E-bikes have my gold-card credit for age-related adventurists
In ticking off a marathon bike ride from the alpine remoteness of Aoraki Mt Cook to Oamaru’s coastal beauty, I have a raft of photographic evidence – and the coffee mug – to prove I didn’t cheat.
I ignore the odd side glance from purists and guffaws from some who consider an e-bike is hardly a marathon effort. Apart from me, our gold-card group were all 70 plus; everyone conceding they wouldn’t have tackled this ride at their stage in life without one. I can’t even contemplate it at 70!
And there’s the thing. Doing it is the achievement. How, just boils down to personal preference and ability. Medals aren’t handed out for struggling in the attempt. Pedalling is still a pre-requisite – the effort of speed is simply a choice. And on this particular ride, speed should be avoided – because as an expedition; the destination might be the goal, but it’s the journey that makes the memory.
Alps 2 Ocean is arguably this country’s most picturesque cycle trail. Once the final stage is finished on a state highway section, it’s tipped to rank among the world’s ‘grand’ routes. Like trails elsewhere, small towns are being revitalised, boutique businesses are springing up and tills are ringing.
Apart from the choice of bicycle, there are two ways of tackling the full trail. Gisborne’s Toni and Greg Lexmond did A2O as part of a self-planned group. However, unless someone else opts to drive, carry luggage and be support in the event of incidents, cyclists must turns on transport. Also, if staying longer in places to stretch the holiday is preferable, going it alone does have merit.
The other option is to choose an A2O official partner. In our case – Oamaru-based Trail Adventures. Personally, I recommend it – for the chopper flight across Tasman River alone. This option means sticking to a schedule – but in reality, given the mileage over seven days, there‘s time to enjoy the sights and attractions. The advantage is the assurance of professional equipment and back-up along the way. Better deals on accommodation probably too. We dined like royalty – morning, noon and night. Apart from arranging flights individually, everything was organised – accommodation, luggage transfers, maps, most meals and picnic lunches. The culmination was a tour of Oamaru with the affable Scott and Dee-Ann Fitzgerald who run Trail Adventures.
Time of year is a key decision: summer for the alpine flowers, early spring or autumn’s end for snow caps. In our case, April seemed perfect – until a cold front swept through days prior. A snow dump and sub-zero temperatures meant re-evaluating the luggage. Wet weather gear is always recommended anyway. Buying more merino at Tekapo on the way to Mt Cook Village also helped.
Alps 2 Ocean begins at the park above Mt Cook Village – the simplicity of this place a revelation in itself. The majestic Aoraki didn’t play ball initially – shrouded in white cloud with snow everywhere. Not being a long-haul cyclist by any stretch, it did tickle the senses about the impending escapade, however – 301 kilometres of mixed terrain; uphill, down dale, around lakes, flat trails amid nature, roads and towns – eventually weaving through Oamaru’s botanic gardens to the finish by this historic town’s harbour.
The beauty defies words. This trail embraces it all – from the dramatic skyline of the Southern Alps with its turquoise glacial lakes to the hydro lakes and power stations of Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki; the wind-swept wonder of New Zealand’s gliding capital at Omarama to the fossil history at Duntroon; the starkness of the McKenzie high country and Otago’s lush pasture to the insight of 19th Century history at the heritage Burnside Homestead.
It is an exquisite part of New Zealand – and what a way to see it. Naturally, the adventure of cycling west to east is made more enjoyable by weather. Wind and rain would no doubt dampen spirits. Mostly, this is about sharing the escapade with company. On trips like this, humour brings friends and strangers together. Without humour – forget it.
There’s something to be said about pushing the pedal on any given day – single file at times basking in the scenery at one with nature; coupled at other times sharing memories with people you might not have met before – or ever see again.
Journeys like this are a reminder of how life really mirrors sands in an hour glass – slipping through as we achieve, resolve and discover – not just for ourselves but with others. Cycling trails don’t allow masks. They are a medium that highlight one truth: in the face of challenges and human frailty, there’s always something to gain and appreciate.
I’m grateful simply for being invited. Alps 2 Ocean truly is a blast.
Alps 2 Ocean: www.alps2ocean.co.nz
Official partner: www. trailadventures.co.nz
Air NZ to Christchurch/Dunedin, airport pick-ups available, buses arranged
Things to Do: www.glideomarama.com; www.hottubsomarama.co.nz; www.vanishedworld.co.nz; www.penguins.co.nz