ToNZ #4 – There are several biking trails in New Zealand, the so called Alps2Ocean trail is the longest one, opened in 2013, consisting of more than 300 km, going from the Mount Cook National Park to Oamaru’s penguins. The reason I’m mentioning these infos is that going through this trail was the next thing to do after leaving Alexandra. The journey has been made on the last week of March, took almost a week, consisting of the days as follows.
Day 0: Cromwell – Aoraki
The starting point of the trail is the tiny town of Aoraki. The shortest way to go there from Alexandra was changing buses twice: first in Cromwell, then in Twizel. Since the connections were not designed for people from Alexandra to Aoraki, we had to stay in Cromwell for a night, and then also wait for a couple of hours in Twizel on the next day.
Aoraki is not really a town, it’s just a collection of hostels, far away from the civilization, between Lake Pukaki and the Mount Cook National Park. People usually spend here one or two nights, and walk on the local walking trails, so they can get some scenery that is worth to take a few photos of. We arrived there at around 4pm so we could go through the trail called Hooker Valley Trail in a perfect time, after most of the Asian tourist groups left, but before it was getting too dark.
The Hooker Valley is an about 5 km long walk along the Hooker River, leading to the Hooker Lake. The lake is surrounded by glaciers, you can see the Mount Cook on its other side, which is New Zealand’s highest mountain (3724 m). There were some kea birds hanging around next to the lake, collecting the trash of the previous tourists, and they were happy to pose for the camera too.
Dear blog reader, if you ever visit New Zealand for just one single day, the thing that you have to do on that day is walking through the Hooker Valley. It had a very special atmosphere, huge mountains, cold glaciers, blue rivers and lakes, fresh air, posing keas – it seemed to be a nice summary of the countries natural features. A must.
Day 1: Aoraki – Twizel (77 km)
The first day was promised to be flat. And on the scale where 100 meters difference equals 1 cm, it really is. But the more you zoom in, the more you can see the tiny little ups and downs that might drive you crazy after almost 80 km of biking on them.
The first five kilometers were okay, until we arrived to the helicopter landing place. We booked a helicopter flight to cross the Tasman River. It’s not because we are so fancy but because that’s the only possible way to cross the river. Since the sky was too cloudy, we had to wait an hour to get on the helicopter which landed about 1,5 minutes later on the other side. It’s a common dirty trick of the New Zealand bike trails to include some unavoidable but quite expensive transport vehicles in the middle of the trail that you have to use if you want to continue your journey. That’s exactly what we wanted. Hence the helicopter.
The sign on the other side of the river said that there is only 300 km left to Oamaru. We were ready to decrease the distance. On the first day we mainly headed south along the Lake Pukaki, with the small but extremely annoying little ups and downs under the wheels. The trail quality was horrible, it was gravel road with really big stones, it was the second worst suffering for the whole trail (after the last day). One moment (next to the Tekapo Power Station, to be precise) we suddenly found ourselves on the highway and then the road problems didn’t come back again. The bike road was finally well built, the ups and downs weren’t that intense, the way to Twizel stopped being a torture.
Day 2: Twizel – Lake Ohau (38 km)
The second day was quite short, and considering the difficulties of the following day, it was a very good decision. Since there were no bike roads built, we had to bike on a really boring highway from Twizel next to a canal, until we reached Lake Ohau. The Ohau Lodge was on the other side of the lake, which meant a few extra kilometers along the lake. It was really pretty section and the road there was made of gravel that usual everyday bikers like me usually wish for themselves: not as hard as concrete but not as soft that your wheel is drowning in it.
The Ohau Lodge had a good location both from practical (just before the trail starts to climb the hill) and from aesthetic (looking at the Lake Ohau) points of view. We booked a cheap accommodation (it was still the most expensive one from the whole trail) but we were allowed to go to the restaurant where the rich people were hanging out, have some free tea and coffee and watch the lake from the lodge balcony. We also had time for some walk, since, as I already mentioned, the day was quite short.
Day 3: Lake Ohau – Omarama (59 km)
This was the day which I was afraid of from the very beginning: the one with a 10 km long and 330 m high climbing. At the very beginning of the day. The climb took about two hours with a lots of breaks, sweat and suffering up until the summit. And ironically, it was the only time when we had rain, just to make the situation even more depressive. It was not easy, but unlike the annoying gravel road on the first day and the unexpected uphills on the last one, it was something I was mentally preparing myself before.
The climbing was followed by something refreshing, namely the rolling down the hill. It was the most memorable part of the whole 300 km. After reaching the summit at 900 meters we had a really steep part until down to 400 meters. There were some big stones that hit my bike, there were some small creeks that made my feet wet, there was the rain that made my eyes blind and my back muddy – still, I had a few minutes there where I felt like a real tough mountain biker.
On the bottom of the hill there was a car and a guy. The guy was selling coffee from the car for the bikers. Of course we bought one. And of course everybody’s buying one after climbing up and rolling down. And everybody’s paying that 5 dollars to the guy. Because there is nothing else around. The next town is 30 km ahead, the previous lodge is one hill behind. The guy said that he has about 40-60 customers per day in average. Which is 200-300 dollars income. That guy is a quite good money maker. And the coffee was great as well.
Before reaching the next town called Omarama, Katja had the weird idea of making a 14 km long detour to see the clay cliffs. The clay cliffs are cliffs made of clay. It sounds amazing, doesn’t it? No, actually it was really just a few simple rocks, and a gravel road led to them, almost as bad as on the first day. It wasn’t a good idea, to be honest. I wouldn’t go there again, if you ask me, dear blog reader.
Day 4: Omarama – Kurow (69 km)
The next day was alright. First we were biking along a lake next to Omarama which was quite large but still, google maps is unable to show me what was its name. After leaving it, we had a mean hill, I had to stop about three times because I couldn’t bike up. But the way down was really nice, it was a 5 km long downhill on the luckily empty highway, I almost reached 60 km/h pedaling down. At the bottom of the hill Otematata was waiting for us where we had an ice cream.
The second part of the day started with the Benmore Dam, the biggest dam of the country. Then Lake Aviemore, then another dam, then Lake Waitaki, then another dam, then arriving to Kurow. To reach the accommodation, we had to bike 5 more kilometers where a lady met us and brought us to her farm with her car. She gave us some dinner with real food (meat, mashed potatoes and various vegetables) which we didn’t really have in the last days.
Day 5: Kurow – Oamaru (78 km)
Arriving to Oamaru after more than 300 km of biking is a huge pleasure for everyone who’s doing the Alps2Ocean trail. Arriving to Oamaru after more than 300 km of biking and more than 2 months of being a receptionist there before adds some nice old memories to that huge pleasure. We biked to the end of the trail which was not the end of the trail for us but the corner next to the ocean where we went to watch the little blue penguins, walked to when we visited the Steampunk Museum, or were just wondering, seeing the sign saying that this is the end point of the Als2Ocean Trail, what the hell is this so called Alps2Ocean Trail.
During the 78 km on that day that we had much more uphills than we were expecting based on the altitude showing graph, which made me extremely annoyed, I really wanted to arrive finally. At one of those uphills my chain even jammed pretty hard so we stayed there to repair it for about 20 minutes. That was the moment when I had completely enough of the whole trail for a while. But after we arrived to Oamaru, I didn’t care that much about the struggles. We went back to Chillawhile and spent some free nights there for the sake of our receptionist times. Since almost everybody from the staff was new there, we didn’t have many social moments but we had time to rest and that was definitely on the top of my priority list.
Later we took the bus from Oamaru and after a while we arrived to the next station, to Nelson. Since I left my laptop charger on the bus, I couldn’t write my blog post earlier. I hope that you, dear warm-hearted blog reader can forgive me that I let you wait so long for it.
If this description of the trail was so exciting that it’s still not enough for you, then good news: Katja, my previously mentioned receptionist-apricot-biking colleague wrote a post about it as well. I haven’t read it yet but I dare to assume that it’s worth to link here.