Hiking the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is part of a network of cycle and walking trails around New Zealand.
Alps 2 Ocean (A2O) is set up as a cycle trail, however, it can also be hiked. The trail has two potential start points. One is in the afternoon shadow of Aoraki, Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. The other start point is from Tekapo. All this information is available on the web site Alps2ocean.com.
I chose to start at Aoraki, Mt Cook, with a slight modification. The Official start is at the White Horse Hill Camping ground 2 Km north of Aoraki, Mt Cook village. The first section is from the camping ground to Mt Cook Airport which is about 10 Km. As the shuttle bus drove past the Airport. I decided to forgo the first 10 Km, a decision that paid off, as you will read later.
WHEN TO GO
I decided to hike the Alps 2 Ocean in mid to late March. Partly to avoid the busiest time on the trail, and the weather in this part of New Zealand as it is often more settled. I had only two days of rain out of 12.
This trail is very well marked, sign posted and easy to follow. There had been some heavy rain and flooding on parts of the trail that are crossed by side creeks. This left rocks scattered across the trail. Despite that the trail markers remained in place even in these areas.
Maps are available on the alps2ocean.com/trail-map website.
There are shuttle bus connections from most major South Island cities to Twizel. I was traveling from Oamaru where the trail terminates on the beach and meets the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Cycle Journeys cyclejourneys.co.nz run a shuttle bus service from Oamaru leaving at 14:30 arriving at Twizel at 16:45.
I stayed overnight at the Twizel Holiday Park holidayparks.co.nz/canterbury/twizel-holiday-park and caught the connecting shuttle bus that left at 08:20 arriving at Mt Cook village at 09:45. The driver kindly dropped me at the turn off to the Airport. From there it is a 5 minute walk to the terminal building.
The Helicopter flight
I had pre booked a helicopter flight across the river with Heliworks Mt Cook mtcookhelicopters.nz/alps-2-ocean for 11:00. As I was early and there was only one couple traveling, I was able to get on a flight at 09:45. This is the only way across the river.
We watched the helicopter lift the underslung tub that carried the bikes. A quick turn around and it was our turn to board. Unfortunately there was some low cloud around which blocked the view of the mountains. The pilot skilfully worked around and above the cloud, presenting us with a stunning view of Aoraki Mt Cook and the surrounding peaks.
The snow was discoloured by the ash fallout from the bush fires that had devastated many parts of Australia.
The helicopter deposited the two cyclists and I at the landing site known as Rotten Tommy. From here it is all walking.
HIKING THE ALPS 2 OCEAN TRAIL
Starting with an exhilarating and scenic helicopter flight. The first thing to take in is the majestic mountain vistas everywhere you look. The well-marked trail allowed me to make good progress averaging 25 Km/day. Some of the trail is on public roads, so watching for traffic is critical. Most drivers were very considerate, slowing down and giving a friendly wave.
I met groups of cyclists. One man who was 80. Great to see him out enjoying the trail. The advent of E bikes has opened up many options.
I tried to be established in my camp by 17:00 each day which would allow me to relax and enjoy the lingering sun sets.
The majesty and solitude of the Mckenzie high country is breath taking. This was punctuated by some brief encounters with others on the trail.
On the morning of day 7 after staying at the Ahuriri Bridge Campground (Free), an elderly gentleman (80 something) approached me and asked “Would you like a cup of black tea or black coffee” I gratefully accepted a cup of coffee. He was very interesting to listen to. As a young man he had worked in the high-country building and improving huts for the Department of Conservation (DOC). Now he travels in a camper van and does day trips on his E bike.
Wow I have so much to look forward to.
Had I started at the White Horse Camp. I would have struggled to make Twizel by the end of day three. This would have put me behind all the way.
A text from a friend when I was 32 Km from the finish alerted me to the Covid – 19 lockdown that was starting in 72 hours.
WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT THE HIKE
Overall a very pleasant walk, with some challenges to cover the distances. Being a cycle way there are no extremely steep climbs or descents, and generally, the surface is good. Check the web site alps2ocean.com for details on each section of the trail.
Accommodation is spaced at distances that can easily be travelled on a bike each day.
Hiking the Alps 2 Ocean and not knowing how far I would get each day, meant I was unable to pre book any accomadation. As it worked out, I was able to freedom camp or stay in designated camping grounds. From the start point I wild camped two nights.
On reaching Twizel on the third night, I stayed at the Twizel Holiday Park. Followed by two more nights beside the trail. holidayparks.co.nz/canterbury/twizel-holiday-park
From Omarama down the Waitaki Valley there are good camping sites at Sailors Cutting, the northern side of Lake Aviemore, Kurow and Duntroon. As a walker I was under a bit of time pressure to make the camp sites.
Once east of Lake Aviemore, the trail winds through farmland with no options to wild camp.
After a wet day I stayed at the historic Kurow pub where I was very well looked after.
On leaving the town of Duntroon, camping options are very limited.
I camped one night near the entrance to Rakis Railway Tunnel. Here is where the small footprint of the bivy bag was great.
FOOD & WATER
Staying in Twizel the night before I started the walk, I was able to buy last minute supplies.
There are two supermarkets in town plus camping and outdoors shops where gas and other camping supplies can be bought. All centrally located within easy walking distance from the Twizel Holiday Park. Bramar Station, approximately 24 kilometers from Rotten Tommy, can do limited casual meals. Text ahead to find out if they can fit you in.
At the lower end of Lake Pukaki there is a shop that sold salmon that is bred in the canals that link Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau.
By day three I was able to restock again in Twizel.
Lake Ohau Lodge put on a “High Country Platter” Which is a selection of meat, fish and cheeses sourced locally.
In Omarama there are several food options. The Oasis Café, Bar & Grill serves meals all day. There is also a small supermarket as there is in Otematata and Kurow. Duntroon has a pub that put on wholesome meals. No shops. The Kurow Pub serve great pub meals and breakfast.
There is a pub in Enfield (Known as the Fort) that does meals, which unfortunately was closed due to the impending lockdown to combat the Covid 19 outbreak.
I carried 3.9m litres of water and was able to refill from some of the streams running into Lake Pukaki. If the water is fast moving and running over gravel and or rocks, I found it to be ok. Some water sources I avoided due to being slow moving and close to domestic stock.
I drew water out of Lake Pukaki, which was a little cloudy as a result of the glacial flow. Minute particles of ground rock suspended in the water. Lake Ohau and the stream near the high point between Ohau Lodge and the Wool Shed is another good spot.
The next water is Omarama. The water at the campsites in the Waitaki valley come with a recommendation to boil.
I took water from Deep Stream on the north side of Lake Aviemore. Lower down the Waitaki Valley I was able to get water out of the Waitaki River. Again, avoiding slow moving streams near domestic stock. From Duntroon it is 26 Km to the next water, which is available at Rakis Railway Tunnel Picnic area. The next available water resupply after that would be at the Enfield Pub, if it is open.
RUBBISH & WASTE
To enjoy these fantastic outdoor areas there is a responsibility to take care of them. I follow the mantra of “Take only photos, leave only footprints”. To this end I carried recycled plastic bread bags to stow my rubbish in until I reached somewhere that had collection bins. I was pleased to note the off-road trail sections were rubbish free and the public roads had minimal litter. There are also public toilets along the way, and for those times when they were unavailable, I carried a lightweight plastic gardening trowel. I was careful to be well clear of the trail and water courses.
Salomon X Ultra Boots
I had worn Salomon X Ultra boots on the 500km Lycian Way hike in Turkey thebackpackinghiker.com/how-we-hiked-the-lycian-way, which had worn out the rubber soles due to the very abrasive rocky trails. The uppers were still in serviceable condition and I was able to have them resoled with Vibrim material at a shoe shop in Oamaru. I also replaced the factory inner soles with Scholl gel active inner soles. I find these are more comfortable and shock absorbing.
Pros: Being able to have the boots resoled extended the life of my boots and saved the cost of replacement.
Cons: The Vibrim sole while very hard wearing, was a bit firm when walking on rough gravel and bitumen road surfaces.
Perhaps an unusual choice for hiking. I wore Explorer wool blended work socks. Comfortable and hard wearing. With this combination I completed the 300 Km with no foot problems.
Kathmandu Interloper gridTECH 70L Backpack
I carried the Kathmandu 70 L pack which includes a small day pack that can be clipped to the back of the main pack. Or clipped to the front of the shoulder straps. Which helps to balance the weight forward and back.
Pos: Over all a good pack for this hike.
Cons: The addition of some small outer pouches would increase packing options.
Kathmandu Bivy XT bag
Pros: Light weight at 600gm plus 7 pegs. The very small footprint of 2m x 1m makes it easier to set up in tight level areas along the trail.
Cons: Very small so changing wet clothes inside is not an option. Poor ventilation when closed up. Condensation from my breath quickly built up inside. I awoke one morning to find the condensation had frozen on the inside.
Exped Waterbloc -6 Sleeping bag
I had recently bought an Exped Waterbloc -6 sleeping bag. Exped-waterbloc-6-down-sleeping-bag: Review
Kathmandu Ascent 38 Sleeping mat
Pros: Light weight at 650 grams.
Cons: I had used this mat on a previous hike and found it deflated overnight. After testing, there were no apparent leaks. At first, I put this down to the air contracting as the temperature dropped. However, after talking to others that have used these mats, and having to re inflate 3-4 times a night on this hike, I concluded the material is not 100% airtight.
Fizan hiking poles
I had bought Fizan compact poles to hike the Lycian Way, and used them again on this hike.
Pros: At 158 grams. These poles are light weight, strong and have two stage length adjustment. Also doubled as poles for the bivy bag.
THE COST OF HIKING THE ALPS 2 OCEAN TRAIL
- Shuttle bus: Oamaru to Twizel NZ$55 Twizel to Mt Cook NZ$30
- Camping grounds: NZ$80 over 5 nights
- Food at restaurants: NZ$121 This included the fresh sashimi at the lower end of Lake Pukaki. And a high-country platter from Lake Ohau lodge. All part of the experience.
- Food from supermarkets Etc: NZ$128
- Helicopter flight: NZ$140
If you found this post helpful, how about checking out some of the other hiking destinations covered by The Backpacking Hiker below.
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