Day 2 of our 5 day trip from Mt Cook to Oamaru.
We set off early from Twizel, keen to see Lake Ohau. The morning had all the best portents, warm sunny fresh air, not a cloud in the sky or a drop of wind. Bliss!
Jonathan Kennett’s guidebook told us we were in for an interesting day – the first highlight was meeting the Pukaki Canal, a landmark in the network of lakes and canals of the McKenzie Basin hydro power scheme. The cycleway uses the sealed road beside the canal, creating ideal cycling conditions – smooth, flat with only occasional vehicles and a pleasing backdrop of golden hills. A road cyclist flashed past on a training run without responding to our greeting – clearly he had other priorities on his mind.
Our pleasure with the easy canal cycling was soon enhanced by the interest of passing a large salmon farm on large pontoons on the opposite bank of the waterway. We were intrigued by the excited gangs of seagulls engaged in a game of ‘catch me if you can’, as the little salmon lept and splashed in one of the compounds.
Before long we were looking out over Lake Ohau from the lake’s power station outlet. As we admired the view, a mean wind appeared without warning and grew in strength as we made our way from the sealed road to the off-road Trail path around the bottom end of the lake.We passed a couple of young US cyclists who were camping their way around the South Island, laden with 4 panniers a piece. They were making hard work in the headwind which by now was whipping up white- capped waves across the lake. We were amazed by this wind phenomenon – days of this could be exhausting.
We were relieved to arrive at the long driveway in to the Lake Ohau Lodge, which is a homely sprawling complex with a comfortable bar, lounge and decks overlooking the lake.The Neilson family own and run the Lodge, and also the Ohau Ski field. Parents, adult children and cousins are an impressive team who multi-task as gracious hosts, skilled waiting / kitchen staff and astute managers. A member of the extended family is the chef who provides memorable delicious meals,with home baked bread and free range eggs from the premises.
I was impressed to hear how the Lodge had received only a couple of hours notice that a family reunion gathering of 160 cyclists were heading towards the Lodge for coffee. Cakes were recovered from freezers and prepared for serving along with expresso coffees – and a good time was had by all! (I subsequently met a member of the reunion party by chance in the Kurow Hotel. He confirmed the story, and reported that his family were still marvelling at the Lodge’s smooth and generous High Country hospitality. )
Mike Neilson, father of the family, has had a major role on the Alps2O establishment body which has worked over years to bring the Alps2O trail to reality, and is still focused on its completion. I loved hearing his story and strategy, as his efforts are clearly creating a national treasure.
Day 3 – Ohau to Omarama. We left the lodge early, joining the off-road trail close to the Lodge , keen to make progress on the climb around the base of the Ohau Range. We were delighted to find the Trail led us into beech forest, with clear fast mountain streams, as all of the Trail to that point had been in open country. We soon left the the forest behind, and the Trail continued its gradual climb, giving ever- expanding panoramas across Lake Ohau to Ben Ohau mountain, back to Lake Pukaki, Ohau and Pukaki Canals and Mt Cook to the west.
By the time we reached the summit we were all admiring the skill of the track builders, as the ground conditions were rocky and rough, yet the result was a very rideable gradient, easily handled by our city hybrid bikes.
The downhill run was fun, with fords over little streams. It ended in a wide plain of long golden grasses. which we couldn’t resist burying ourselves in.
Before setting off on metalled Quailburn Rd to ride into Omarama we made a short detour to the Quailburn historic woolshed. It was built in the 1920s for the vast Benmore sheep Station which occupied a large part of the McKenzie Basin from the late 1860s. We loved the rustic character of the building and the Historic Places’ information panels with photos and stories of early life on the station, including the resilience of the young men who worked as shepherds, mustering sheep in days of freezing conditions.
The engineer in our group was ‘specially impressed by the beech tree branches adapted for the structure and still standing nearly 100 years later. If we’d known about it we would have walked up the river to see the homestead. We’ll do it next time, as we’d love to do this stage of the trail again.
The last section of the Trail for the day was mostly on a quiet metaled serving local farms, which led on to a shorter length of off- road path beside a stream with willows. It was a cool, green delight after the dusty road, and joined a wider river with swimming holes and a bridge just before Omarama.
Omarama is a sleepy little town that has all you need for an overnight stop, as well as the luxuries of open air hot tubs and gliding. We chose the more modest option of visiting the spectacular eroded landform known as Clay Cliffs. We’d passed the detour to the site on Quailburn Road as we made our way into Omarama, but were glad we’d used the cool of the evening to see them.
Last installment of A2o – Omarama to Oamaru.