INAUGURAL ALPS 2 OCEAN (A2O) BIKE RIDE – 312 KM FROM MT COOK VILLAGE TO OAMARU
Our adventure started in Oamaru where we had arranged to pick up our bikes, van and trailer from Geoff Omnet at Smash Palace. An unusual name for a place that rents out bikes! It turned out that we were his first group through for the Alps 2 Ocean. Eight of us with an average age of 65 had started planning this trip in August 2011. We wanted a relatively easy bike ride but with exciting scenery and not too crowded. We had completed the Otago Rail Trail three years prior. There was little information about the route except a website that claimed that it was 80% completed and hoped to be fully finished by March 2012 – just when we chose to go.
All seemed to fit well and I found Geoff on the Alps 2 Ocean website and wrote to him. Nothing was any trouble to him – yes he had a van that would take eight people, yes he had a trailer that could take eight bikes and eight people’s luggage and yes they could be available from March 9 – 19th. And the price was very reasonable. However, Geoff was not there when we arrived and the chap behind the counter was very helpful but when asked about frame sizes for certain heights he said – I am into motor bikes and asked if I wanted a measuring tape!
Saturday 10th March 2012
We all climbed aboard the Alps 2 Ocean van with trailer – none of us very confident about reversing a trailer! However, the plan was that each person would take a turn at being the driver and support person each day so we all needed to be able to drive the vehicle!
We stopped in Duntroon at the Flying Pig Café and were agreeably surprised by the quality of coffee food and service. We also stopped at several Information places on route to try to get more information and maps about the route. Everyone knew about the new trail but there was little available on paper and people did not know the detail of the route. We still had no definitive map. We each had acquired various maps and tried to put them all together to plan the route. We drove to Mt cook village and stayed at Mt Cook Backpackers Lodge at cost of $125 per room. Pretty pricey for the limited comforts available and certainly expensive for a “backpackers”, but then view of a clouded Mt Cook was worth it.
Sunday 11th March 2012:- Mount Cook to Braemar Station 42 Kms
First day of cycle and it was raining – it had rained all night long. Mt Cook was not visible and our gel saddles on our bikes were soaking. We donned our rain gear, and rang the Mt Cook Ski Plane company, the company we had booked to helicopter us across the Tasman River and also take our bikes in a crate. Trish at Mt Cook ski Planes said the weather in the valley was not much better but some in the party were itching to get started so we all got on our bike and rode 4.2Kms to the airport in the rain. We discovered later that we were not supposed to ride down the road through Mt Cook NP and that the plan was to put in an off road trail, but nobody stopped us and so we arrived at airport happy but wet. When I first got in touch I was quoted $125 each per person but on the day because there were seven of us (one less as driver did not go across) the cost was $90 each. It was a very smooth operation thanks to the efforts of Grant the pilot. He took five people first having loaded all our bikes into a large cage and set off for the 11/2 minute ride across the river! Then came back and took the other two plus the crate of bikes. All took less than 10 minute.
Once our bikes were unloaded and helicopter departed, there was silence, the weather lifted, the sun came out and a rainbow covered the river and the tussock. This was what we had imagined! The scenery changed as we rode from Tasman point to Mt Cook Station – 13 kms, rabbits hopped around, mountains were bathed in cloud, we caught glimpses of Lake Pukaki, we forded some streams – some deeper (up to mid calf/knees) and freezing cold but nothing could dampen our spirits – this was magic. The next part of the track from the car park at the end of Hayman road to Braemar station (24Kms) was very loose, deep and rough gravel and not easy to ride. One had to concentrate on staying on the bike rather than enjoying the stunning scenery.
We stopped in a local cowshed for lunch as the rain began again – eating lunch amongst the cow pats but we stayed dry. We were excited to finally arrive at Braemar Station but with an added insult – a steep gravel climb to the accommodation. But that was all forgotten when we arrived- accommodation very spacious and comfortable and the view from the Shearer’s Quarters where we stayed was awesome. We had panoramic views of lake Pukaki and the Alps. We had asked our hosts to provide dinner as we were all biking and what a feast they produced for $25 per head. The dinner consisted of local salmon, green and mixed salad, new potatoes, rhubarb crumble, cream and ice-cream. Braemar Station is a working station with several hundred cattle, several thousand sheep and deer both wild and farmed so we had the sights and sound of farm life. That night we were surrounded by hundreds of cattle as they had been rounded up for TB testing the following morning at 0630. There was the odd cry from one or two in the night but nothing that would disturb ones sleep.
Monday 12th March 2012. Braemar Station to Twizel 45 Kms
Up early on the second day – woken by the cry of the cattle being driven into the sheds for testing. Everyone was ready for off when the cattle were released from the shed – there was not enough room for both bikes and cattle, the bike gave way to the herd of cattle!
Back to the gravel road to head for Twizel, the riding was a little easier as there is more traffic on this part of the road which has helped to compound the gravel and it became more impacted the more stations we passed. The road skirted Lake Pukaki most of the way. We knew that there was a new ‘off road’ trail on part of this section but again unsure of exactly where it started. There were several photo stops along this road – we were warned by our host at Braemar Station to keep looking back and it paid off, suddenly there was Mt Cook in all her glory rising above the clouds. She looked both spectacular and intimidating at the same time. We also passed Aussie Rock – a rock on top of a hill that did look remarkably like the map of Australia.
The gravel ended at the Tekapo B power station and we rode along the tar-seal until we spied a good lunch spot. A hill on the top of Hayman Road which had a beautiful view of Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki. About a kilometer along from there (about 6 kms along the tar seal) just before we met SH8 there was a small sign off to right indicating the bike trail. One really had to look out for this sign as it was small and lacked impact. The next section was all along the southern shores of Lake Pukaki for 9kms to the Pukaki information centre. From there you must cross SH8 and this is were you need to be alert to pick up the next section of the trail to Twizel as not well signposted. As a group we were spread out, some stopping for photo shots at different times and some riding at different paces which on this day was a little unfortunate as two member of the troupe were so engrossed in the scenery they missed one of the small bike trail signs and managed to ride about 16++ kms more that necessary and along a very rough trail. A detailed map would have prevented this and better trail signage. We have fed this back to the organisers so hopefully this will improve as more areas are developed. The whole day was beautiful marred only by our two friend cycling more kms than needed but we did all enjoy a few dozen bluff oysters with local wine! We stayed in the Colonial Motel, very clean comfortable and reasonably priced and close to all amenities.
Tuesday March 13th 2012:- Twizel to Lake Ohau Lodge 39 kms – undulating with short steep sections but mostly downhill
That was the plan before we went to DOC information center in Twizel. They suggested that rather than going on the road we should take a trail out and back along the Twizel river – 16 kms altogether (they mentioned it was a little rough) and then they suggested to go out Glen Lyon road to the canals and ride along to the end and have lunch overlooking Lake Ohau. There was general agreement amongst us that this sounded more exciting than riding the SH to Lake Ohau Lodge. One member opted to ride the tar seal road (SH 8 and then Lake Ohau road) all the way but the rest headed down to the Twizel river. It was very beautiful but also very rough with many single wheel ruts that required intense concentration to ensure we stayed upright! We rode most of the way until it got just too rough and then we retraced our tracks alongside the river and through high tussock grass. It really was more a mountain bike track that a genteel track!
Arriving back in Twizel we stopped for coffee and then headed down Glen Lyon road towards the blue/gray distant hills. We rode past several salmon farms in the Pukaki canal and we were only passed by two cars during the whole 20 km ride. We arrived at the end of the tar-seal and sat at the top of a hill overlooking Lake Ohau for lunch – wow what a lunchtime view, the scenery was once again awesome. In fact I struggle to find a different adjective to describe such beauty each hour of each day. One member of the group remarked that we would be hard pressed to find the like anywhere else in the world and we all nodded in agreement.
After lunch we loaded all our bikes onto the truck and drove to Lake Ohau Lodge where we had booked dinner, bed and breakfast for $109 per head. Our road rider was there to greet us and enjoyed her ride but would have to retrace her steps for about 20kms tomorrow. What a beautiful spot Lake Ohau Lodge is, with views of Mount Cook and Lake Ohau. Everyone was friendly and interested in our progress and the service was very efficient. So far in this bike ride we have been the inaugural Alps 2 Ocean bike group at each destination and also for the Mount Cook Ski Planes so we were quizzed by the locals at each place we stayed. The owners of Lake Ohau lodge were heavily involved in planning at the north end of the trail but it did seem as we rode on down the track that the north and south of the trail were not communicating very well and many local farmers were less than happy with the plan for the of road trail so there were still some hurdles to overcome to get this trail completed. I do hope they all get it together in the near future as this is one spectacular bike ride.Our dinner at Lake Ohau lodge was amazing considering they had about two or three coach loads of people staying as well as us but we felt special and enjoyed a gourmet dinner with warm and efficient service. Our dinner at Lake Ohau lodge was amazing considering they had about two or three coach loads of people staying as well but we felt special and enjoyed a gourmet dinner with warm and efficient service.
Wednesday march 14th 2012. Lake Ohau Lodge to Omarama 42kms – mostly downhill with some short steep sections.
We all set off on our bikes except our driver of course, after a large breakfast. The staff kindly made room for us to prepare our lunches in the dining room following breakfast and without a fuss. They may also supply packed lunches in the future – or may do now, we did not ask them. We planned a picnic stop on the main SH8 between Twizel and Omarama as we were on tar-seal roads for the whole ride, Lake Ohau Road did not really have anywhere far enough along to stop so we choose the first picnic spot after turning into SH8. The traffic was light and the drivers were extremely courteous of bike riders. The ride from Lake Ohau had tussock and hills on both sides once we left the lake behind – a very different type of beauty from the previous days. Even the large row of pylons looked ethereal in the morning light! The hills and tussocks reminded one of paintings by Otago artists. The blond, fawn and browns of the tussock and the dark black grey of the mountains blended together like a natural weave.
The trail was mostly downhill and so we arrived at the picnic spot early and decided we might abandon the lunch plan in favour of lunch in Omarama instead.
We arrive at The TOP Ten Holiday park in Omarama to a warm welcome for the inaugural Alps 2 Ocean group with some bottles of wine from the chiller. Accommodation was superb with separate studio units and cooking facilities for $104 per unit for two people. One of our group had passed a “take a glider flight” along the road into Omarama and decided he would take a ride and follow in the footsteps of the ‘great’ Richie McCaw who hailed from Kurow just a few kms away, who is a keen glider and glides from this very place. The little aerodrome had been very busy all day but managed to fit our brave soul in and boy did he love the ride. His wife on the ground was not so excited until he glided to a halt on terra firma. We used the facilities at Top Ten Holiday Park to have a BBQ and made short work of the gift of wine! Much appreciated.
Thursday March 15th 2012:- Omarama to Otematata – Our shortest day, only 25km. Undulation with one long steady clime followed by a fantastic 5km downhill straight into Otematata!
A few km outside Omarama we stopped for half an hour to watch some local farmers train their dogs for the sheep trials the following week – those dogs are just so clever and well trained. We rode on passed Lake Benmore and Sailor’s cutting and saw a lone man in his tiny boat fishing. Then we headed 4.8 km over the ‘saddle’ and suddenly we were flying down the other side thinking of the coffee waiting for us in Otematata. We had booked a local house through Bookabatch and paid a deposit but had not got directions for the house from the local agent until the night before. It seems that there was a change of house because some workers on contract to the Benmore Dam had not yet vacated the one book for us because work at the dam had gone on longer than expected. Otematata is a small quiet village with most of its activity generated by the workers at the dam and their need for accommodation and food. Even the local pub catered for them with signs about contractor accommodation and food displayed outside. We wandered around the village and spotted one such sign that advertized ” Mexican night every Thursday night in March”. This was Thursday night and the month of March so off we went. Excellent value for money and free pool for those who wished to play. The place was filled with dam contractors who were still in their work clothes and enjoying the Mexican food and beer to wash it down. Off back to our accommodation which had once been a house for nuns according to the local agent. It was very comfortable but tired and not too clean – needs lots of TLC. Also heard from our bike man, Geoff Omnet, in Oamaru, asking how we were going.
Friday, March 16th 2012. Otematata to Glenmac Farm stay beyond Kurow 59 km. Undulating except for some short steep sections and a steep climb on Grants road leading to the farm stay.
Today we headed off to the nasty sound of graunching coming from Heather’s bike. Sounded very unhealthy but luckily as there was always one driver there was also one spare bike, and luckily it was a woman driver today. We rang back to the driver (in fact there were two people not riding today as one had strained his Achilles tendon and was resting it) and they caught up with us at the base of Benmore dam and swapped bikes. This was lucky as the climb up to the top of Benmore dam was fierce – 1:1 gears for last 1/3 of the climb, however, do remember that we are only recreational riders!!
We discovered that the Benmore dam was one of the largest earth dams in the Southern Hemisphere! Once over the dam it was a beautiful ride all along the Te Akatarawa road by lake Aviemore joining SH83 at Aviemore where we stopped for lunch at a spot overlooking the dam and gathered huge mushrooms for dinner. We then headed along SH83 leaving Lake Waitaki on the left and into Kurow for coffee at ‘The Valley cafe and bakery’.
What a stunning ride along a very quiet road. Lots of caravans along the lake shore with plenty of toilets at each site. Perhaps the road would not be so quiet during height of summer when people were going to and from their caravans but we were lucky to have it mostly to ourselves. Kurow is Speight’s country with the local Kurow hotel painted in its colours and farm boots sitting empty outside the door. Close to the hotel is a wine shop that displays and sells all local wines. The Ostler’s Pinot Gris is worth a try! Time to leave Kurow for the last part of today’s trip to our accommodation for the night – a further 10km along SH83 and then 4 km down local road to Glenmac farm. Some of us gave up at the last nasty looking hill about 2 km from our accommodation but others in the party rode on. Our accommodation was clean comfortable and very homely. We paid $70 per head for dinner, bed& breakfast per night and we stayed two nights building in a rest day. Kaye and Keith welcomed us into their home and also declared we were their inaugural Alps 2 Ocean group. There were plenty of activities here – farm walks, river walks and some fossil and elephant rocks close by.
Sunday, March 18th 2012:- Final ride – Glenmac Farm to Oamaru – 60-65 km
There was division in the camp about which way to go on this last ride. Because some of the group had driven to Elephant Rock and on to Ngapara they discovered some very long steep hills and there was a male vs female split. Four females in the group opted for the easy main SH83 option, the two men for the challenge of the hills. Another couple needed to return to Oamaru early so drove the van back to The Avenue motel, 473 Thames Highway, where we were stayingfor our last night and had stayed for the night prior to our trip. A little way outside Oamaru but comfortable and clean and the owners were very hospitable.
We all stopped at Duntroon at the Flying Pig cafe for last coffee together before the parting of the ways. The Flying Pig cafe is a delight as are the owners, clean, comfortable with an old world atmosphere and amazing loos! We all ordered sandwiches from them for our lunch which they made while we were having coffee. It was good coffee and speedy service. Duntroon, itself is a tiny quaint village with a lot of history and worthy of some time being spent there. From there the women set off down the SH – it was a very easy ride with nowhere to stop for lunch. We arrive at the major SH very quickly and then set about finding a road down to the Ocean to complete the ride. This is not an easy task. We finally got to the ocean or at least close by the ocean via an industrial plant and had to be satisfied with views not toe in ocean!
The boys on the other hand arrived at the motel about two hours later pretty exhausted after several long tedious hills but very satisfied to have completed the whole ride. Their ride was much more scenic than ours but we also felt deep satisfaction at having completed the whole ride via slightly different route
Monday, 19th March 2012
Took bikes , van and trailer back to Smash palace and Geoff Omnet. We were very pleased with everything especially the gel saddles. We suggested he up skill one of his workers to understand bikes, the bike were more or less brand new when we got them and all but one worked for us. As the trail develops he may have an odd contact along the way to fix any bike problems. He is also looking at an easier way of attaching bikes to the trailer without losing the ability to carry luggage for the riders. He did us a fantastic deal for all bikes van and trailer and I would not hesitate to use him again.
What a wonderful trail but is as yet still unfinished, however this did not dampen our enjoyment of it – the website says 80% finished but that was not true then but maybe now. We all agreed it was one of our best activity holidays ever and would rate it above the Otago Rail Trail because of scenery and lack of crowds.
WHAT AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE!