Long Way (up and) Down

Another crisp autumn morning dawns as we start rolling again. 78km left on the 315km mission. The home run awaits with two major hills before we’re bound to see the Pacific Ocean again. The last stage of the most amazing journey, the greatest trail of my travel life so far. Not without challenges but most diverse and stunning, this bike ride from Aoraki Mt Cook to Oamaru captures the essence of travelling once more. Five and a half day, two riders and countless memories on the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail.

Trail Day 0 – Prologue by the glacier

It had taken the better part of the day to reach Mt Cook national park village from Cromwell, but the weather was due to be on our side. A cloudy day turned into miraculous evening colours as we wandered through the moraine landscape towards New Zealand’s highest mountain. All alone, past the day tourist crowds on the Hooker Valley track we found the glacial lake dotted with icebergs. The sharp ridge of Aoraki, “the peak piercing the clouds”, only revealed itself briefly for some moments of magic. Nobody else would have been more right to share this amazement with than Daniel.

Trail Day 1 – Along the lake

Thanks to those ingenious trail builders most of NZ’s major bike trails include some sort of expensive transport: jetboats, helicopters… The latter was the only option to reach the actual trailhead on the other side of Lake Pukaki. A very short thrill, 2 minutes, till it touched down at Tasman Point where an offroad trail took us all along the lakeshore. Initally low cloud lifted around noon to reveal the brilliant turquoise waters of the great lake. A long first day to Twizel, bumpy gravel roads made these 77km partly challenging. In the soft afternoon light we finally crossed the Pukaki plains and I was again overwhelmed by the wide land, the pristine beauty of this country.

Trail Day 2 – Rolling on

Inviting us to take it slow, a fairly easy ride lay ahead of us, flat and gentle 38km from Twizel to Lake Ohau. Time to admire the turquoise flowing Ohau Canal before cruising the winding shoreline trail. Lake Ohau lay calm and the awe-inspiring peak of Ben Ohau reflected perfectly in the dark waters. What’s the magic about this lake that dares me to return again and again? Different than the other stay there in February during the Pioneer, yet no less wonderful.

Trail Day 3 – Top and down

Lake Ohau Lodge provided some well deserved rest in before the major challenge of the A2O, almost 380m of climbing to the trail’s high point at Tarnbrae, 900m. Thick clouds denied us any more views of the lake as we fought our way up the rocky trail. What goes up has to go down again and with showers setting in, the ride downhill ended up most thrilling and muddy. In numerous places the trail had become a river and we flowed down, towards the well deserved coffee. A real mountainbike section at last.
Further down the trail the rain finally stopped and we took a detour to the otherworldy Clay Cliffs. Bizarre rock formations shaped by erosion. The day ended up around 60km as we reached Omarama covered in mud from helmet to toe.

Trail Day 4 – Dams and downhill races

Across three hydro electric dams and their lakes this day took us down to Kurow. The last day in the Southern Alps, we started out cruising along Lake Benmore and Lake Aviemore. One serious climb was the huge Benmore dam but downhill racing dominated today’s leg. Sealed roads allowed us to pick up some decent speed up to 50.9 km/h. Stopping at Deep Stream, a spectacular rocky canyon, Daniel of course couldn’t resist climbing around on those cliffs some 60m high… Only after crossing the Waitaki river some headwinds started to challenge our weary legs that had already covered over 200km, 69km of which on that day. However, the rich dinner at our farmstay replenished our energy for the last day to come.

Trail Day 5 – The green hills

The home run wrapped up the adventure with just about all it had to offer. A few river crossings to start with, nasty hills and breezing downhills. Maori rock carvings and the Elephant Rocks were the major attractions before the trail took us through the green hinterland of North Otago. A strong contrast to the dry Southern Alps but no less demanding, the day added up about 700m of vertical ascent  – before going down all the way.
Saying the last day had it all includes technical issues, as Daniel’s chain jammed seriously on the last major ascent. Fixed that with huge relief, we ran into another traffic jam, an endless line of cows blocking the trail.
And then, the sea. The streets we used to walk, the harbor, the town so familiar. Oamaru welcomed us as dull as ever, and checking into Chillawhile was not just relief of having succeeded but a reencounter with memories of the good old times. We did it! All the way, more bonded than ever before.

This was the trail, the challenge that I didn’t dare to tackle on my own. Together it was an adventure of a lifetime with all the hardships and the moments of awe. One amazing thing to have achieved through the power of my own body and mind, and with a travel mate I wouldn’t chnge for the world. Someone who has become quite essential for now, and without whom it would never have been the same.
A long and beautiful trail, fulfilling a long time dream. Travel life how it’s meant to be.

For those who can’t get enough – the other side of the story, written by my travelmate, can be enjoyed here.

Next: Northbound. About searching, finding and sailing to the other shore. Marlborough & Wellington.

 

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