The Vercoe Family planned and prepared for an adventurous ride, bike touring the Alps to Ocean over 4 days and 3 nights in October 2016! This was mainly a ride for me, Annette, with my two children Rhea, aged 11 and Isaac, aged 8 joining me for child friendly sections of the ride. We decided to do the ride this way because of time restrictions – we only had 4 days to complete the trail. This means I will be riding multiple sections in the same day – distances which are too far for the children to enjoy. If you too are restricted by time but don’t want to ride large distances take the advice of the Kennett brothers…
“If you don’t have time to do the whole trail, cherry pick stages 2, 3 & 4 – they have the best scenery, the least traffic and lots of purpose built cycle path. The other sections are largly on road.”
NOTE: from Feb 2020 the on road State Highway 83 section of the trail from Aviemore to Kurow are now off road. These sections are open to the public and trail status can be found here
PLAN the destination. We chose to ride 267km of the 300km Alps to Ocean Trail, riding from Tekapo to Oamaru, missing an on road section heading into Kurow (18km). Note: Tekapo is becoming the preferred start point (15km shorter). Mount Cook is the official starting point of this track. Starting at Mt Cook means you will have to take a helicoptor ride over the braided, wide, glacial Tasman River. The helicoptors only fly in good weather and a minimum of 6 people is required. See HeliWorks 0800 666 668 or Helicoptor Line 0800 650 651 for information.
Books that include good descriptions of the trail:
- The New Zealand Cycle Trails. Nga Haerenga by Jonathan Kennett or Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by The Kennett Brothers. These books also contain other New Zealand cycle trails so are good value for money if you plan on doing more than one trail.
or the official NZ Cycleways website www.alps2ocean.com has great maps of individual sections which I found really helpful with planning which sections the children would enjoy riding with me.
Packaged Tours & Accomodation Options: www.alps2ocean.com/packaged-tours
The MacKenzie Country, where the majority of the Alps2Ocean ride is located, is sparsely populated. Tekapo has approximately 370 residents but enjoys a steady flow of tourists. It has a small supermarket, cafes, restaurants, petrol station and several different accommodation options. The biggest town along the trail is Twizel. Oamaru at the end of the ride is substantial compared to these villages, it has 21,000 people. This area is extremely popular with tourists and the two Highways you are riding by, or on, are major truck routes in and out of the central South Island.
What did The Vercoe Family Alps to Ocean trip look like?
We chose to do this trail supported by my Mum & Dad. Who have already biked the trail so have a bit of local knowledge and a self contained caravan which means we are camping in Spring!
Day One: Tekapo to Lake Pukaki 43km
We set off from the Tekapo start around 10.30am. This is opposite the town centre and clearly signposted with the red alternative route A2O signs, follow these until you reach the Tekapo Canal Road. You will need to cross State Highway 8 on this section, so take your time and be careful.
Biking – Tekapo to the shores of Lake Pukaki…43km…the first section Tekapo to State Hwy 8 along sealed & gravel flat roads next to the canal, 15km. We had lunch in the rest area after we crossed the Highway. After lunch we continued on along the canal road which again changed regularly from sealed to thick gravel and was slightly uphill in places, so was fairly slow going. Just before the Salmon Farm you are back on a public road and this is a popular fishing area. You will reach the top of Tekapo B Power Station. Jackets on then a speedy downhill. You will have biked another 15km to Hayman Road at the bottom of the hill. Traffic flow is moderate around this area so keep the kids close and alert to their surroundings. I carried on down Hayman Road towards the State Highway (left as you come down from the Dam) then onto a wide bike trail that ran along the shore of Lake Pukaki. Finishing at The Pines Camping area 13km from the Power Station.
Facilities – There are toilets provided at each end of the canal road. Most of the canal road is closed to traffic but workers do have access so you may come across a truck or two. After you leave Tekapo there is no access to fresh water. There is no drinking water at The Pines Camping area.
Accommodation – We stayed overnight at The Pines which is a freedom camping area on the shores of Lake Pukaki very close to the information centre. It has a one night maximum stay restriction and a long drop toilet hiding up in the trees.
Gear & Support Vehicle – Using one set of panniers to carry the gear we required for our day. Vehicle access is restricted along these sections of the track so you will need to carry snacks, water, spare clothing/jackets, mobile phone, a bike tool kit and a compact bike specific first aid kit. Vehicles have access up Hayman Road off State Highway 8 just before the Information Centre. Hayman Road is sealed until you reach Tekapo B Power Station.
Day Two: Lake Pukaki to Omarama 87km
Biking – Lake Pukaki to Twizel approximately 11km across Pukaki Flats Track which is as the name suggests a gentle & flat biking/walking track. At the information centre at the bottom of the lake you have to cross the Highway to find the Pukaki Flats Track. Twizel has a population of around 1200, and has good facilities. It is located on State Highway 8.
Twizel to Lake Ohau 38km. Again you have to cross the main highway to get into the centre of Twizel where you will find the Alps to Ocean signs that lead you to the right of town and out along Glen Lyon Road. After 18km biking along this sealed canal road you will reach the edge of Lake Ohau under the towering Ben Ohau Mountain. It is then 11km around an off road biking/walking track to Lake Ohau Road. You join this road and bike another 10km onto Ohau Lodge.
Lake Ohau to Omarama 38km. The next 18km of riding is along Tambrae Track which I would describe as a mountain biking single track and your first major climb – it is 900m up to the “High Point” and a very rapid descent then follows. Quailburn Road at the end of the track is gravel for approximately two thirds of its 20km length and unfortunately for me, it was new gravel, so difficult to ride. Quailburn Road finishes at State Highway 8 where you will join a great little biking track beside the road and river which takes you through Ahuriri Campground where we stopped to camp.
Total distance 87km of very diverse surfaces and riding.
Facilities – Food, water, toilets all to be found in Twizel. First toilet after Twizel is at Ohau Weir along the shores of Lake Ohau then again along the road leading to Ohau Lodge. Apart from Ohau Lodge there are no other facilities at Ohau so don’t expect a coffee in a cafe, you’re in a remote area of NZ now. At the end of Trambrae Track a 2km detour will lead you to a historic woolshed picnic area & toilet at the very top of Quailburn Road.
Again no drinking water can be found along the track.
Accommodation – We stayed at Ahuriri DOC campsite 3km outside of Omarama which has a basic toilet. Omarama has a population of approximately 250 people. You will find a couple of cafes, a petrol station and limited accommodation.
Gear & Support Vehicle – Using one set of panniers to carry the gear I required for the day. Vehicle access is restricted along these sections of the track so you will need to carry snacks, water, spare clothing/jackets, mobile phone, a bike tool kit and a compact bike specific first aid kit. Vehicles only have access at points along the track.
Day Three: Omarama to Aveimore Dam 52km
Biking – Omarama to Otematata 27km, which includes 3km of riding from Ahuriri Campground into Omarama. The first section of this track from Omarama – 13km to Sailors Cutting – is a great off road smooth shingle track that offers easy, fun riding along the shores of Lake Benmore. At Sailors Cutting the track leads onto the Highway – 9km on State Highway 83 up and over Otematata Saddle, not recommended for children or those not accustomed to traffic. Trucks will be passing you on an open road – 100km speed limit…
Otematata to Aviemore Dam 28km. The track turns towards Benmore Dam just before Otematata township so if you want supplies or the toilet you will have to ride into Otematata. It has one small supermarket and a population of 200, again limited accommodation. From Otematata it is a simple 6km ride along a bike track to the towering Benmore Hydro Dam and YES you are going up and across it so take a deep breath and get in a low gear. The next 22km is along a sealed road next to Lake Aveimore – not a single car passed me but I imagine in summer that this road is busy with campers, boats and fishermen.
Total distance 52km
Facilities – Food, water & toilets all to be found in Omarama and Otematata
Accommodation – There are several different camping options along this section of track. Please be aware that this is a very popular holiday destination in summer so booking, if possible, would be essential.
Support Vehicle – The entire section is either next to the road or on a public road so vehicles have easy access to you.
NOTE this section of track is now off road (Feb 2020): I choose to miss the next section of road riding from Aviemore Dam to Kurow, 18km of HIGH TRAFFIC road riding. This was because of time restrictions and a southerly weather system that was forecast and generally because it is unpleasant to have trucks passing you at that speed with no room to get out of there way.
Day Four: Kurow to Duntroon 82km
Biking – Kurow to Duntroon 28km, followed by 54km to finish at the Pacific Ocean on the Wansbeck St Pier in Oamaru. Total distance 82km!
From Kurow the whole section of track is off road on flat yellow shingle or four wheel drive tracks. There are a couple of river crossings to attend to but this is generally a pleasant ride.
Duntroon to Oamaru is a diverse mix of sealed road, single bike track across working farms and back country gravel roads. Although you do eventually end up going down into Oamaru the bulk of this track is rolling countryside with constant climbs and descents. You will need a reasonable base of fitness to complete it comfortably. And watch out for the magpies – spring time means nesting – I got attacked by 4!!
Facilities – Kurow (pop: 320) will provide food, water and toilets and limited accommodation if you choose to stay here. Duntroon (pop: 120) when I rode through on a Thursday in October at lunchtime no food places appeared to be open. Duntroon does have the Flying Pig Cafe but I would check whether it is open before depending on it for food. Rakis Railway Tunnel, 27km into this section has a table, toilet and drinking water from the tap.
Support Vehicle – Never far from road access with short off road sections throughout this ride.
PREP your gear. I rode on a trail bike with skinny but knobbly 29 inch tires. The kids have mountain bikes with front suspension and the grandparents both have trail bikes with front suspension. I carried gear in a set of panniers. The kids both had camelbaks on their backs for the sections they rode. This gave them an instant supply of water and a few treats were stashed into them. They wore goUnders for Kids (padded bike underwear) for their bottoms. On trails like this it’s important to keep them comfy!
Jakes Hardware in Twizel has a small range of bike parts otherwise there is nothing until Oamaru so you will need to carry a good bike touring tool kit and first aid kit. If you are travelling unsupported by a vehicle it is a good idea to have the phone numbers of the local cycle trail companies incase you need rescuing at any stage. Also, if needed, to organise relocating back to Tekapo.
- Cycle Journeys – Twizel – 03 377 2060
- Trail Adventures – Oamaru – 03 434 5260
My bike touring tool kit had:
- spare tubes x2 each day
- long handle allen key (6mm) for my seat
- tyre levers
- chain link
The weather in Spring in the MacKenzie District ranges from lows of 3 degrees to highs of 14. Spring riding requires the flexibility of layering and rain protection. Although this area of NZ is known for it’s dry conditions. The start of this ride is in an alpine region and there are a number of creeks and river beds to cross so always be aware of the weather.
PREP your fitness/skills. The Alps to Ocean trail has been designed to do over 6-8 fairly relaxed riding days. Most of the riding is flat and downhill so very achieveable with some consistant training before you go. The best preparation would be to get used to the feeling of riding day after day. Having said that there are some major hill climbs involved (900m climbing out of Ohau, over Otematata Saddle, up to the top of Benmore Dam and throughout the last section from Duntroon to Oamaru).
Because I have choosen to ride for only 4 days my training schedule has involved building up to several long distance rides (more than 50km) in one week. I have concentrated on distance rather than difficulty, choosing flat well graded trails to prepare me. Living very close to The Great Taste Trail in Nelson has helped with this.
The kids are coming out of a fairly wet winter that hasn’t seen them on their bikes that often. Again I haven’t worried about getting them up hills but have chosen flat fun rides to get their heads back in the riding game. I have two sections of track that I really want them to ride then the rest will be up to how they are feeling.
PREP the kids. It is great for the kids to be able to see and understand where they are going and what is expected of them. You may need to set goals and put some activities in place before the adventure to help them build their confidence/skills and endurance. Get them involved in the planning and preparation. See these stories on how kids can each have a task and skills to do to help plan and prepare for a big bike adventure.
- Get ready to goRide with Rhea A story about gear preparation
- Get better at braking with Isaac A story about understanding good braking technique
- Get better at checking with Sam A story about safety checking for your bike
- Get safe on the trail with Hollie A story about trail rules and riding in a group
You can use the The Kids Guide to Riding – Planning & Preparation to help you with your preparation if you are planning to ride with kids.
Kid friendly sections include:
- The Canal Roads make for easy, flat riding but could be a bit long depending on the age of your children, two 15km sections at Tekapo, one 12km section after Twizel
- The off road section of track next to Lake Pukaki, 13km from Tekapo B Power Station to Lake Pukaki Visitor Centre
- The Pukaki Flats Track from Lake Pukaki to Twizel, 11km
- The Lake Ohau shore track from the end of Glen Lyon Road to Lake Ohau Road, 11km
- Tarnbrae Track from Lake Ohau Lodge to Quailburn Road, 18km – your kids would enjoy this track only if they mountain bike regularly
- Omarama to Sailors Cutting, 13km
- Otematata to the top of Benmore Dam, 6km – the last 800m is steep! But well worth the effort
- Benmore Dam to Aviemore Dam is on an undulating lake side road – watch traffic flow in summer, 22km
- Kurow to Duntroon, 28km. Give yourself 3hrs…if this is too far do the beginning and finish just after 15km when the trail comes back next to the highway
- Elephant Rocks to Conlans Road, 7km – yours kids would enjoy this track if they mountain bike regularly
- Pig Island Road just after Winsor to Oamaru, 18km. If this is too far there are a number of places along this section to join the trail at
For more photos & highlights of this trail see The Alps to Ocean – The Vercoe Family’s Inspiring Story
Do you think you or your family could give riding The Alps to Ocean Trail a go?
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