A2O - Riding High
By Rachel Lamb
Easter 2015: a group of fourteen friends from Auckland, took on A2O - the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.
Day One: We all flew into Christchurch, where our guides from Natural High picked us up. It was a lovely day, so we all enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the drive through to Tekapo.
After a picnic lunch alongside the Tekapo Canals, we were introduced to our bikes, before doing a 15km warm up cycle. It was blowing a gale though, so we made hard work of it.
The scenery was lovely though and we had some nice views of Mt Cook. Some of the group had gone ahead and stayed on the high road along the canal, while the rest of us took a lower road which provided a bit of shelter. On coming back up to the high road we were met by Trish, walking her bike - she had been blown off - her bike ended up on top of her!
Along with our bikes, we were reloaded onto the bus to travel to our accommodation - Aoraki Mt Cook Alpine Lodge. After dinner we went up to The Hermitage, a hotel with various exhibitions and information relating to Aoraki Mt Cook, and mountaineering in general.
We were booked in for star gazing at 9.30pm, unfortunately there was a bit of cloud, so it wasn’t possible. We spent half an hour in the Planetarium instead - learning about the planets and the solar system. Very interesting but a bit too relaxing - sending some of the team to sleep, due to their 4.30am starts.
Day Two: After breakfast we were driven to where we finished our cycle the day before. We cycled along the shores of Lake Pukaki. It was a stunning day and the vistas were magical - seeing Aoraki Mt Cook in all her glory is a sight to behold! We then crossed the highway to cycle the Pukaki Flats - an expansive area of dry grasslands characteristic of the Mackenzie landscape.
After lunch in Twizel, we cycled along the canals towards the Lake Ohau lakeside track. This track is gently undulating, set just back from the lake - you get to enjoy views of the lake and native bush.
The lakeside track then meets up with Lake Ohau Road, 10km before Lake Ohau Lodge - our accommodation. The wind gets up in the afternoons, so we had a headwind to the Lodge - a bit challenging for everyone. The driveway was a welcome sight, even though there was still about 500m of gentle uphill to go. We had a great meal at the Lodge and lots of laughs; Raewyn had fallen off her bike just before Twizel, and Roberta admitted to mistaking the Deep Heat for her toothpaste!
Day Three: The track from Lake Ohau Lodge - which goes up and over the hill just below the ski field road. The trip notes said the first 6.3km is ‘easy cycling’, before a 4km climb from 600 metres, to 900 metres.
After completing this 10km, we all decided the trip notes need to be revised - the first 6.3km was harder; uphill, windy and over various terrain. The 4km climb was straight and steady - we even had a tail wind which was a nice change. We did learn new terminology on the 4km though: 'false summits' - of which there were a few - the trail appeared to reach the high point, but kept winding upwards.
The views back over Lake Ohau on the climb up, were fantastic. After reaching the true summit at 900 metres above sea level, we had a few twists and turns before some fantastic downhill riding through paddocks.
After a picnic lunch up at the old Benmore Station Woolshed, we had about 22km to go before reaching Omarama. This riding was mainly downhill and to start with, on gravel roads - great fun until I had to get out of the way of an oncoming car, and nearly came off my bike in the thick gravel.
We got to Omarama about 3pm. Everyone was looking forward to a soak in the hot pools, but they were fully booked until 10pm, as it was Easter Saturday. Note for next time: book in advance!
Instead we drove to see the Clay Cliffs. These reminded me of the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia, Turkey. The Clay Cliffs are huge, sharp pinnacles and ridges with deep, narrow ravines separating them. They’re made of layers of gravel and silt, deposited by rivers flowing from glaciers existing 1-2 million years ago. You can also bike out to see the Clay Cliffs, but it adds about 15km to the day’s ride.
Day Four: The first part of the day’s ride was the off-road trail to the top of the Chain Hills, before descending beside State Highway 83 to follow the edge of Lake Benmore, to Pumpkin Point.
We got to Sailors Cutting - a popular, boating, camping and fishing spot. Then it was back onto the road to climb up the Otematata Saddle, a slow and steady climb. The downhill into Otematata was fantastic. Apparently the NZ Cycleway Trust has secured land for off road trails here, and has been awarded some Government funding to complete this section.
We then cycled past the Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki Dams - engineering masterpieces! We arrived in Kurow about 4pm and headed to the pub for a well earned drink. Kurow is famous for the fact that our beloved former All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw, hails from there.
We were then driven from Kurow to our accommodation - Campbell Park Estate, about 15km out of Kurow. In 1908 the Estate was sold to the New Zealand Education Board, which used it as a school up until 1987. In 1988 it passed into private ownership.
The Estate helped shape the future of thousands of young men, during which time the property was extensively developed into the beautiful and expansive complex it is today. We enjoyed a tour of the grounds and school, guided by a former Assistant Principal, and his wife who had been a Teacher Aide at the school.
Day Five: Our biggest cycling day, with 78km to bike from Kurow to Oamaru. As we were now on the last leg of the trip and heading for the ocean, we wrongly assumed it would all be downhill!
A term we used frequently on this trip was ‘upulating’ - replacing undulating, which we had incorrectly interpreted to mean 'gently rolling downhill'. After going through the historic sandstone block Rakis Railway Tunnel, we got onto some rolling country roads. When I say rolling, they rolled up, as much as they rolled down!
However we all made it to Oamaru in one piece, and had the obligatory photo at the official end point of the Alps to Ocean Cycle. We had done a total of 260km, and if asked, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.