The Alps to Ocean bike tour, or Alps2Ocean as it’s often referred to, begins on the shores of Lake Tekapo. The ride covers 300 kilometers of mostly off-road trails bringing you through a scenic, though not-so-direct path to the coastal town of Oamaru, contouring the shorelines of five large lakes in the process. Late April is in the middle of Fall in New Zealand, and the weather is quite hit or miss. We planned our tour to span the only six days we had free, hoping that they would be at least partially dry.
Day one began with ominous cloud cover, threatening rain as we set out from Lake Tekapo toward Lake Pukaki. Two hours of amazing dirt trails and beautiful scenery energized our moods until they glowed like the neon of our bike shirts, and not a single drop fell to dampen them. We reached Lake Pukaki, from which one can look across and see the distant but formidable slopes of Mt Cook. Although only reaching 12,000 feet, Mount Cook’s highly technical faces are most famous as the training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary, the pioneering Kiwi who became the first person to summit Mt. Everest. Unfortunately, as we looked across the lake, all that we saw were great swaths of rain falling disconcertingly near our shoreline. As we left the shore toward our final destination in Twizel, the first drops thumped loudly against our helmets… the race was on.
We arrived in Twizel an hour later with wet clothing, but the fires of our excitement, stoked from the trail’s magnificence still burned strong. Day one, we decided, had been a great success. One that we later learned foreshadowed the rest of the journey.
Day two brought us from Twizel to our third world-class lake of the trip, Lake Ohau. Setting out from Twizel, we traveled by road for the first time on the trip, riding above a canal for a couple hours of soaking in amazing views from our elevated vantage. Fortunately, the smoothly paved road had long ago fallen from popular use in favor of an alternate highway route and we were passed by just two cars the entire time. In function, it was more like a twenty-five foot wide bike lane than a car thoroughfare. Along the way we passed a salmon farm, followed immediately by a hungry pack of twenty fishermen pulling in the escaped salmon whose taste of freedom must have been much more short than sweet.
Finally, halfway through the day, we caught our first glimpses of the aforementioned beauty: Lake Ohau shined in the light of an almost cloudless day. We contoured Ohau’s shoreline, in what was surely the most pleasant section of riding on the whole trip. The extra wide, perfectly graded gravel single track rose and fell gradually with the occasional section of butterfly inducing whoop-de-doos mixed in.
On the far end of the lake, we were forced to begin what the map’s elevation profile promised to be the death hill of the tour. In actuality the gradualness of the entire ride certainly skewed this pleasant hill to appear a monster in comparison. At the half-way mark we stopped not from exhaustion, but because we came upon a picnic table perched on a large flat area in the steep hillside. We set up camp, cooked dinner, and took a short walk, all the while turning to catch glimpses of the mountain’s shadow creeping slowly from the foot of our ridge, across Lake Ohau and finally to the tips of the facing mountains. Magical!
The final three days featured, you guessed it, two more massive, sparsely populated lakes. An especially memorable section on day four led us along the fall-colored coastline of Lake Aviemore with just one car passing in either direction on the deserted 20km road. On day five we stopped at Elephant Rocks to bask in the sun amongst twenty massive boulders; the one group of boulderers enjoyed blissful solitude in a boulder field whose quality would surely warrant a packed crowd of pebble wrestlers if it were located anywhere in the US. Day six came quicker than I could have expected; we rolled into Oamaru, checked out the bizarre Steampunk museum and played at the most awesome (and dangerous) park I have ever experienced.
I know we were only touring for six days, but I developed a whole new level of appreciation for the Kiwi use of outdoor spaces on the Alps to Ocean bike tour. While waiting for our shuttle back to Twizel, V and I found a brochure of the approximately thirty other great rides in New Zealand. As we sat on the bus, speeding back through the countryside we had just ridden as if in super rewind, we read through the pamphlet and got psyched to get started on the next tour. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for NZ Bike Tour: Parts 2 through 30.