The path in front of us was blocked by mountainous terrain and the only way forward was into the old railway tunnel. Day six of our New Zealand cycling holiday was about to get interesting.
The flickering light from my bike lamp barely pierced the darkness and it felt like a thick veil was wrapped around me. I jumped with surprise when cold water splashed against my skin as I rode through a puddle, unseen in the darkness.
Slowly I lifted my hand to my face and felt something cold and hard pressing against it. I exclaimed in surprise!
What was I thinking?
I should have taken off my sunglasses so I could see!
Our Alps 2 Ocean Cycling Holiday in New Zealand
Usually words like spectacular mountain views, stunning scenery and breathtaking landscapes all sound a bit cliché, but not when you are talking about New Zealand. Our Alps 2 Ocean Cycling Holiday was our fourth New Zealand holiday and as always, this country never fails to impress.
We wanted a relaxing, healthy holiday and had opted to spend two weeks cycling in New Zealand’s South Island.
What was that? Did you just say, “How could spending two weeks on a bicycle be relaxing?”
That was my initial thought too, but a cycling holiday is actually this weird combination of physical exertion and mental relaxation. You can learn more by reading the 4 Reasons you should go on a cycling holiday.
Anyway, we had heard some really positive feedback about the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and decided that we would ride the trail over six days, then spend the remainder of our holiday cycling the Queenstown Trail.
Day 1 – Lake Tekapo to Twizel (56km)
The traditional start to the Alps 2 Ocean is Mt Cook where you and your bike start your cycling holiday by catching a helicopter flight across the river. We ended up opting for the alternate starting point of Lake Tekapo mainly due to timing of helicopter flights and wanting to reduce our costs.
The night before we started off on our A2O adventure we rented a house on the outskirts of Lake Tekapo (photo above) with spectacular mountain and lake views. We had booked the house through Book Tekapo Holiday Homes.
After breakfast, we packed up our belongings and headed out on our bikes. As we stopped by the shore of Lake Tekapo for a photo, I could feel a sense of excitement building. I love the feeling you get when you head out on a new adventure and don’t know what the future will bring.
Or as Samwise Gamgee said,
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Day 2 – Twizel to Lake Ohau (38km)
After breakfast at a local bakery we left Twizel and cycled beside the Pukaki and Ohau Canals.
It was surprising to see a number of people fishing in the canals. We stopped for a chat and found out that it was a popular fishing spot for Salmon and Trout. Apparently the fish escape from the fish farms only to get caught in the canals by the local fishermen. It must be a tough life being a fish!
Once you cross the canal you leave the bitumen road behind and follow a gravel track along the edge of Lake Ohau. There are one or two sections where the track is narrow (see video below), otherwise it is easy and enjoyable to ride on. With constant views to admire it is easy to forget to watch where you are going.
After about 10km you join up with a sealed road again which you follow till you get to the Lake Ohau Lodge.
Day 3 – Lake Ohau to Omarama (45km)
I found day three to be the most challenging but also the most enjoyable of our six day cycling holiday. The most difficult section involved a 300m climb, over a distance of 5km, traversing the slopes of the Ruataiwha Conservation Park. The track was very rocky in several places and I ended up being very sore in several places!
I’m not sure what it was that made the day so enjoyable. It could have been the sense of achievement for making it through a challenging day, the stunning views of the Ben Ohau Range or even coming across a coffee van in the middle of nowhere!
The camaraderie with other cyclists on the A2O was something I hadn’t thought about but found to be a pleasant surprise. You are all following the same trail and therefore will often cross paths with the same groups of cyclists throughout the day. It was a nice feeling to look up and see familiar faces waving at you. We would all pull over and share our day’s adventures or tips on the best places to eat.
Day 4 – Omarama to Kurow (64km)
The majority of the A2O is spent riding on dedicated cycling trails.
Unfortunately, at the time of our holiday in 2017, the section from Omarama to Kurow still required spending a considerable portion of the day riding on the road. In most instances they were quiet back roads, but there were a few times, especially outside of Kurow, where the traffic was quite heavy. Thankfully the drivers were all very patient with us and we didn’t experience any problems.
Cycling on a sealed road does have its benefits. I was experiencing a certain level of discomfort from the bumpy surface of the previous day so it was a relief to have a bump free ride. The other benefit of a sealed road is that it allows you to travel at a faster pace than you would on the cycling trails. There was a steep hill outside the town of Otematata where we definitely picked up the pace. I chickened out at 55.5km/hr but, as you can see in the video below, the others just zoomed past me.
Day 5 – Kurow to Duntroon (28km)
Kurow to Duntroon was the shortest day of our Alps 2 Ocean Cycling Holiday. It was such a nice change to be able to take things easy.
We started the day with a sleep in, had a relaxing breakfast and then had a nice slow ride beside the river to Duntroon. After a few days of hills it made a pleasant change to have flat terrain.
We checked in to Grandview Farmstay around lunchtime and had plenty of time to go and explore. The owners run the dairy farm down the road and were generous enough to give us a tour at of the milk sheds at milking time. The boys ending up returning the favour and helped out with loading the truck with firewood.
Day 6 – Duntroon to Oamaru (54km)
Fossils and Film Locations
Just past Duntroon you will pass a sign for Elephant Rocks. Narnia fans might recognise Elephant Rocks as the location used for filming Aslan’s camp.
Not far from Elephant Rocks is a narrow valley surrounded by fossilised limestone cliffs called the Valley of the Whales. According to a New Zealand Geographic article it “contains the richest known marine fossil record from the Oligocene epoch, a pivotal time in cetacean evolution when many of today’s great whales were radiating into their current forms.”
The valley’s other claim to fame is that it was used in the 2005 filming of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The dome shaped structure from the original move set is still visible today.
Exiting the valley involves navigating your way up several rather tight switchbacks to reach the farmland above. The landscape of the surrounding countryside is picturesque and on several occasions reminded me of a rather lumpy looking patchwork quilt.
The end of a journey
With every kilometre we rode we made our way closer to Oamaru and the end of our adventure. We knew when we reached the gates to the Oamaru Public Gardens that our journey was nearly over.
The final few minutes of our Alps 2 Ocean Cycling Holiday was spent riding through the streets of Oamaru, past historic buildings and towards the finish line with its massive picture frame backing on to the bay. It was with a real sense of achievement that we climbed on the platform for a photo.
Our Alps 2 Ocean Cycling Holiday had been a memorable six day journey.
The boys testing the structural integrity of the Oamaru playground equipment!
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