Kurow, NZ to Omarama, NZ

32.4 mi / 9.5 mph / 1824 ft. climbing
Home: Omarama Top10 Holiday Park

We covered the prescribed distances during our first two days riding the Alps2Ocean Great Ride, but today we packed two “days” into one. Yes, the rest day helped a bit, but mostly we cheated. It wasn’t all our fault though! On this section of the Waitaki River, there are a series of dams to generate electricity. And just like passing the winery the other day on the one day that it was closed, today was one of the rare days that the power company closes the road over one of their dams for maintenance (this unluck is making up for our low-tide luck that allowed us to see the Cathedral Caves and the Moeraki Boulders).

The A2O route uses that dam road to leave the highway and cross to the opposite side of the river/reservoir. We would instead need to just be on the highway for that section, and it felt like the closure was also giving its tacit approval for us, in the pre-closure section, to ignore the trail and ride on the highway even there. And since we’re always just a coin-flip away from taking roads over a trail anyway, that was all we needed to nudge us to pavement right from the start.

Heading out on the highway, right across the street from our Kurow accommodation for two nights.

And it seemed like the right call, as we could see the trail rising unreasonably high above us on the hillsides as we stayed relatively-flat on the road. When we hit the actual “detour”, the inaccessible trail just went up the opposite side of the valley as our highway, so we weren’t missing much scenically.

One of several dams on the Waitaki River, and I think you can see the trail we were supposed to be on on the opposite side.

At first Rett was really loving the ride through the dry mountainous landscape that reminded us of eastern Washington and a less-dramatic Columbia River Gorge. But then an unforecasted headwind kicked up, and the mental blow from that elevated the physical pain from her aching hip, which was a bit of a new injury she’s been feeling the last couple of days.

The next dam upriver. The road also seemed to rise in stair-steps similar to the water levels.
The views from the highway were nothing to complain about.

In 17 miles we had made it to Otematata and the end of the prescribed day. But it would have been considerably longer if we had been on the trail, as the town is significantly off-route (but the guide still suggests returning to the highway and the town and then climbing back out to the trail again the next day). For us, having arrived directly, we now had a choice. This was our opportunity to finally get onto the trail, or, we could just do the whole day on the road.

Maybe some 2nd-breakfast would help us decide. We stopped at a cute food truck called “The Hungry Hydro”, in a case of successful targeted advertising. On the A2O Facebook post where the route closure was announced, someone (presumably the owner!) had commented “too bad, but that means riders will be able to stop at the Hungry Hydro on the way through Otematata!” Without that tip, we would have just gotten pre-packaged junk at the On The Spot convenience store (since it appeared first), but instead we knew to bypass it and get a fresh-baked muffin and scone, coffees (a 2nd-breakfast rarity for us), and most-importantly, advice! The clerk knew a lot about the area, and the trail, and with her help we debated the hills, the gravel, the traffic, the distance, the views, etc. This off-highway loop would actually take us into a different valley than the highway, but the climb up to it sounded pretty brutal, and with Rett’s hip we decided to just make it an all-highway day.

That doesn’t mean we could completely avoid climbing a big hill, and in fact the highway hill was taller (750 ft), but not nearly as steep. It was sort of a New Zealand unicorn, a big hill that stayed entirely within the range of our gears and thus, our muscles’ aerobic respiration. How odd! We also saved ourselves seven miles, and got through to the next reconnection of trail and road probably an hour faster than we would have on the trail, and with that much less strain on Rett’s hip.

Looking back toward Otematata and Lake Aviemore from the big hill.
After the big hill, a new view, a new lake, and our first sight (since we’ve been on the Alps2Ocean) of the Alps!
There were definitely some cars on today’s route, but nothing that would make us say “this road is terrible, someone needs to build a trail that parallels it!”
Leaves changing color and falling. Autumn has arrived to the South Island!

After the join, we actually wanted to get on the trail where it hugged the pretty shore of Lake Benmore much closer than the road, but even at the spots where it was easily visible from the road, there was a fence keeping us from crossing over. Oh well, better to keep it a “pure” no-trail day anyway!

Seems like the trail down there might be better because it doesn’t climb as high as the road, right? Nope, just after the curve the trail suddenly rises to cross the road, so better to have the smoother more-gradual climb.

Arrival in Omarama completed the second prescribed day of of cheating two-in-one. We got a nice huge grassy site at the Top10 Holiday Park, that had the nice high-quality Top10 amenities without the overcrowded buzz of some of them. When I was walking into the kitchen, a woman eating outside offered me the remains of her tortellini (I think she recognized me as a cyclist), and then her husband informed me that Jane Campion’s set-in-Montana western “The Power of the Dog” had actually been filmed right in this area. We have seen it, but that’s one New Zealand movie reference I had been unaware of! But it makes perfect sense, with Rett earlier comparing the landscape to eastern Washington. It definitely works as Montana too!


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