Celebrating 10 Years of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail®

Published on 15 February 2023


Friday 17 February will mark 10 years since the official opening of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. The Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is New Zealand’s longest cycle trail stretching over 300 kms and serving up epic views to cyclists as they traverse from Aoraki Mount Cook out to the Pacific Ocean at Ōamaru.

The story of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail began in February 2009 when the Prime Minister at the time, John Key pitched for a cycleway from Cape Reinga to Bluff. This was then followed by the idea to create a series of regional trails and the national cycleway project.

The government announced a budget of $50 million triggering conversations between Denis Callesen, Phil Brownie, Mike Barnett, Rick Ramsay, Glenn Ormsby, Rob Young, Ian Guthrie, Lesley Roy, Department of Conservation, Council members, tourism operators, and many other Waitaki and Mackenzie community members to build a national cycle trail beginning in Mackenzie.

The result was the development of the “Alps 2 Ocean'' concept based on a 300 km trail from the mountainous Aoraki Mt Cook to the coastal town of Ōamaru.

In 2010, the concept plan and the feasibility study grant were approved, and the first 1.3km section of the trail opened from the historic precinct in Harbour Street to the Penguin Colony in Ōamaru Harbour. Between 2011 and 2021, different sections of Alps 2 Ocean were developed, starting with the Lake Pukaki station followed by Tasman Point to Jollie River, Pukaki flats, Aoraki, Lake Ōhau, Ōhau to Quailburn, Ōmārama to Sailors Cutting, Kurow to Duntroon, Duntroon to Ōamaru, Lake Takapō to Takapō B alternative route, Sailors Cutting to Benmore, Aviemore Waitaki Village, and Awakino River to Kurow. To date 195kms of trail has been constructed including multiple boardwalks and bridges to support accessibility. Approximately 120km of trail (38%) currently remains alongside the road.

“It was indeed an inspired decision by the Prime Minister, John Key who supported the NZ Cycle Trail concept in February 2009 and backed it with $50 million in grants. Equally the members of the first A2O Working Group were innovative in the Alps 2 Ocean concept and in the design of a 5 - 7-day, 300 km route from Aoraki Mt Cook to the ocean at Ōamaru”, said Mike Neilson, the first Chair of the Alps 2 Ocean Joint Committee.

Inventive and a welcome addition to the local economy, this is something Mike Neilson is proud of. He continues, “This was truly innovative, to offer the longest trail, downhill, usually a tail wind and giving its riders for five days the pleasure of the wide sky landscape of the Mackenzie Basin, Waitaki and Waiareka Valleys and very importantly giving a five day and night expenditure boost to the districts’ economies.”

The trail was an instant success when it opened in 2012. This was due to several factors including its outstanding scenery and variety of landscapes, partnership programme support, community support, good leadership from the Joint Committee and Councils, and a well-led and driven Project Team. Additionally, companies that supported the vision, the high standard of the trail, excellent marketing of the trail by Tourism Waitaki and willingness of landowners and land managers to allow the trail to be routed through their properties all contributed to its success.

Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail Manager, Robyn Hyde said, “We are so grateful to the vision, foresight, and tenacity of the inaugural project team, as well as the collaborative effort of landowners, businesses and so many groups that help make the trail the success it is today. The continued partnership and support from landowners, businesses and the communities make the Alps 2 Ocean such a wonderful community asset and experience for users.”

Communities have been deriving economic benefit from the trail through several business streams including accommodation, food, transport, bike hire, repair and sales.

So, what does the future hold for the trail? The planning and consents have been completed for a further 23kms of trail on the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki and the section will be built once the funding is sourced. Further funding of $16M is required to complete the original vision of a fully off-road trail. The trail has won many awards including the Otago Sports Award, Epic Bike Rides of the World Award and was endorsed as the Jewel in Crown of New Zealand's Great Rides in the Wish You Were Here travel book by Terry Stevens in 2020.

The trail continues to gain more accolades under the new Joint Committee which was established in 2021 and the new role of the Trail Manager undertaken by Robyn Hyde. Waitaki and Mackenzie District Councils manage trail maintenance to help preserve and support this important asset.