphill to meet my kind host, Philip of Oamaru Libraries - my professional links haven't quite died - and next morning the bus to Christchurch. 


  1. Great story ....thanks. Hope to do this ride early next year.

  2. Great story and exciting ride, can you take a tent and camp along the trail instead of staying in the towns?