In the time since I left New Zealand, extensive work has been done around the country to develop a large number of cycle trails – rather obviously The New Zealand Cycle Trail. While most are a lot tamer than mountain-bike trails I usually prefer to ride, the trails are in some spectacular parts of the country. Browsing the website during my last winter in the UK, I got quite excited by the chance of riding some of these trails over the coming summer (& beyond) to try & reacquaint myself with the country. Especially if they’re anything like the Queen Charlotte Walkway – the only one I’ve done before & the best multi-day bike trail I’ve ridden.
Both Adele & I have to do significant training on our mountain-bikes for upcoming events. Adele is doing her first adventure race – Godzone at the end of February; I think she is mad. I for some reason have signed up for the Kiwi Brevet at the start of February – 1150 km of bikepacking in a maximum of eight days; I may also be crazy – but at least I’ll see a lot of the top of the South Island. So to kickstart our training, an easy little ride at the top of the final section of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail coincided well with a dentist appoinment in Oamaru.
The Alps 2 Ocean trail runs from the shadow of Mt Cook (NZ’s highest mountain) in the Southern Alps for just over three hundred kilometres to the Pacific Ocean at Oamaru (overall south-east). Having spent some time in the area previously, I can safely assume the whole route must be a beautiful ride. With only a few hours, not a few days, we drove to the start of the final section of the trail in Duntroon and determined to ride out and back as our time allowed. We had about four hours so I thought we would get half of the distance to Oamaru (55 km) before having to turn back to the car.
The section starts off gently enough on quiet highway towards Elephant Rocks. Very soon there is a dedicated cycle path beside the road – always nice to be off the road, even when there is next to no traffic. Passing Elephant Rocks, Adele managed to deal with not having her rock shoes with her – the limestone rock formations are very popular for bouldering. Passing an abandoned film set (the area has also be used for various films – the Chronicles of Narnia series probably the most well known) the trail departed from beside the road across farmland.
Over Elephant Rocks – very pleasant riding weather, not so good for photos.
Having both spent a lot of time in the area (Adele in particular – my family spent most of the last fifteen years living in Oamaru after I finished high school), we weren’t expecting too much from the scenery – just wanting to go for a nice ride. However, soon we were riding up a narrow valley surrounded by limestone cliffs before some tight switchbacks took us above the cliffs and through more farmland and it was lovely; at times the views opened up.
Since leaving the highway we had been climbing gently; cresting the hill the trail surface deteriorated – up until this point it had been very good, but here it seemed most people chose to ride on the adjacent farm track thus the cycle trail was a bit loose. We descended nicely through more farmland and beside cliffs to rejoin quiet roads for a relatively flat three kilometres. Back on cycle trail across farmland we were soon following the route of the old Tokorahi branch railway line – this didn’t last long as we diverged and started the second and last noteworthy climb of the section.
Part-way up that climb we rejoined gravel roads to the highpoint of the section, we continued along the ridge for a little while to get a more riding in, before reaching the top of Tunnel Rd and deciding that it was time to turn around and head for the car. Having cycled a lot more than Adele recently (and ever), I had the opportunity to stop and take photos – so here a few typical of the area.
I think Adele is trying to match the sign. The A2O is very well signposted – we didn’t bother carrying a map (except that on my GPS) and had no problems following the trail.
Coming back down the switchbacks from earlier – they’re definitely designed for climbing in the small space available for their construction.
Somehow, a classic roadside reflector, that I remember from my childhood (they’re no longer wooden), has found its place beside the trail.
Slightly disappointed that logistics meant we couldn’t ride the whole of the section, when I learnt Dad was going to Oamaru the following day for a few hours I jumped at the opportunity to return and complete the remainder of the section. The lower half of the section is pretty flat and mostly goes through dairy farms. Dad dropped me off at the start of the rail trail portion on Saleyards Rd and I headed out east. Riding by myself I stopped less frequently and was much quicker. It was strange riding past and through many farms that our family has been involved in for almost twenty years. That is, mostly Dad has been involved in setting the companies up and converting them from sheep to dairy and their management – but Adele milked cows on two of the farms as a summer job and even I spent one university holiday period working on two of the farms (I remember almost losing control of a large tractor down a hill).
This end of the section was even more familiar to me than the Duntroon end, so I didn’t stop to take many pictures. Heading back to the ridge where we turned around the previous day, there was a little bit more effort needed as the climb started on gravel. Not having studied the map in any detail, I was a little surprised when the sign pointed away from the road and along the edge of a forest. Rejoining the old rail line I rounded a corner to see the trail disappear into a tunnel – this I was not expecting at all, but the name Tunnel Road should have been a bit of a giveaway.
Without any bike-lights I ventured into the gloom wondering how far I could ride before having to resort to cell-phone light. As it happens, the east end of the tunnel is pretty straight so one can get a fair way in with a slight awareness of where the walls may be. The west end of the tunnel is curved, so not much light is available as you pass the halfway point. Just as it was about to become pitch black, I got far enough around the curve not to be in danger of riding into a wall and could even avoid the drips from the roof. It was a short ride up Tunnel Rd to where we had got to yesterday – I duly turned around and headed for the ocean. The tunnel was a little more difficult heading east – mostly because it was now slightly downhill & I was travelling faster & it was further into the darkness before my eyes adjusted.
I did think I should stop & get at least a few photos of typical dairy farm country – you can probably see why I didn’t stop more often.
I was in Oamaru looking around well before I’d told Dad I’d be back – so I had time to have a look around the “Historic Area”, which after so long in Europe was rather bemusing. But it is quite nice and there are some interesting shops – especially nice as the clouds had rolled back a bit. Strangely, someone has declared Oamaru the Steampunk Capital of NZ since I’ve been gone – that’s just a little odd in conservative North Otago. I eventually found the end of the Alps 2 Ocean trail down near the recently done-up harbourside area at Friendly Bay (I had lost the trail downtown Oamaru as a section was closed temporarily for tree-felling and no-one had thought or bothered to put up a detour).
What this is all about I can’t really tell – but it’s curious.
So, that was my time on but a short part of the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail. Thoroughly enjoyable, well thought-out & designed and pleasant – what a great resource for the areas it passes through. I look forward to riding the whole path in the New Year (here’s hoping) and exploring more such trails around the country.
Here are the gps (gpx) trails of Section 8 – Duntroon to Oamaru – Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail for reference.