I’ve been walking on air since returning to Auckland from cycling this superb 5 day Mt Cook to Oamaru NZ Cycle Trail. There’s so much to love about it – top of the pleasures is spending almost a week in this spectacular part of NZ, with time to soak up the experience. It’s my recipe for heaven – days cycling with friends through vast stunning landscapes, stopping for coffee at historic villages, meeting new people with stories of lives very different from mine and sharing a beer, wine and meal after a hugely stimulating day. As an early riser a special joy for me is waking each morning to set out while the sun is soft on the dew, the air fresh with the fragrance of wild flowers and a day of new discoveries before me.
Alps2O begins beside the Tasman River which is formed by the 3 glaciers that flow from the valleys near Mt Cook into Lake Pukaki. We reached the start by helicopter, and were already on a high as we helped to strap our bikes onto the side of the machine for our too- short ride.
The helicopter is costly, but for us it was an unmissable part of the drama and glamour of being in the midst of snow- capped mountains with the startling blue backdrop of Lake Pukaki. It can take up to 6 bikes. 3 of the 4 bikes we loaded were the city hybrid bikes we use for transport in Auckland. We flew them to Queenstown for all our trail riding, as they are loyal friends, and were pleased they handled Alps2O without a glitch.
The helicopter pilot gave us two drop – off options, one was the official start and the second was a short distance further south beside one of the two historic sheep stations on the eastern side of Lake Pukaki. We were glad we’d chosen the former, as it gave us such a strong sense of space and place from being in the wide river valley and the chance to ford little mountain streams and ride beside lichen-covered rocks and other plants which are only found in alpine areas.
The riverstone Trail gave way to a well formed shingle trail before joining the rural road which serves the Mt Cook and Braemar Stations on the eastern side of Lake Pukaki. Braemar has facilities for overnight stays and meals, which I’m sure would have been memorable, had we had more time. We met only two vehicles while riding this section; one was the smart medium sized Cycle Journeys shuttle bus which collects and returns trail riders to Christchurch airport, and provides baggage transfers between overnight stops.
These services are a key to the success of big Trails – it would have been good for us had we not had a wonderful non-cycling friend who drove the ute with bike racks we’d borrowed from Queenstown and met us for coffee stops, picnic lunches and overnight stop- overs.
When the road joined the lake we had to stop frequently to marvel that we were here, in this midst of this glorious panorama of lake and mountains with Mt Cook as the star feature. The metal road surface was easy riding, with a gentle downhill slope – pretty ideal cycling apart from a short section of mean corrugations, which made for a rocky ride.
The Trail met the sealed road which passes under the penstocks of the Tekapo B power station. A short distance further on we joined the new off-road limestone track which took us to the Pukaki Lake visitor’s Centre and small cafe selling the local farmed salmon and a few refreshments.
En route we met a very strong headwind blowing across the bottom of the lake which took the gloss off the ride. We later learnt from the locals that the wind arrives in the High Country in the early afternoon. It’s a good reason to hit the pedals early in the day. We met the same wind at Lake Ohau, when it arrived so suddenly it felt as though someone had activated the fan in a wind tunnel.
Our final leg was another off-road path to Twizel across a bouncy track on a flood plain for the power station. We were pleased to settle into the comfy and handy motel units at the High Country Lodge and Backpackers, across the road from the Twizel shopping centre.
Day 2 awaited us and we were hungry for more.
Next blog – Days 2 and 3 -Twizel to Lake Ohau to Omarama.