Cycling the Alps 2 Ocean trail in New Zealand

The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is the longest continuous ride in New Zealand and takes in some of the country’s most incredible scenery. From New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki Mt. Cook, the trail descends over 2000 ft and travels 300km to the coastal town of Oamaru.

Summary

There is a good amount of pavement on the A2O compared to the other Great Rides in NZ, but they are continuing to add new off-road sections all the time. Traffic was minimal except for on day 3 from Omarama to Kurow. My last day going into Oamaru was pretty brutal as it rained the entire time and parts of the trail were muddy or washed out. Overall it was an enjoyable ride and it is pretty cool to be able to ride from the base of Mt. Cook to the Pacific Ocean. I did it in 4 days, but if I did it again I would do the helicopter start and take an extra day in-between Kurow and Oamaru.

The A2O is the one ride that I planned before I arrived in New Zealand. Everything I read about the ride stated that accommodation is limited and books up quick. I used Cycle Journeys to arrange everything for me. I’m sure I could have booked everything myself and saved some cash, but at the end of the day I don’t think it would have been worth it.

I arrived in Twizel via the InterCity bus from Cromwell in the afternoon and reassembled my bike in the main square. At this point I had been in New Zealand for a few weeks and was getting use to traveling by bus with my bike. You never really know how much space is going to be available for your bike, but I would always call ahead to let them know I had a bike and never had a problem.

I grabbed some groceries from the Four Square and checked-in to the Lakes Motel about a half mile down the road. I had a quick chat with the owner, cleaned up my bike and cooked up a huge serving of pasta. I had an early start the next day, so after a few glasses of wine I was sound asleep.

Day 1 — Tekapo (Alt. Start) to Twizel, 58k

You can start the A2O in Tekapo or closer to Mt. Cook, but you have to book a helicopter in order to start near Mt. Cook. When I booked the trip I chose not to do the heli, but in retrospect it would’ve been worth the extra money.

The next morning I got up around 5am and rode down to the Cycle Journeys depot about a mile from the hotel. The shuttle would take me out to Lake Tekapo where I would ride back to Twizel. I was staying again at the Lakes Motel and the forecast was warm and sunny, so I was able to travel pretty light. I was the only one on the shuttle and I had a good chat with the driver on the hour drive to Lake Tekapo.

The sun was just starting to rise so it was still pretty cold out. I only had 58k to ride, so I stopped into a cafe to warm up, have some breaky (breakfast) and a couple flat whites. As the tour buses started to roll in I decided it was time to get going. I’m not sure what the main attraction is in Tekapo, but the town filled up quick.

The first part of the ride was along a quiet road next to a canal. There were a few people fishing along the way, but it was pretty isolated. After crossing the main road coming into Tekapo, the track changes from road to crushed gravel. You continue to follow the canal and shortly after passing a salmon farm come to the Tekapo Power Station. I recommend taking a short detour and riding up onto the power station and checking out the view of Mt. Cook.

Coincidently there is a small shop right off the trail at Lake Pukaki that sells fresh sashimi right from the salmon farm I passed earlier. I couldn’t really resist fresh salmon, so I bought some sashimi. I only had about 10k to go until Twizel, so I sat down and took in the view.

Day 2 — Twizel to Omarama, 80k

The nice thing about using a service like Cycle Journeys is that they can transfer your larger bag from the start to the end of the trail. In my case they picked up my bag right from my hotel in Twizel and delivered it to the hostel I was staying at a few days later in Oamaru.

I got going relatively early after a quick breaky of whatever remaining groceries I had…and some coffee, always coffee. Freeze dried coffee isn’t that popular in America, but have to admit I became a big fan of Jed’s instant coffee while in NZ. It tastes good and is easy to travel with, so I pretty much always had a bag of the #5 on me.

The weather was noticeably cooler and overcast than the previous day. The first section follows a canal again and is on pavement, but after crossing the Ohau Weir the landscape changes dramatically.

Ohau Weir
ohau weir
Before heading out on this section, make sure the Ohau Weir isn’t flooded. I didn’t check ahead of time, but lucked out as it was clear. You can view the current status here. I believe there is also a sign as you head out of Twizel that let’s you know the status.

This section around Lake Ohau was my absolute favorite of the ride. The views here are stunning. It’s hard to really put into words, but the pictures below should give you a good idea.

After Lake Ohau you are on the road again for a bit, but after passing the Lake Ohau Lodge you head uphill to the high point of the A2O on the Tarnbrae track. It’s a gradual climb with some rocky sections and river crossings. I stopped at the high point for lunch before the downhill run into Omarama.

I was on a gravel bike (Specialized Sequoia Elite), but on this downhill section it would have been nice to have at least a front suspension. Be extra careful here as it is pretty rutted out and it will beat you up a bit.

I hadn’t seen another person the entire day, so I was starting to wonder if I was off-track somehow. In retrospect there wasn’t really any chance I could be lost, but this fear started to take hold in my mind.

Not much later I saw a sign that said “Coffee Ahead”? Sure enough, there was a guy with a proper espresso machine in the back of his car at the Historic Woolshed picnic area. He said he got bored with retirement and started doing coffee for folks riding the A2O. An Americano was just what I needed at this point and I set off on the final 25k to Omarama.

Lakes Coffee
an oasis on the trail

My bike wasn’t great for the downhill from Tarnbrae, but the rest of the ride was downhill gravel road and I was flying.

I rolled into Omarama, checked into the Sierra Motel and walked next door to grab a beer and dinner at the local pub. On my way into town I had noticed a place called Hot Tubs Omarama, and after a few beers a soak sounded good. Each tub was wood fired and for about $30 I had my own tub for an hour. It was worth every penny.

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image by hot tubs omarama via www.hottubsomarama.co.nz

Day 3 — Omarama to Kurow, 66k

I started the next day with a hot Jimmy’s Pie from the gas station. It seems like I pretty much lived off these things in NZ.

The ride from Omarama to Otematata is pretty uneventful. It starts off on trail, but after Lake Benmore you are on pavement almost all the way to Otematata. There is a pretty good climb on a busy road right after you get on pavement that I wasn’t too excited about, but all you can do is put your head down and go.

Right before Otematata you hang a left and the trail picks up again. I had been in NZ for about a month at this point, but for the first time it started to feel like fall. The section to Benmore Dam was nice with all the gold leaves, but there is a pretty steep climb up to the top of the dam.

After coming off the dam you are on pavement for pretty much the next 25k into Kurow. This was the longest day of my entire time in NZ on pavement, but the roads were mostly quiet with the exception of the before-mentioned section after Lake Benmore and the last 10k into Kurow. This last 10k was the worst as there was little to no shoulder and lots of traffic.

After a longer than expected and honestly quite boring day on the bike, I was happy to get to my hotel in Kurow…just as it was starting to rain.

Day 4 — Kurow to Oamaru, 82k

I got up the next day it was still raining. I really didn’t want to ride 82k in the cold & rain. However, the forecast was calling for even heavier rain for the next two days, so I had a third cup of coffee and headed out.

The was the first time I had to use my rain jacket and pants. I almost didn’t bring them, but they actually worked really well. The jacket even had a hood that covered my helmet which kept things relatively dry.

This was mentally the toughest day of my entire time in NZ. The rain and wind were relentless and two sections were completely flooded out which forced me to take some long detours. Fortunately, I ran into a couple of other cyclists right outside of town that warned me the first river crossing was flooded, so that did save me some backtracking. They were the only people I saw all day.

I was slipping and sliding around all day, but managed to keep it upright all day except near the end coming into the Rakis railway tunnel. I crashed right at the entrance, but it was so wet and muddy that I slid for a while and it absorbed most of the impact.

Oamaru is a fairly good-sized town and I was happy to finally get there. All I really wanted to do was put on some dry clothes and get something warm to eat, but the end of the trail is through town at the harbor. I snapped the obligatory photo and the end and made my way to the Oamaru Backpackers passing Scotts Brewing Co. on the way where I would return that night.

I stayed in a good amount of hostels during my trip, but the Oamaru Backpackers stands out as one of the best. I showed up covered in mud and gravel, but the owner Phil still came out into the rain and helped me clean up my bike and get everything hung up to dry. It was such a nice gesture and something that I’ll never forget.


  • Plan 
  • Eat 
  • Stay 
Cycle Journeys offers bike hire, free itinerary planning of your cycling holiday, transport to & from the A2O, bag transfer & free accommodation booking service.
There wasn’t anything that stuck out food wise on the trail, but make sure to catch the Lakes Coffee guy after the Tarnbrae downhill. The Scotts Brewing Co. was pretty good in Oamaru as well.
Twizel
Offering free WiFi and free on-site parking, The Lakes Motel is located in the heart of the Mackenzie Country, in Twizel, just 350 feet from Ben Ohau Golf Course. It features self-contained apartments with kitchenette and a patio. 〉Book

Omarama
Set in the peaceful countryside of Omarama, ASURE Sierra Motel offers heated rooms featuring a flat-screen TV with cable channels. Some rooms offer mountain views. It is ideally located for fishing, cycling and gliding. 〉Book

Kurow
The Kurow Motels can now provide an affordable family holiday option for the budget conscious. With 7 fully equipped units that sleep between 2 – 5 people and 1 house for larger groups, there is plenty of room for family & friends to head off on holiday together. 〉Book

Oamaru
The Oamaru Backpackers is 4 minutes walk from the beach. Featuring free WiFi, Oamaru Backpackers offers budget accommodation in Oamaru. Some rooms feature views of the sea or garden. 〉Book

Other New Zealand Rides

Want to learn more about the West Coast Wilderness Trail or just cycling in New Zealand?

About Rob Auston

After graduating from the University of Michigan, I started my career at Accenture in Washington, DC. I later packed up my car and headed West to Denver, CO. The plan was to stay a few months, but ten years later it is still home. During this time I worked in technology at Exclusive Resorts and Vail Resorts. In 2014, I took the plunge and started my first company and have since founded two more that have also failed. I write about my three passions: the outdoors, travel & technology. Connect with me on Twitter @rauston.