Heart to Beat #48 Alps 2 Ocean and on

Published on December 5, 2019 at 3:29 AM

Can we start with a statement? We already expected it when we were cycling the Timber trail on the North Island, but we became more critical after cycling through 28 countries. But after cycling for two days on another so-called ‘Great Ride’ – the Alps to Ocean – we know for sure: New Zealand has the most beautiful cycle trails and scenery on our world bike trip (ok so far)! Sorry Turkey, you were on the top spot, and you are still the finest country, because of your hospitality and the fact that drivers in Turkey are not trying to get rid of cyclists. New Zealand can still work on the latter area. But we think that will be fine someday.

The problem of the sandflies remains: they are small, they are sneaky, they are everywhere, they are suicidal and therefore not afraid of anyone, they are bloodthirsty and hungry! A bite ensures that you are assured of terrible itching for days. After a shower, all bites become extra active. Scratching the bump creates a wound and your leg increasingly looks like a “war zone”. The worst thing, of course, is that they mainly prefer Harry, in contrast to the mosquitoes who always prefer Roelie. Other than the sandflies, the other creatures in New Zealand are pretty sweet (especially if you compare this with Australia), although the NZ-landers think differently: the so-called invasive species, such as the possum, the rabbit, the ermine and of course the rat, are actively and massively fought with poison (which also applies to a number of species of flora). Non-native is not good, it doesn’t belong here and is therefore often contested. We sometimes joke that if you continue this line of thought, you also have to remove all cows and sheep. And actually all whites, because they weren’t here 200 years ago either. Of course with the exception of those who are just touring on a bike!

Yes, cows and sheep dominate and characterize the cultivated part of the landscape in New Zealand. This is a cute sight in the spring here, because unlike the Netherlands, cattle is nicely outside and the calf and the lamb just frolic under mother’s umbrella (or better: udders) in the meadow. As far as the calves are concerned, they are separated from their mothers after a while, but then you see them with their peers still happily in the meadow. Where do you still see calves in the meadow in the Netherlands? We can only wish New Zealand one thing and that is the hope that it will not proceed to intensive livestock farming, with all life disappearing in the stable.

What a chatter about things other than cycling. Weren’t we going to start that famous Alps to Ocean bike tour in this section? Oh yes of course, excuse us. We have a week or three left before we are expected in Queenstown to bring a motorhome back to Auckland. There are three routes that we will definitely cycle: the Alps to Ocean trail, the Otago Rail trail and the stretch between the cities of Oamaru and Dunedin, respectively the end of one trail and the start of the other. How we continue from there in this beautiful part of New Zealand? A huge choice of routes remains. We’ll see.

The Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail officially starts at Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain, and to get to the bike path, a helicopter must take you to the other side of a river. Probable unforgettable , but also pricey: a brochure showed a fee of more than $500 per person. That is a bit too much for us and that is why we opt for the alternative and also most popular start from Lake Tekapo. We had already said in our previous blog that Lake Tekapo village is a tourist trap. We are therefore happy that we can cycle out of this place quickly, but not after we have taken a look at the old, picturesque church. It is still early and there are few tourists on the move to admire the beauty of Lake Tekapo: the turquoise color, the mighty solid mass of the Southern Alps as background and the beautiful colorful lupins (incidentally also not native wildflowers). We take the compulsory church picture and then leave this place, mostly overcharged by Chinese tourists, resort: we start on the A2O!!

Lake Tekapo

A20? Isn’t that the 40-kilometer stretch of asphalt through Holland’s lowest part and below sea level, that’s always in the top 10 traffic jams? No, this is the A2O (last letter is an ooohh): no asphalt but gravel and singletrack from in this case Lake Tekapo (the Alps) to Oamaru (the Ocean), a surprisingly nice town on the Pacific. The route is 295 kilometers long and treats you to 1740 meters of altitude, even though you mainly go down.

From the “center” of Lake Tekapo Village we quickly pick up the signs of the A2O, climb a hill and leave the last motel, hotel, holiday home, lodge, hostel behind us and look into the wide world. Far below us we see a kind of no man’s land (no livestock or something like that) with only one dissonant, but a very beautiful one: a canal with fast-flowing turquoise colored water. After the descent, we follow this canal on first completely deserted asphalt road (the access road to the inlet of the canal) and then a gravel road that is only accessible to motorized vehicles with a key for a gate and cyclists who can pass through a barrier. For us, such barrier always means lifting the bike or partially removing the luggage, because the barrier are not designed for fully packed long distance cyclists. But we are used to it now and there is no murmuring, certainly not because we have a lot of tailwind in the first 15 kilometers. The wind generally comes from the highest peaks in the Alps and those peaks are only seen in our mirror in the beginning. At a certain moment we also see beautiful mountain peaks in front of us and that unfortunately means that the wind turns from partner to opponent. We don’t grieve because the view is so beautiful! And there is also a lot to see on the canal, because it houses a kilometer-long salmon farm in its beautifully colored water. At one point, the channel ends and it plunges through mega-tubes into the depths of the lower Lake Pukaki. We follow the water (at least over asphalt, not through the pipes of course) and cover the difference in height of something of 100 meters, despite the headwind, at more than 60 kilometers per hour.

from Tekapo to Pukaki along a canal

Lake Pukaki! Lake Pukaki! You are so pretty! If I were a singer, I’d try to catch you in a serenade; if I were a poet, I’d try to catch you in a rhyme form. We cyclists do our utmost to capture your beauty with our smartphones, although we know that this will never work.

The first part along the lake follows a road that is only used by fishermen and there are not many of them, then the coastline continues to follow a single track for a long time, passing two or three times a point where the campervan drivers park their vehicle to take photos. To be very honest: we don’t like to see them and try to find out why. Do we want this beauty only for ourselves? Has it been the “difference” we have already expressed between a tourist and a traveler (of which we naturally belong to the last group)? Is it a difference between the “consumption speed” between fast traveling and slow traveling, between fast food and a five-course dinner (with the difference in costs actually being reversed)? Or is it just the fact that on the highway we have to fear for our lives for these often inexperienced and too often distracted drivers of far too large vehicles? We haven’t decided yet.

Somewhere between the clouds Mount Cook is located at the far end of Lake Pukaki. At the bottom of the lake we turn a single track mountain bike path that is easy to do so that our eyes can drink and memorize the environment. More beautiful that this is not possible, is our thought. Let that just not be true!

Lake Pukaki

After Lake Pukaki we cycle south to the town of Twizel. The mighty mountains are caught in our mirrors and we have a strong tail wind again. We almost fly over a double track through a kind of tundra plateau. It is a wonderful, free feeling: you cycle in a gigantic plain with long grass waving in the wind; the speed is around 30 km / h, because the track is not (too) technical or difficult, but certainly not monotonous because of the height differences, curves and the feeling that you are part of the overwhelming whole. For example, we cycle a few kilometers with a wide smile on our faces, which we try to keep a little in the fold when we come across a young Japanese man, who cycles in the opposite direction against the wind. The conversation isn’t smoothly because of the language barrier, but Harry is able to make clear we met a cycling Japanese in Australia. Ahum, thank you Harry …

An oncoming cyclist from Japan

Twizel is quite a nice town! It is the center of the eponymous district that houses all the beauty behind us and in front of us and has a nice level of facilities, at least for its size. We enjoy lunch in the park before we start the second part of this first stage. After Twizel, a somewhat boring “normal” road from the town first follows. After about ten kilometers we cross another turquoise canal and follow this to the west, towards the next lake, Lake Ohau. Along this lake (of course also turquoise colored) we cycle mostly on a single track along the shore. The view gradually gets better and more beautiful: we get more and more views of the mighty massif of the Southern Alps in the north. Very impressive, even though the highest peaks are still concealed in cloud parts, but they seem to rise straight out of the lake. Incredibly beautiful!

Lake Ohau

Less beautiful is the wind that from the mighty mountains has free play on the lake and our pace slows down considerably. Our intended campsite, however, cannot be far and we are pleasantly surprised that it is not on the wind-blown shores of Lake Ohau but on the shores of the much smaller Lake Middleton. And let that last lake now be surrounded by a pine forest, making it wonderfully wind-sheltered. We fill in a form at the self-registration board and throw a filled envelope in the designated box. The campsite itself is rather basic, but for us it is a mecca: we are – except for a few fly fishermen, who leave after an hour – all by ourselves. Besides the satisfied whistling of the many birds, it is absolutely silent. Thanks to the tall pine trees, the lake is completely peaceful. So we have a paradise for ourselves alone, although a sparrow, blackbird or duck regularly comes to see if there is something to eat. Not in vain, because we boil too much macaroni and the birds enjoy diner together at sunset. They happy, we happy! At night we clearly see the galaxy in the beautiful starry sky and that gives courage. Rain is forecast for the next day but it is not raining from a clear sky, not even in New Zealand.

Lake Middleton Campsite

The next day we first continu cycling along the beautiful lake Ohau but now on a sealed road instead of singletrack. The high mountains of the central massif of the Alps can now be seen much clearer. Almost all the clouds around those beautiful and mighty peaks with eternal snow have disappeared. After about six kilometers we leave the lake and climb through a nature reserve over a narrow gravel path full of dangerously loose boulders again four hundred meters higher. We stop many times to absorb the views around us: below us the turquoise Lake Ohau and behind us the snow-covered massif. It is so indescribably beautiful that we wonder if we will ever come across something so beautiful on our world cycle tour.

Lake Ohau

After the climb follows a descent to the town of Omarama. The book that describes the various trails writes about a wonderful descent over an easy gravel road where, as a rule, you have the wind in your back and you can be rushed to the town. Well that is not quite right: the start of the descent is (certainly with packed bikes) quite technical and sometimes even treacherous because there are a lot of loose boulders and creeks to get through. But it’s fun! After about ten kilometers, the broad gravel road announces itself what the book is probably referring to. The wind is not “as a rule” today and blows in our face. Omarama, which we thought we would reach before noon, just doesn’t seem to show up. Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon we eat a sandwich in front the local supermarket. The intended continuation of today – a campsite another 40 kilometers away, a considerable climb and thundering against the wind – is being quickly dropped during lunch.

Half an hour later we are at the reception of the nearby caravan park. We have the enormous tent field all to ourselves, we are looking for a place that is somewhat out of the wind and where we will hopefully be greeted by a morning sun the next day. The next morning we indeed receive a greeting, which we probably will remember for a while. New Zealand is “sandfly-country”, we have regularly experienced that for ourselves. But we have not experienced it as bad as this morning. When we wake up in the morning at the crack of the day for a pee, we are literally attacked by sandflies. We don’t know how fast we have to flee in our tent again. In the first morning light we see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these incentives flying and crawling impatiently in front of our inner tent. When we later leave the tent, we first spray ourselves with DEET. Somehow the sandflies really want to go inside, probably attracted by our warmth and exhaled carbon dioxide that always fills our tent. Once in the tent, you can no longer get them out of the tent. They may want to, but they no longer find the exits of the tent. Instead, they crawl with hundreds in a corner, in the storage compartment. There is nothing else to do but pack the tent. We now know that none of these uninvited “guests” (as opposed to a big black flies) survive a day in a packed tent. Tonight we will first invert, shake out and wipe out the inner tent.

The third day on the A2O is rather disappointing. We cycle a bit more often along and on the road and the views do not actually change as far as the village of Kurow. Yesterday we saw a young lady on her bike and now that she is drinking a cup of coffee in Kurow, we can finally talk to her. Her name is Vanessa and she’s from Sydney. Her partner has a temporary job to look after a hut near Mount Cook and she has gone to New Zealand with him and took her bike along to cycle solo A2O. We need a break and she jumps back on the bike. We still doubt whether we will continue and plop down on a bench with an ice cream to look at the options and we decide to continue as Vanessa did. The part after Kurow turns out to be the best of the day with a funny river path, a piece of path along a cliff and finally a kind of informative garden from the hamlet of Duntroon. We arrive at the same time as Vanessa on the campsite that is situated around a football field. The campsite is has warm showers and a somewhat outdated camp kitchen and is cheap, so just great. Vanessa, Ness for friends, joins us after diner and we chat for a while. We had a long cycling day and dive into the tent early from which (almost) all sandfly corpses have been removed.

Just outside Omarama

The fourth day on the A2O is our last day and appears to have a surprisingly nice path. This entire day between the Alps and the Pacific, the route opts for a gravel path and sometimes a singletack through the rolling farmland instead of the asphalted roads. In addition, we are constantly treated to beautiful landscapes and geological features. We cycle through the large gray round boulders that protrude from the rolling meadow, aptly named the Elephant Rocks, on and between cliffs and gorges, called Island Cliffs. We leave the cliffs to climb and descend a bit and end up in the dark of an old train tunnel, called Rakis Railway Tunnel. The following old railway trail changes into a nice winding path along a stream. The cycle path briefly follows the road and some last hills have to be overcome before we reach another former train track and an elongated park in the center of the coastal town of Oamaru.

Elephant Rocks

Island Cliffs

Rakis Railway Tunnel

Oamaru is fun! Lots of art, lots of creativity, lots of warehouses and, for NZ concepts, old buildings. In one of those somewhat industrial buildings, is the headquarters (at least on the facade) of the art movement “Steampunk”, based on fantasy and fiction, but with old machines and equipment from the industrial revolution. We resist the temptation to cycle directly to the sun-drenched site of the local brewery and switch on again to reach the end point on the pier above the ocean. Next to the pier is a large frame around a stage with “Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail” on it in golden letters. A girl offers to take a picture of us and we put ourselves and the bikes in the frame and then quickly return to that brewery for a pizza and two pints. We see Vanessa cycling in the distance, apparently we caught up with her somewhere? The distance is too large and moreover it makes no sense to shout because of the live music (a very large gentleman alone – vocals, guitar and computer – flawlessly covers the entire repertoire of Dire Straits in particular) on the outside terrain. After these delicious and partly much needed calories, we look for the small and charming caravan park and of course find Ness again. Again we chat for hours in the (fine, tidy) camp kitchen, while the park gradually fills up with rented campervans.

Finish @Oamaru

Steampunk Headquarters

Penguins enter the campsite from 9 p.m. They then have a whole day of swimming and fishing and feed their young ones late in the evening. Between 3 and 5 they leave the nest and waddle back to the sea. The penguins are late today and the waddle to the nest lasts forever. They arrive in small groups and are constantly standing still or even waddle back. Well, after a full day of swimming, we would not walk that fast either. Roelie is delighted to see the penguins and can’t get enough. In the meantime Harry has been lying on one ear for a long time and the picture below proofs to him he was right.

3 penguins come ashore after sunset PS penguins cannot blink their eyes and therefore the use of a flash is not allowed and so you get such a beautiful pic using a iPhone: completely black yes

Australian cyclist Vanessa

Sunrise at the Oamaru campground

We cycle in two days from the pleasant Oamaru to the university city of Dunedin. A large part of the route we can bypass the highway and cycle on backroads. The first backroad, however, appears to have been swallowed up by the ocean, but with a small detour we get back on the route.

Because a lot of rain is going to fall we have our eye on a motel halfway. When we arrive it appears to be fully booked. We have a lot of tail wind and therefore effortlessly cycle 16 km further to the next motel of lesser allure. The route is varied by hitting beaches and then climbing up again with views of the coastline and the green hills full of cows and sheep. Have we ever wrote about talking to pasture animals? A horse is greeted respectfully with “Hello sweet horse”. We try to drive cows like cowboys with a “Heya!” And we bleed against the sheep and the sheep blew back against us, but Harry likes it too slowly and quietly approach and scare the sheep with a loud “Hey!” What are you doing here?! “or a” Yieéhiehaâhhwn “. Well what if you are no longer a manager…  Harry has a bull phobia since the Rocky Mountains in 2017, which he tries to get rid of here in New Zealand. Unlike the Rocky Mountains, the bulls are safely hidden behind barbed wire. Harry invariably challenges the next bull to ask if he can kick the bull against his (impressive) balls. So far, no bull has responded to this. But also good: Heart to Beat is a couple and we want to keep it that way!

Okay, back to our route. We stay in Dunedin for two days. In this way we give the Dutch Santa Claus the opportunity to visit us. That seems a bit too much to ask for, but Dunedin has many stores and we give ourselves new sleeping mattresses. Not because we didn’t like the color anymore, but because we had to blow up the frequently glued mats about four times a night and we find that a little too much.

We also cycle on the highly acclaimed and in our view overrated Otago Peninsula. From here we will cycle the Otago Rail Trail, the “flagship” of the NZ cycle routes. After that many cycling options are still open, before we have to report to Queenstown to bring a campervan back to Auckland. To be continued!

Otago Peninsula