Are you in the process of planning a cycling holiday in NZ on the Alps 2 Ocean?
If you are, you have probably just realised that there are lots of decisions you need to make. Will you join a tour group or plan your own adventure? Where will you stay? Should you ride your own bike or hire one? Will you carry your possessions in pannier bags?
Don’t worry, it’s really not that difficult. Below are some tips and suggestions that will help with planning a cycling holiday in NZ.
Table of Contents
About the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail
The Alps 2 Ocean, or A2O as it is more commonly known, is New Zealand’s longest bicycle trail at just over 300km. Starting at Mount Cook in the centre of the South Island, you ride southeast towards the coastal town of Oamaru.
The ride from Mt. Cook starts with a short helicopter flight across the Tasman River.
If you don’t like helicopters, or are trying to keep your costs down, then there is an alternate starting point for your cycling adventure from Lake Tekapo.
The Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail is made up of 8 sections ranging in distance from 24 to 54km.
The surfaces you will ride on range from:
- Rough shingle
- Smooth shingle
- Sealed road
- Gravel road
- Sealed track
Each section has been graded based on fitness as well as the level of experience required. The sections allow you to tailor the ride to suit your time frame and fitness level with the Classic six-day ride being the most popular.
Planning a cycling holiday in NZ
There are a variety of options available to you when planning a cycling holiday in NZ on the Alps 2 Ocean. They range from traveling with a tour group where everything will be organised for you to organising all aspects of the holiday yourself.
Services offered by tour companies
- Pickup/drop-off from accommodation
- Luggage transfer
- Bike transport or bike hire
- Pickup service if you are tired or injured
- Organisation of food and accommodation
- Optional airport shuttle
Companies to use when planning a cycling holiday in NZ.
|Company||Tour Groups||Shuttle Service||Luggage Transfer||Bike Hire|
|A2O Cycle Tours||*||*|
|Adventure South NZ||*|
|Adventurers Travel Company||*|
|Bike It Now!||*|
|Christchurch Adventure Taxis||*|
|Molesworth Tour Company||*|
|Not A Rail Trail||*|
|PureTrails New Zealand||*|
|Queenstown Bike Taxis||*|
|Scenic Cycle Tours||*|
|The Jollie Biker||*||*||*|
|Victor Nelson Cycles||*|
Riding with an organised tour group
Thanks to the popularity of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, there are now a large number of companies catering to cyclists who want to have the experience fully organised for them.
Questions to ask when researching tour companies
- How many people will be in my group?
- Will the tour group organiser be riding along with us?
- Are there people in the group that we don’t know?
- How do you cater for different fitness levels?
- What’s included and what’s extra?
- How fit do I need to be?
- Are the tour departure dates flexible?
- What do I need to bring?
- What happens if I get injured?
Getting to the start of the A20
Our little group of four were happy to carry our luggage in panniers as well as organise all our food and accommodation.
Our requirements were:
- return transport for 4 people and our luggage (including bikes in boxes) from the Queenstown airport to our accommodation in Queenstown,
- transport for the 255km from Queenstown to Lake Tekapo
- transport for the 287km from Oamaru to Queenstown
For the above requirements we used a shuttle service.
A shuttle service is basically a guy in a mini van towing a trailer that has been specially designed to carry a lot of bikes. He will pick you up from your accommodation and deliver you to the start of the A2O.
You should be aware that with any shuttle service you will be charged for the journey to your destination plus the return journey of the driver and vehicle.
Queenstown Bike Taxis
When we were planning a cycling holiday in NZ we opted to use Queenstown Bike Taxis for all our shuttle services and found them extremely helpful and super friendly. They even stored our bike boxes for us while we were off enjoying our holiday.
In 2017, our shuttle costs were:
- Queenstown airport to Queenstown: 4 adults + 3 bikes – NZ$50
- Queenstown to Lake Tekapo: 4 adults + 4 bikes – NZ$550
- Oamaru to Queenstown: 4 adults + 4 bikes – NZ$550
- Queenstown to Queenstown airport: 4 adults + 3 bikes – NZ$50
Catching the bus
After some very early research we decided not to pursue catching the bus any further. At the time you couldn’t make reservations and there was no guarantee that you or or your bike would catch a ride.
What about my luggage?
One of the many advantages of being part of a tour group is that they transport your luggage for you so that you don’t have to carry any additional weight on your bike.
If you don’t want to be part of a tour group the alternatives are a luggage transfer service or carry all your belongings yourself.
Luggage transfer service
A luggage transfer service is when you hire someone to carry your luggage for you. Several of the A2O tours companies listed above offer a luggage service.
With a luggage transfer service you pack your bags each morning and head out on your bike unhindered by panniers. The transfer service collects your bags and delivers them to your next accommodation where they are waiting for you when you arrive.
Carry your own luggage
Rather than the additional costs involved with hiring a luggage transfer service, another option is to carry all your possession either in a backpack or in pannier bags. Riding off into the sunset with all your possessions sounds incredibly romantic and is a lot of fun.
The other couple we travelled with carried all their belongings in backpacks whereas we opted for panniers. Cyclists of all ages and fitness levels use panniers but they can take a bit to get used to.
On this holiday I was riding an eBike so the additional weight of the panniers wasn’t a problem. It is more about balance, especially when you are riding slowly.
At one point in our holiday I was riding along slowly and hit a section of sand. The sand was deep enough to bring my bike to an abrupt halt. With the weight of the panniers on my bike I toppled over sideways onto the ground.
Don’t let me put you off. this was one very minor fall in two weeks of cycling around NZ. Just pay attention when stopping or going slowly as it is when you are most at risk.
Something to think about is how much luggage you intend to pack into your pannier bags. You might like to visit my friend’s blog for her Top 20 tips on how to pack light.
Tip: We use Ortleib rear panniers as they are waterproof and are easy to attach/detach from the rack.
What to ride on your cycling holiday in NZ?
There are two decisions you need to make in regards to what you will ride when planning a cycling holiday in NZ.
- What type of bicycle will you ride
- Will you bring your own or hire a bicycle
John was riding a hybrid and the other two members or our group were riding mountain bikes. On several occasions John found that his tyres were too thin and he would struggle to stay upright in the deep, loose shingle.
The A2O website makes the following suggestions in regards to the type of bicycle you should ride:
A mountain bike is probably best suited for the variety of trail surfaces you’ll encounter on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. However, a touring or hybrid bike will also handle the Trail. One recommendation is to have your road/hybrid tyres changed to a tyre with more tread and grip.
The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail has been successfully ridden by all types of bikes: road, hybrid, tandem, recumbent, touring, single speed, folding bikes with 20″ tyres, even penny farthings.
If you are not riding a mountain bike please be aware you may need to walk your bike over some rough sections.
Because my fitness level wasn’t up to the standard of everyone else I planned to ride an eBike to help level out the playing field. As I mentioned in Alps 2 Ocean Cycling Holiday: A Photo Journal I was reluctant to be the weakest link on our cycling holiday.
Power assisted bicycles or ebBikes are permitted on the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail as long as they are no more than 300watts Anything more powerful than 300watts has been designated by the Transport Authority in the same category as a motorbike, which is not permitted on the Cycle Trail.
I have my own eBike in Australia but found out very early on that bringing it from Australia to New Zealand wasn’t an option.
Aviation authorities have banned the transport of lithium-ion batteries over 160-watt hours unless they are for wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
We looked at several alternatives including sending my bike via ship and even transporting the bike without the battery and ordering a new battery to be delivered to NZ.
Every option we looked at was complicated and ran the risk of me ending up without a bike, or worse, getting stuck with a heavy eBike with no battery!
Hiring a bike was my only option.
Bike hire companies
We used Chargeabout Queenstown and were really happy with the both the quality of the bike and the service they provided. They even delivered my bike to our hotel as our plane landed after business hours.
For two weeks I rode a Moustache SAMEDI OFF 3 electric mountain bike and loved every minute of it. It ended up costing NZ$590 for two weeks eBike rental, which is a lot of money when you consider I already own a bike.
But, it did mean that I could comfortably keep up with the rest of the group.
Transporting your bike on a plane
Most airline carriers will sell large cardboard boxes that have been specially designed to fit your bicycle.
In 2017, Qantas and Virgin bike boxes were both about AUD$20 to purchase.
Your bike box can take the place of your checked in luggage, so as long as you stay under the weight of a standard piece of checked in luggage there will be no additional fees.
Please note that your bike box is only meant to contain your bicycle PLUS cycling related paraphernalia i.e. cycling shoes, cycling helmet, panniers, cycling related clothing. Non-cycling related paraphernalia are meant to be carried in another bag.
How to pack your bicycle for transport on a plane
There are several requirements when transporting your bike on a plane.
- Tyres must be deflated
- Pedals must be removed
- Handle bars must be fixed parallel to the frame
- If the bicycles length exceeds 140cm (55in), the front wheel should be removed and fixed beside the rear wheel, inside the bike box
Tips for transporting your bike on a plane
- Purchase your bike box from the airline terminal well in advance of your holiday.
- Pack a spare roll of tape to re-seal the box for your trip home.
- Use padding to avoid bike parts rubbing against each other.
- Clean your bike, especially the tyres as it will be inspected by customs.
- Confirm with your airline the minimum check-in time required for oversize luggage.
- Queenstown airport has a well-equipped bicycle assembly point located just outside the terminal.
Accommodation options when planning a cycling holiday in NZ
There are plenty of accommodation options along the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and their website offers plenty of suggetions.
We organised all of our accommodation ourself and opted for a combination of holiday rentals, motels and Bed & Breakfast style of accommodation. The only problem we had was at Lake Ohau and that was food related!
We rented a house in a nearby estate, as Lake Ohau Lodge which is the start of one of the A2O sections was fully booked. The house itself was great and had fantastic views of Lake Ohau however they didn’t offer a food package. It was only when we arrived that we found the closest grocery store was back in Twizel where we had started out that morning.
We ended up riding 5km further down the road to Lake Ohau Lodge and arrived just in time to catch the end of the restaurant’s lunch service. It added an extra 10km onto our day but was well worth it.
While we were at Lake Ohau Lodge we also organized to pick up a picnic lunch from them the next morning before starting our ride to Omarama.
Tip: Make sure your accommodation has somewhere safe for you to store your bikes overnight.
More information on planning a cycling holiday in NZ
If you are looking for more information to help with planning a cycling holiday in NZ on the Alps 2 Ocean then your should visit the official Alps 2 Ocean website. They have detailed maps for each segment of the trail which include elevation, as well as a break down of the trail surfaces and the percentages for each surface type.
Save ‘Planning a cycling holiday in NZ’ for later!
Download the Alps 2 Ocean Trail Maps
- Entire Trail
- Section 1: Aoraki/Mt Cook to Braemar Road [35km]
- Section 2: Braemar Road to Twizel [42km]
- Section 3: Twizel to Lake Ohau Lodge [38km]
- Section 4: Lake Ohau Lodge to Omarama [45km]
- Section 5: Omarama to Otematata [24km]
- Section 6: Otematata to Kurow [40km]
- Section 7: Kurow to Duntroon [28km]
- Section 8: Duntroon to Oamaru [54km]
- Alt Route: Lake Tekapo to Twizel [54km]
The A2O site also includes suggestions for accommodation, recommendations on where to eat as well as popular tourist attractions. It is a fantastic starting point when planning a cycling holiday in NZ on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.
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