Magical History Tour You’ll Never Tyre Of
JENNY ROWLAND puts her body on the line to tackle one of New Zealand’s longest cycle routes.
TODAY WAS magical.
I mean, truly picture postcard, as in “is that scenery for real?” magical.
We have just cycled around Lake Pukaki on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. Today was also extra special as it marked 10 years since the official opening of the trail.
This is New Zealand’s longest cycle trail, stretching more than 300 kms and serving up epic views as you traverse from Aoraki Mount Cook out to the Pacific Ocean at Ōamaru.
I’m with the award-winning Tour de Vines on day one of this showstopping cycle trip.
The trail (like TdV) has won many accolades, including the Otago Sports Award and the ‘Epic Bike Rides of the World’ award. It was also endorsed as the ‘Jewel in the Crown of New Zealand’s Great Rides’ in the Wish You Were Here travel book by Terry Stevens in 2020.
Indeed, everyone should see this incredible scenery and the picture postcard views.
After a hearty breakfast (you need to FU – fuel up), we are back on the trail around the lakes and canals of McKenzie country.
Once again, my eyes are popping out of my head. We are so lucky that we have perfect weather for our 40k, mainly flat ride today. I’m thrilled that the riding is fairly easy as it means I can use all my energy on marvelling at the dramatic scenery that I’m surrounded by.
Lunch is 20ks in and is a delicious array of cold meats, cheese and crusty bread washed down with ginger beer and finished off with Rocky Road.
En route to the Oahu Lodge where we are overnighting, we stop for a dip in what I thought would be the icy, glacial waters of the canal.
I’m pleasantly surprised that I don’t have to do my “Wim Hoff” impersonation as the water is a temperate 20 degrees and perfect for those sore glutes and hammy’s.
I found today’s ride quite a slog and I’m not sure why. I seemed to be pedalling as fast as my co-cyclers. It all became apparent when we arrived at our overnight stop and our eagle-eyed guide Tony spotted my right brake had somehow been engaged for the entire ride…
Aha! That’s why I’m so knackered trying to keep up!
I am ecstatic to see a bathtub in my alpine chalet. It’s going to be a long soak for me…when I can tear myself away from the view outside my cabin window.
Uniquely Kiwi in style, the lodge is situated on the shores of Lake Oahu, 25kms between Christchurch and Queenstown, and is the perfect resting place after a hard day’s cycling or skiing.
I can only imagine what the views must be like in the winter months here. As it is, we can see ice caps on top of the mountains mid-summer.
After a very restful and rejuvenating night at the lodge, we are off to Clyde via the heritage town of Cromwell, a picturesque settlement on the shores of Lake Dunstan that was established during the Otago gold rush.
Once again, magnificent scenery and a great day riding topped off with a visit to Mount Difficulty vineyard, which is very misleading as it’s very easy to down a few of their delectable Pinot noir’s.
Our accommodation for the night is the very atmospheric Dunstan House. Built from 1898 and opened in 1900, this is an iconic and historic building situated in the heritage precinct on the main street of Clyde.
I’m delighted by my claw foot bath and my spacious room. I am looking forward to soaking and sleeping here before hitting the famous Otago Rail Trail (ORT) tomorrow.
The Otago trail
I have often been on picturesque train journeys where I’ve longed to jump off and enjoy the scenery.
Here on the Otago Rail Trail on the South Island of New Zealand, I am living that dream at last. Cycling this trail might be hard on the buttocks but it’s a feast for the eyes!
Along with the craggy mountainous beauty we have tunnels, gorges, bridges and a viaduct.
I’m not quite sure how the trains managed to get through those small tunnels. We just about managed it with our torches and a few ‘cooo-eeeys’.
The scenery changes every day and the buttock ache is alleviated by the sights, sounds and smells of being in nature.
The weather is glorious: so far, we’ve been incredibly lucky as I’d been told to expect four seasons in one day on the Otago, which was challenging for me as I could only bring one small carry on case.
Tonight, we’re staying at Pitches Store, which is very close to the trail. It’s great to see how many hotels, cafes and hospitality venues have sprung up and thrived as a direct result of the trail (NSW take note!).
The quality of the food, accommodation and coffee on this tour has been excellent and Pitches Store is no exception. Cycling makes you hungry and dinner here is a five-star experience.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner (except for one night) are all included. My expectations of being in calorie deficit sadly dashed.
The Central Otago Rail Trail originally provided a vital link between Dunedin and the major goldfields of Central Otago.
The Department of Conservation acquired the disused railway in 1993 and spent six years preparing and upgrading the route for use as a walking/cycling trail.
Cyclists can choose to complete the trail in one or multiple days depending on their level of experience/fitness. Our three-day journey was pretty flat and suitable for an enthusiastic beginner or intermediate rider.
Our final day saw the temperature plummet from 30 degrees to six! That’s not a typo….it was actually sleeting!
My excitement at only bringing a small suitcase turned to shivering anxiety as I was determined to do the last ride into Middlemarch.
Luckily our lovely guide Tony came to my aid and provided a very snug Merino wool jumper and a windproof raincoat that kept me warm and dry. As they say, there is no such thing as bad weather…just bad clothes. Thank you, Tony!
We were treated to a magnificent rainbow on the last bit of the ride and that was a very special way to end this magical tour.
With the rise in popularity in cycling, particularly e-bikes, I predict this beautiful trail will become more and more popular so get on your bike and do it!
Tour de Vines offer some fantastic Antipodean and European itineraries and I have been lucky enough to experience many of them and have reached the conclusion it’s the best way to travel.
There’ s a competition in this issue for a lucky reader to win the TDV South Australia tour through the Barossa, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale. Good luck!