International traveler James Noble's three day solo adventure on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, from Aoraki Mt Cook, to Oamaru.
Your overall experience of biking on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail?
Riding the A2O, you truly know and feel that you are in Papatūānuku country. From the moment I set off from Aoraki Mountain, I was struck by the amazing vista and calming landscape. It’s difficult to describe the joy and excitement you feel, knowing you are about to experience a moment you will remember for a lifetime. Being away from working life and rolling out onto the A2O solo for 3 days (at 5-6 hours in the saddle per day) in late December was more inspiring, mentally challenging, and refreshing all at the same time. Usually, when I ride, I'd have headphones on. I started the same way before realizing that the sights and sounds needed no soundtrack, so I put them in my pocket within a couple of hours (where they stayed for the rest of the A2O).
I juggled what to ride for the A2O and settled on a Canyon Grizl 12x Gravel. This was the perfect choice, and I only questioned my decision at the end of the second day when it rained on the slate trails behind Sailor's Cutting, Waitaki River. Riding 100km per day was challenging from a distance point of view, but the terrain was easily manageable, and I would certainly recommend you do the same.
Thoroughly enjoying the solace of tackling this challenge on my own, I did find myself wanting to point something out to someone at every turn.
What motivated you to choose the A2O trail?
Having visited New Zealand so many times, seeing new landscapes and experiencing places I've been to many times from a different perspective was a big draw. The South Island always brings a smile to my face, and the A2O has so many natural sights along the way. You have plenty of photo opportunities even before you begin. Mt Cook, Tekapo Lake, Lake Ohau, and that's only the first day. I took over a thousand shots during the ride, and I'd be happy to put 3/4 of them on the wall.
Your impression of the trail and any trail highlights?
Each day on the trail offered different terrain, and the gravel you ride on varies as you pass through each valley. On the first day from Aoraki to Ohau Lodge, you have lakes and mountains almost the entire way. The lakes, being so blue, didn't seem real, and jumping into Lake Ohau to cool down and refresh the legs was a life moment. The staff at the lodge were very helpful and friendly. At every moment, in every single direction, you will feel like you should be taking a photo (I think I probably did).
Level of difficulty for the trail?
At around one hundred kilometers per day, I'd say it's intermediate. If you take longer or have kids with you over 7-8 days, it would be much easier. The only sections I'd look out for would be the hill climb leaving Ohau and the downhill that followed. It has more rocks and slate than gravel. Cutting into the lake from Sailors Cutting starts clean and soon becomes loose rock once you head around the back of Bog Roy Station. The trail is narrower than most spots and has a few big drops as you are on the cliff edge in places. As long as you respect the terrain and know your bike, you'll find it easy. A nice twist when approaching Duntroon is a short Cycle-Cross-esque creek crossing. You have to have a keen eye to know where the trail goes as it's easily lost. It took me 20 minutes, even with GPS, to figure out where the trail was and where to cross.
Experience with facilities, transport, etc., along the trail?
Tekapo has plenty to choose from, and the TLV Restaurant and Bar has a great view and food. Twizel again has everything you need. Ohau Lodge was simple and perfect for a beer and snooze pitstop. If you have time, the Clay Cliffs in Omarama are worth deviating for, and the Wrinkly Ram lunch is fantastic. At Otematata, the Hungry Hydro has quality coffee. When traveling through Kurow, you can't go past Waitaki Braids. The food (and accommodation) is next level. The trail is well signposted and easy to follow. GPS isn't needed unless you want to know how far you have gone or are going. I didn't use any transport services, though I did see lots of options available online to get you to the start of the ride.
Any memorable interactions?
Doing the ride over the Christmas break meant there weren't many people on the trail or staying at the lodge, so we all sat down together to enjoy each other's company. The retro feel of the lodge and the eclectic group we were with made it feel like I was in a Wes Anderson movie. Our ages ranged from 30 to 80, and we had traveled from all over the world to be there. There were so many moments I hope never to forget. It's just such a nice way to recharge your batteries, and it's simply majestic the entire ride.
Advice for first-time users, what they need to prepare, etc.?
For most of the A2O, you are not near any townships, so plan your trip and decide where you're going to stop. Make sure you carry enough water based on the distance you plan to travel each day, unless you're happy to refill from the lakes and streams (you may need to check if you need cleaning tablets). I'd recommend carrying a battery pack for charging your phone, gels, bananas, and protein bars for energy. Definitely bring sunscreen and appropriate weather gear as the weather can change quickly from valley to valley. My bike is tubeless, and you would be wise to carry a puncture repair kit as parts of the trail have slate and sharp rubble in sections. Lights will be VERY important if you are chasing the sunsets, and carry a pump so you can adjust your tire pressure as needed.
Any additional tips?
Watch out for cars on the gravel roads leading from Mt Cook. It was a little windy on the Waitaki River, and be mindful of the cliffs. Relax and take a moment to stop and enjoy.