Getting ready for the challenge
I’ve long wanted to do the Alps to Ocean bike ride, which starts from Mt Cook/Aoraki to Oamaru. In fact, I’ve booked and rescheduled three times thanks to Covid, and now I’ve finally done it.
When my dear friend Deb and I signed up to do the Alps to Ocean ride with Adventure South NZ, we read the brief. Six days of cycling, on 2 and 3 graded trails (moderate to intermediate). The suggested fitness regime was 90 minutes of cycling, three to five times a week for three months….easy we thought!
Committed, we planned to get bike fit, but somehow the training schedule just didn’t happen. A week out from our departure, Deb kindly borrowed a e-bike for me from a friend (my e-bike was in Arrowtown). However, in the midst of our family Easter festivities, my grandson lay the bike on the garage floor and I clipped the back wheel when I drove into the garage. Suffice to say, I was mortified and highly embarrassed… this only happens when you borrow gear. The damage was minimal and easily repaired, but my riding preparation remained static.
A day in Christchurch
As the bike trip started in Christchurch, we decided to get there a day earlier, not having visited the city since the catastrophic earthquake of 2011. We were keen to explore the Christchurch rebuild, and take in some of the sights.
The Quake Museum was without a doubt the highlight. For me the most gripping experience in the museum was listening to the heart wrenching stories from some of the victims, firefighters and people who had lost loved ones. Their raw emotions were difficult to disguise and their stories have left me with haunting memories.
A gentleman in his 50’s described how he stood outside the CVT building for 30 hours waiting for news of his wife. Eventually, the building was engulfed in fire. She was identified sometime later, by her dental records.
Later in the day, we walked around the city. The new Riverside Market and City Mall are a credit to all those involved. However, there are still a lot of empty, gravelly lots where buildings once stood.
Then, there are buildings still standing as owners and insurance companies squabble over payouts, 11 years on.
Being a foodie, I must mention two fabulous restaurants we visited. ‘The King Snake’, serves Asian, fusion food. We had the sensational ‘Trust the Chef’ menu for lunch. The highlight being the crispy eggplant.
In the evening we ate at ‘Inati’. On arrival we were ushered to the lounge for a cocktail. The small intimate room was a great way to start our fine dining experience. Among our selection we enjoyed duck trumpets with blackberry jam and the Boe-uf nut (a braised beef cheek filled doughnut) – simply outstanding.
Day 1 Christchurch to Tekapo – 44 km biked
A little apprehensive and nervous due to our lack of training, we met our biking group of 14 people, and boarded our mini bus to Tekapo. Listening to conversation from our fellow bikers, we learnt many of them rode together regularly, which made us feel even worse.
So having arrived in Tekapo, we spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with our e-bikes with a ‘warm up’ ride of 44 km ride to Lake Alexandrina.
Over dinner that night we got to know our biking group a little better. Deb and I might not have had much cycling experience, but we did have age on our side. Our celebrity, biking veteran, Peter, was the eldest in the group clocking in at 87 years old. He was as fit as a fiddle, as sharp as a tack, with a twinkle in his eye. There were also two more folk in their 80’s, and a bunch of people were in their 70’s, plus four boisterous ‘lads’, about our age.
Age certainly didn’t define anyone in the group, which was inspiring for Deb and I. We might have been novices to this sport, but looking at this group, we have years ahead to perfect our biking technique!
Day 2 Tekapo to Twizel – 55 km
There are two suggested starting points for the Alps to Ocean ride.
Route one, starts at Mt Cook/ Aoraki where you ride south for a short distance, then helicopter across Lake Pukaki and continue onto Tekapo. The alternative is to start the ride in Tekapo.
Adventure South NZ, our guiding company, preferred the alternative option. So, on a blue-bird day, we started our Alps to Ocean bike ride.
We left Tekapo destined for Twizel. The ride couldn’t have been more scenic. We rode along the hydro-canals, passing salmon farms before dropping down to the shores of Lake Pukaki. Beyond the still, reflective waters of the lake, we looked up to Aoraki /Mt Cook as the sun glistened on the peaks of New Zealand’s celebrated, highest mountain. After crossing the Pukaki Dam, the trail took us to the Pukaki Flats, accross the dry grasslands, characteristic of the Mackenzie landscape. Then, it was onto Twizel for the night.
Despite having ridden 55 km we were finished by early afternoon, so the biking team headed to Aoraki /Mt Cook in the minibus. From the Blue Lake car part we hiked for 20 minutes to a viewing point with excellent views of the Tasman Glacier and carved icebergs floating in the water below it.
The Tasman Glacier is New Zealand’s longest glacier at 22 km. However, like glaciers worldwide, it’s receding, over 100 metres a year.
Day 3 Twizel to Omarama – 83 km
The next leg of trail, 83km from Twizel to Omarama, was the longest section of the trip..
Following a substantial breakfast, we headed out of town riding among the auburn trees adorned with leaves of yellow, red, and orange hues. As we approached the Pukaki, and later Ohau canals, our vista changed to the aqua blue of the connecting waterways.
Lunch stop at Ohau Lodge was warmly welcomed as the rain had started, but thankfully it was short lived. After soup and toasties the afternoon provided challenges for those riding the Tarnbrae Saddle. The heavily rutted track, with large exposed boulders was not for the faint hearted.
For those that didn’t ride the saddle, (including me), we rejoined the others at Quailburn and rode the last 26 km to Omarama.
Our wholesome dinner at the Boots and Jandals was superb. This little, rural pub is a gem. Despite being in the middle of a substancial renovation, the food and service were excellent.
Day 4 Omarama to Kurow – 83 km
This day was the most challenging day for me. Our plan was to head down the Waitaki Valley, but first we had to navigate the ride around Benmore Lake, the grade three section of the ride. Despite the route being jaw droppingly beautiful, I dared not take any photos. If I’d stopped to capture the moment I might have looked down at the shear drop offs into the lake, and never got back on my bike.
Our Adventure South guides, Nicki and Sam were brilliant. They assessed our riding ability, coaching and reassuring us along the way. I was pleased with myself for completing this tricky section of the trail, unharmed.
After crossing Benmore Dam we rode alongside Lake Aviemore, and then crossed this dam too. Then, we rode around the final lake and oldest dam, Waitaki, before arriving at Kurow.
Our host, Kate at the Waitaki Braids looked after us well, with a delicious lamb curry for dinner. The historic building was built in 1888 from local limestone. The Orr family ran the local store and lived out the back. It has had numerous owners since, but Kate who is now the guardian of this property has done a magnificent job renovating the building with seven, ensuite rooms and has rennovated additional accommodation across the road to host larger groups.
Day 5 Kurow to Burnside – 83 km
Leaving Kurow for Burnside we were getting towards the end of our ride. The road took us along the banks of the Waitaki River, past vineyards and an interesting Maori art rock site.
This section of the trail had three river crossings. We crossed two of the three rivers, then decided to avoid the third. Lugging our heavy e-bikes over the farm fences proved challenging, but the ‘younger lads,’ made light work of it for us all.
We then continued our ride, moving from autumn colours, to undulating hillsides. We stopped at Elephant Rock for lunch, picnicing among rocks the size and shape of elephants, creating a very dramatic landscape.
The gates to Burnside Homestead were a welcome sight, for our last night. Burnside is where John Reid from Elderslie, Scotland, settled and built his mansion in1874. The elaborately gabled facade and verandas were spectacular, but what really caught my eye, was the octagonal Great Hall, from which all the rooms radiate.
Day 6 Burnside to Oamaru – 20 km
After breakfast in the magnificent dining room, we had just 20 km to go to complete the Alps to Ocean ride.
The final 20 km took us through lovely countryside and the Oamaru Botanical Gardens before finishing in Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct.
Here our Alps to Ocean ride ended.
I can’t speak highly enough of Adventure South NZ, our guides Nicki and Sam, our biking friends who were all “good sorts,’ especially our veteran, celebrity, Peter, who inspired us all.
Some of the photos in this blog, were taken by Dave, from Melbourne, who shared his images generously.