What do you think of when you think of New Zealand? The land of sheep? Fush and Chups? That skit from Hunt for the Wilder People where Psycho Sam rants about the form fillers? (I bring up that skit at least once a week at work to the form fillers who have no idea what I’m ranting about).
Well, what you should think of when you think of New Zealand is endless, unspoilt, solitary bike trails like the south island NZ’s Alps 2 Ocean (A2O).
I’ve been getting more and more into cycle touring lately (the cool kids call it bike packing). It offers everything that I love about hiking, the epic scenery, the self-sufficiency of carrying everything you need to live with you, the almost meditative state you find yourself in when you’ve only got one goal, one thing to worry about for the day; getting to your destination one footstep or pedal at a time. But what I like about cycle touring over hiking is you don’t have to carry any weight on your back so it’s more relaxing – the bike takes all the load, also for long trips the logistics are a lot easier, it’s easy to ride 20km out of your way to re-supply or seek shelter, whereas 20km is a whole day of hiking.
The Alps 2 Ocean bike trail goes from either Mount Cook or Lake Tekapo and is approximately 300km of a mixture of dirt cycle trail and backroads. We chose the alternative start at Lake Tekapo rather than Mount cook (you need to book a helicopter across a massive river if you start from Mt Cook) and spent a leisurely sometimes windy, sometimes sunny, sometimes freezing 5 days riding to the oceanside town of Oamaru.
Day 1: Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki – 36km
We left Christchurch at about 7AM using an Intercity bus from Christchurch Airport to Lake Tekapo. The bus pulled into a freezing windy Tekapo at about 12:30, where we realised that we might have underestimated the weather we’d be up against. A quick stop to buy some buffs and gloves and we were off.
It was proper windy. Like 100km/h headwind type windy (click for video). There were times where Katie got off her bike to walk because she couldn’t ride her bike straight enough to stay on the road.
As we got to Lake Pukaki we lost a little elevation and got down out of the wind. Our first camp was up over a berm on the side of the road next to the lake.
Day 2: Lake Pukaki to Lake Oahu via Twizel – 56km
Day 2 was really nice. The wind died down and the sun was shining. The trail around the edge of Lake Pukaki was amazing. The backroads to Lake Oahu were really nice and the trail around Lake Oahu was a really fun, undulating dirt track.
Day 3: Lake Oahu to Otematata 77km
Day 3 was the only real day of climbing. The nice thing about riding from an alpine region to the coast is that it’s mostly downhill. Having said that, day 3 was a bit of a test for Katie, the climb was a real grinder.
When you’re a vagabond bike tourist you need to take the opportunity to wash your nether-regions whenever you can. I can vouch for the member shrinking coldness of this water.
We camped at a caravan park at Otematata for night 3. Strangely there were a lot of caravans there but they were empty. Ghost caravans. We later found out that a yearly pass to camp in these places is about $350, so a lot of people just leave their caravans there and visit on the weekends. Australian grey nomads would have a pretty good time here.
Day 4: Otematata to Waitaiki River campsite near Duntroon 59km
Day 4 was slightly downhill most of the time and there was a nice tail wind.
Day 5 Waitaiki River campsite near Duntroon to Oamaru 70km
Day 5 was the day the weather turned. We’d only met two other groups of cyclists and they mentioned that the last day the weather was going to turn, a strong southerly weather pattern they said, straight off Antarctica they said.
The dry creek beds started to fill with chain-rusting, hub-filling-with-grit water.
When we got to Oamaru we found a hostel that would take us in, had a really long shower and then drank some well-deserved beer. Delicious.
How to get there:
From Christchurch, you can get the Intercity Bus to Lake Tekapo.
You can get an Intercity bus back to Christchurch from Oamaru.
The bus is about $40-$50 dollars each way. It’ll cost you $10 bucks per bike to put your bike under the bus. Make sure to contact Intercity and confirm you can get your bike under the bus and ask them to tell the driver.
The track is extremely well signed, I was really impressed. Whenever you come to an intersection there’s an obvious sign pointing which way to go.
You can view the Alps 2 Ocean google maps layer here:
The official website is here:
We only paid for 1 night of camping at Otematata which was $25 for a site. Everywhere else the camping was free. You’re allowed to “freedom” camp in NZ wilderness areas if there are no signs and you’re self-contained.
It’s worth mentioning that we met a couple from Auckland on the ride that didn’t carry much gear besides a change of clothes and booked into hotels / motels / pubs / airbnbs on the way and bought their food at local pubs or cafes. If that’s more your scene you could have a great time riding with very little gear on this track.
There were some things to do next to the trail in some of the towns, you could binge drink at wineries on the way, go on joy-flights in gliders, fish for salmon etc.