Got up early to catch the shuttle from Oamaru to Dunedin. Cold but not as cold as yesterday and very sunny. Shuttle took us to the Holiday Park. After getting settled we rode back into town to see where we catch the train tomorrow to the start of the Otago Rail Trail. Dunedin is a big city, with lots of old Victorian architecture. Bike infrastructure seems adequate. The Holiday Park is far enough south of town that it is close to the beach. The town itself sits on a big harbor formed by the Otago Peninsula. The Holiday Park is at the very bottom of the peninsula.
Increadible trails today. First a bit of road and next-to-road path to Elephant Rocks. Then things got really interesting as the purpose made bike trail wandered down a canyon and then across and switched back up the other side. The geology of this region is very interesting with ancient worn rock formations.
The path then meandered through, not around, a bunch of farm fields with cows, sheep, and pastures. It didn't just go straight either but wound around with dips and swoops, making it fun riding. The perfect mix of smooth gravel and fun stuff, that would be boring on a mountain bike, but just right for a touring bike.
It went on like this most of the way to Oamaru. There were a couple of old railroad grades and even a tunnel. There were some places where they were building new sections of trail while the current route took a gravel road.
Eventually we hit old bike path heading into town. The route took us through the public gardens, past a lot of Victorian buildings, and dumped us off at the waterfront and the end of the line. And that was it, Alps2Ocean is done. Couldn't ask for a better cycle adventure. The Brewery now beckoned and we headed the call.
Logistically it was too far to get to Oamaru so today would be a short ride, mostly along the Waitaki River. Leaving Kurow we immediately came to the winery which of course required a stop. The trail then led through the vineyard, which was nice. This was part purpose made bike track and part repurposed gravel road.
There would be 3 dry riverbed crossings today, which were pretty rough to ride. I walked most of it. The biggest was quite wide. We had a hard time finding the path through it and on the other side. We it wasn't crossing river beds it was a smooth gravel path trough farm fields and long the river. Although we were close to the river we could never get down to it, or even get a good view.
One thing that disturbed me on this ride was the amount of invasive weeds. Thistles, mullen, and most other common weeds were in abundance here. None of thee things are native here but once here they thrive.
Approaching Duntroon you got the feeling you were in for a treat. Much care had gone into building the path through the Duntroon Wetlands. There were lots of interpretive signs along the way. It was really nice to approach and enter a town on a trail rather than the highway. When we got to town there were direction signs pointing to the Flying Pig Cafe, the hotel, tavern, etc. How disappointed we were to find that they were all closed down. With the exception of the Museum/Visitor center it was a ghost town. Why was this town not able to thrive on the tourist economy of the A2O trail as other towns had? Hopefully this is a temporary setback and the town will bounce back. There was at least a domain campground where we settled in for the night.
Today was all about hydro electric plants. In fact each day had been leading up to this. The canals we had followed from lake to lake had all the water flowing this way, and today is where it all came through the Benmore Dam and hydro plant.
But before we got there we were treated to a nice section of purpose built bike track along a very pastoral upper arm of Lake Benmore. Alas the trail didn't last long and we were soon on the highway and climbing a hill, followed by a nice downhill into Otematata. Otematata had a nice cafe which was the perfect place for our second breakfast. It is a very scenic spot with great views of Lake Aviemore, which we would soon ride around one side of.
But first we had to get across Benmore Dam. The trail led out of Otematata at almost a right angle to the road we took in, as it followed a finger of the lake up to the dam. We were then on a nice gravel road which even had some trees, before getting on the sealed road for the big climb up the dam. It was steep and I may have had to stop and catch my breath part way up. This was the second largest hydro plant in New Zealand. I don't know about the largest. This one was certainly impressive enough.
After the dam there was a nice downhill and we were then on a quiet sealed road around the back side of Lake Aviemore. The map showed a couple of campgrounds on route and we considered staying at one if we liked it. What we saw was really interesting. Hundreds of caravans and campers parked all along the lake, with no people around. Evidently people just leave them there and come out on holidays or weekends. There was nothing all that inviting for tent campers so we continued on.
Eventually we got beyond the lake to Aviemore Dam, and then back on the highway for the last bit into Kurow. The wind was now howling a bit in our faces. There was a short climb to yet another hydro plant at Waitaki Dam, and then finally downhill into Kurow. There we found the Kurow Holiday Park and our home for the night.
We left the campground at Twizel on a quiet back road. After a few miles it crossed the highway and led us to a canal road similar to the one we took from Lake Tekapo. Once again the road alternated from sealed to gravel. After we reached Lake Oahu and crossed a dam our path became a nice gravel track along the lake, and after the Oahu weir the trail turned into well groomed single track for 7km along the lake. This was a great ride.
From the lake we once again had views of the mountains. After the trail we were back on a sealed road and starting to fight a strong wind. This went on for 6 or 7km as we wound around the southwest side of the lake. I became very dispirited fighting the wind, especially because I knew the direction we wanted to go was behind us but the route had been built to funnel people to the Lake Oahu lodge. I wanted nothing to do with the lodge, but Jelle wanted to have lunch, so I went on alone, knowing he would catch up to me at the top of the 10km climb we had ahead of us.
Back on the trail the surface was good, the grade was gentle, and the wind was at my back. The trail climbed the side of a big ridge, never going over it. It was built as a mountain bike trail, and for that it was a very good one. For a loaded touring cyclist it was very enjoyable for about 7km at which point it started getting really rocky. I could handle the grade, or I could handle the rocks, but not both at the same time, so I started getting of and walking when it got too bad. Soon I started getting passed by mountain bikers. I caught up with more of them at the top. They were part of a big group of friends that were riding the whole A2O fully supported by a tour shuttle. I reached the top at 900 meters and stopped to rest and wait for Jelle.
As expected Jelle caught up to me at the top and we started back down. It was still very rocky so it was a difficult descent until it finally smoothed out. It was a long way down and kept winding around, and then when you though it would join a road it cut back up a little valley, once agin into the wind. I was thoroughly beat by then. The trail finally came to an end at an old sheep shearers shack where the tour bus was waiting for the mountain biking group. It was just for support as they were all riding on into Omarama. We could have camped there, there was an outhouse and a stream for water, but we were assured Omarama was an easy 23km downhill with the wind at our backs.
So off we went on a nice gravel road. At first it wasn't all downhill, but soon the few little hills ended and then it was. The problem was deep loose gravel. There was a well worn track in most places but sometimes it funneled you into the gravel. Sure enough I got caught on the edge of the road and plowed into a deep pile which brought me down. Fortunately there was a bit of a bank and I just got a few scratches. I jumped up and continued riding, but at a slower more cautious pace. It was a long 23km and I fell pretty far behind. By the time I caught up with Jelle in town he had already polished off a beer, so I didn't waste any time getting one myself. That was followed with some fish & chips before heading out to the holiday park for the night.
Also met a Scottish cyclist name Christine. I can hardly understand a word she says but I love the sound of it. She is traveling self supported but caught a ride with the tour bus as she had a very difficult time riding the trail with her narrower tires. We caught back up with her at the campground.
A2O day 1. Awesome! We started along the canal road from Lake Tekapo to Lake Pukaki. These lakes are all connected by canals and feed into a huge hydro-electric system. This canal road alternated between sealed road and gravel. The gravel sections were pretty loose but had a nice single track worn down the middle.
The road followed the valley where there would have been a river were the water not all diverted into the canal. As we went along the mountains started coming into view. There was a salmon farm on the canal which did not impress me, but there were a lot of fisher people on the banks. After that there was a dam and then a big climb, then it was downhill to Lake Pukaki.
At Lake Pukaki we joined the main route coming down the north side from Aoraki. We road back up that direction for a short way and then stopped for lunch. It was a great spot and I would have loved to camp there. Instead we continued on to Twizel and stayed at a holiday park.
We took a rest day at Lake Tekapo before starting on the A2O trail. It was the perfect place to do so. I rode into town and back to the campground and around the lake a little. Very windy day. There is a larch forest growing on the side of the lake. They are not native but have naturalized very well.
I am very impressed with New Zealand Holiday Parks. They have shared kitchens, that are very convenient for bike tourists that don't want to carry much. But the nice thing is that it forces people together instead of isolated at their own campsites. Many of them also have a shared lounge/TV/internet room with comfy couches and reading material. These were really welcome on the cold nights where otherwise we'd be in our tents by 8:00. They aren't cheap, but then nothing in NZ is.
Didn't sleep well after a late night with our new friends doing a road bike tour. So another late start. But the sun was shining and the sky was blue, and now we could see some of the mountains that were obscured by clouds yesterday.
It was a gradual climb to the "town" of Burkes Pass. I was going very slow not wanting to exert much effort until I knew just what the climb would be like. The road headed straight towards the highest mountains, but then veered south and somehow found a way through the pass. Burkes Pass was a quaint place full of 50's memorabilia from the states. I caught up with Jelle there as well as Leon from the afore mentioned group. Leon was riding a classic Colnagno and was wearing the Italian kit to match. I had a coffee and was ready to go.
After the town of Burkes Pass came the actual climb up Burkes Pass. It was a grunt for sure, but not that bad. I felt really good about it. There was a short fast downhill after the summit but for the most part we were on a plateau now with mountains on all sides of us.
Lake Tekapo is very scenic with aqua marine glacial looking water. It's only at 2,300' elevation but feels and looks like it's much higher. Lots of tourists. Some tour buses stop here. The campground is crowded as well. We booked for 2 nights. Rest day tomorrow and then the Alps2Ocean trail.
This was a very pleasant ride on highway 8. Light traffic and very gradual grade, although we were climbing the whole way. Jelle was having bike issues this day. His fairly new Schwalbe Marathon was bulging and also had a big gash in the tread. Then when we removed it to put in a boot, which I cut from my Tyvex ground cloth, the hub came a bit loose and started making noise. After many stops he finally decided to swap the bad tire to the front where he had much less weight. This allowed us to continue on to Fairly without incident. In town we found a mechanic who took care of the hub problem very easily.
It was a cloudy day so we couldn't see the mountains that are visible from Fairlie. It was starting to drizzle when we setup out tents, but we were under a big tree which offered some protection. We met a bunch of riders who were doing a supported tour all of the way from Cape Reinga at the northern tip of the North Island, to Bluff on the southern tip of the South Island. They were doing about 100k a day and had several support vehicles, which their wives were driving, and had accommodations booked the whole way. They were staying in the motel rooms which are an integral part of any New Zealand Holiday Park. Latter we meet a bunch of them at the restaurant and had beer and pizza.
Another easy day. A bit longer than we had been riding, which was good. We debated the route a bit as the route we were following from the Kennet Bros was quite a bit longer than the main highway, but ended up following it pretty closely.
Midway we passed through the town of Geraldine, which would be the biggest town we'd see for a while. The I-Site had a nice cafe attached so we had some lunch. Jelle picked up a new dry bag to keep his sleeping bag dry when packed with a wet tent. I tried to get a hold of the only bike mechanic in town to see about getting a smaller small chainring. No luck there. We could have stayed longer in Geraldine, but that was not our destination for the day.
We were back on back roads from Geraldine to Pleasant Point. At one point we got on this road that climbed up a big hill through some farms, then dove down and up again, and continued with really nice rollers. It was fun to be on rolling hills where you have enough momentum from the downhill to almost make it back up the next climb. After this the route took a narrow gravel farm lane. The variety kept it interesting.
By the time we got to Pleasant Point we were as close to the ocean as we had been in Christchurch. Our route through the Canterbury Plains formed an arc, and the coastline also curved back towards us. I was tempted to take another day and go see the ocean at Timaru, but the Alps were calling. We stayed at the Domain Campground in Pleasant Point.