Well the beginning of the Rainbow Road anyway. The road, a ‘wilderness driving’ experience is across private land and unfortunately is only open to the public from the end of December until Easter each year. The Rainbow Road connects St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs through the Upper Wairau Valley, you may remember we drove the other end of the road to Lake Tennyson, from Hanmer Springs, when we were there back in July.
The Upper Wairau Valley looking north towards Blenheim.
The Rainbow Road was built in the 1950s when electricity pylons were installed to supply power to the Nelson and Buller regions, the road crosses both Rainbow & Molesworth Stations.
The first 17kms of the road are sealed and in good condition although there are at least half a dozen fords to cross, most had what looks like historic signs with their names on them but I'm guessing the original of the one on the right is now adorning somebody's man cave.
With not alot of snow up on the mountain tops the flow across the fords was minimal.
And this is the reason the first 17kms of the road are sealed, the Rainbow Ski Field is up in the mountains to the right of the valley. We drove up the road for a short distance but unfortunately there was a locked gate across the entrance.
I walked up the road for a fair way hoping that around the next bend I’d be able to see the snow and the valley where the ski field is but after about six ‘next bend’, I gave up.
And returned to the gate where David was patiently waiting for me. On the way down I stopped where a slip had opened up the view across a mountain stream. This, to me, is quintessential New Zealand; rocky stream, teal coloured crystal clear ice cold water, thick dark green beech forest, craggy mountains, snow capped peaks, blue sky & fluffy white clouds! And what you can’t hear is the amazing bird song. While I love the coast, I’m beginning to think my heart belongs in the mountains.
We drove back down to the Rainbow Road and continued on for a short distance. Straight away we were into 4WD territory, the road rough and bumpy with a rocky ford to cross (the stream that I’d seen from up on the ski field road)
We decided we’d leave the rest of the road for another time, I wasn’t sure how much further we could travel before getting to the locked gate and David wasn’t too happy to cross these rocky fords when we had no need to. Mr TomTom told us it was 52kms from here to Lake Tennyson, over the section we have yet to travel. We have tentatively planned to do the complete round trip in the summer; that is drive through Molesworth Station from Blenheim, overnight in Hanmer Springs and then continue on over the Rainbow Road to St Arnaurd. Or perhaps we’ll do it in reverse so we can leave the 5th-wheeler in Murchison at the NZMCA park, either way there’ll be a bit of back-tracking to complete the circuit.
We turned around and headed back out, looking for a side track down to the river along the way so we could have some lunch and perhaps David could do a spot of fishing. We thought the first track was quite well looked after for a river track. That was until we broke out into a clearing and came face to face with a RNZAF compound complete with men in uniform wandering around. We had seen a sign on a fence saying Defence Area way back along the Rainbow Road but there was nothing indicating what was at the end of the track. We did a quick U turn and disappeared back up the bush covered track. I felt like a spy as I clicked away!
See, there’s that Defence Sign on the fence back behind us. Nowhere near the river!
There were a few cattle stops along the road and we could see the tell-tale signs splattered on the road but it wasn’t until we were returning that we saw any cattle. A calf creche, I wonder where all the other mums were; shirking duties & hiding in the bush me thinks.
The next track we found ran parallel to the road for a couple of kilometres before ending up on the river bank. Except the main river flow was a hundred metres across the shingle with numerous smaller braids to cross to get to it. We should have had lunch here but as is the case so often, we decided to find another track that might be closer to the water.
There were no more tracks and the road slowly climbed up out of the valley. Near the end we saw a track near a farm entrance and followed that for a short distance. It finished in a clearing at a farm gate where a hundred or so sheep & lambs were startled to see us. We got the chairs out (don’t ask me why David decided to get the big sun loungers out instead of our usual directors chairs- nothing like luxury out in the middle of a sheep paddock) and ate our lunch to the background noise of what sounded like 1000 lambs baaing as they tried to find their mums.
Just before the main road we spotted a hawk sitting on the road side, we thought it must be eating some road kill. But it didn’t lift off as we got closer and as David pulled up beside it, it tumbled down the bank and into the bracken & blackberry. David got out to check on it- it’s not like you can pick one up so I’m not sure what he was going to do if it was still upside down- but it had righted itself and was awkwardly perched in the brambles. I think it was ill, perhaps it had been hit by a car, it looked dazed and didn’t move as we approached. There was nothing much we could do for it so we left before it became too stressed.
On the way home we took a short detour via the Tophouse Road, where the historic Tophouse Homestead is located. The Tophouse Homestead is now a guesthouse, café & bar but was once a hotel & a very important one too, serving drovers & weary travellers on their way to and from Blenheim, Nelson & later Canterbury.
The Tophouse Hotel was built in 1887 and was so named because it was the farthest accommodation house inland on the overland route from Blenheim to Nelson. The hotel is infamous for a double murder–suicide in 1894 when the brother-in-law of the Tophouse owner murdered two men and then shot himself. Apparently the bullet holes are still visible in the veranda roof.