Cycling NZ’s South Island: Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

The Alps 2 Ocean Trail stretches more than 300km and is the longest of New Zealand's Great Rides.

The Alps 2 Ocean Trail is one ride on The New Zealand Cycle Trail network – a combined 2,500km of multi-day cycle rides through spectacular landscapes.

Stretching more than 300 kilometres from mountains to sea, the Alps 2 Ocean is New Zealand’s longest Great Ride and destined to become one of the world’s classic cycling adventures. Mostly off-road, easy going and full of surprising sights, it’s the perfect way to savour some of the South Island’s most memorable landscapes.

There’s no doubt about it – this trail packs a seriously scenic punch. New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook, sets the bar high at the Southern Alps start-point, but it’s just the tip of an immense and inspiring iceberg.

Ever-changing braided rivers twist through glacier-carved valleys; turquoise waters lap within willow-lined hydro-lakes; golden tussock stretches as far as the eye can see; giant boulders lie like islands in rolling fields; and the wild Pacific Ocean crashes against the shore of a charming port town. There’s all this and more.

In the midst of such grandeur are all sorts of off-the-bike activities, including lake swimming and stargazing from an alfresco hot tub. Heritage walks, wine-tasting, penguin-spotting and even glider flights can be enjoyed along the trail, as can welcoming country cafes and restaurants, and accommodation ranging from campsites to luxury lodges. 

Divided into eight sections, the trail’s varied terrain means there’s something for everyone. Smooth, easy rides follow canal paths, quiet country roads, old railway lines and flowing cross-country tracks, while hill climbs and rough stuff will satisfy intermediate riders. Tour operators offering bike hire, shuttles and luggage transfers make logistics a breeze. 

The trail starts at the foot of Aoraki/Mt Cook, where visitors can survey the snowy peaks and explore the national park village before pedalling off down a wide, open valley. A helicopter-hop transfers riders across the Tasman River where the trail skirts along the shores of Lake Pukaki towards Twizel. The equally enjoyable alternative first leg, starting at Lake Tekapo, wends in a leisurely fashion along surreal blue canals and through golden highlands to Twizel. 

For riders not going the whole distance, these two sections make brilliant day trips, but there are many more options around the famously beautiful Mackenzie Country. Twizel is a handy base for such adventures, which include the easy 38km section to Lake Ohau, past idyllic Loch Cameron and Pukaki Canal to a lakeside trail in the shadow of the Ben Ohau range. 

The next leg from Lake Ohau to Omarama offers some of the trail’s most spectacular views at it climbs around an old moraine terrace offering changing perspectives of the high country and surrounding ranges.

Situated at a major crossroads on the South Island touring route, Omarama is also a pleasant base for Alps 2 Ocean day rides, particularly the leg down the Waitaki Valley to Kurow. The trail skirts two hydrolakes – Benmore and Aviemore – and serves up vistas of mountain ranges, willow-lined shores and a striking power station.

The trail meets increasingly lush, rural land as it descends towards the coast. There is plenty to see on the meandering route, including vineyards, a lavender farm and oddly shaped Elephant Rocks, as well as a spooky tunnel the trail passes through as it follows an old railway line.

Oamaru’s splendid botanic gardens herald the tail end of the trail, topped off at the harbourside park where riders can celebrate with a paddle in the sea and a beer at the waterfront brewery. 

Cycling 300 kilometres is no mean feat, but such is the epic scenery and unique experiences of the Alps 2 Ocean that for many it will be the ride of a lifetime. And those who get just a taste of it on a shorter trip will no doubt be left hungry for more. 

Background: New Zealand Cycle Trail

In May 2013, the New Zealand Cycle Trail was named as one of the best cycle trails in the world at the International Trails Symposium, hosted by American Trails in Arizona. 

The New Zealand Cycle Trail is a network of multi-day off-road trails and touring routes throughout New Zealand offering 2,500km of riding through outstanding landscapes.

A complete list of the New Zealand Cycle Trails and associated accommodation and providers is available at: