Once through the Rainbow & Molesworth Stations’ boundary the road enters the classic South Island landscape of rounded dusty coloured mountains covered in scrawny matagouri, long scree slopes and beautiful blue skies. The road continues to wind it’s way alongside the Wairau River, which is getting narrower by the mile.
Once the road passes over the next ridge a wide valley opens up ahead of us and far off in the distance we can see a tiny blue lake and a red roof, this will be Lake Sedgemere. Below us a single lane bridge once again crosses the Wairau, this time with marker posts along the edge & a One Way sign to tell us who has right of way. It is after all a public road now.
We take a short side road, past DOC’s Sedgemere Sleepout (a standard 6 bunk hut) and drive up to Lake Sedgemere’s carpark. Two DOC vehicles are parked there and three guys are preparing to head off on a hike. These must be the guys that our happy fishermen (see Part 1) have been having evening drinks with. David stops for a chat and finds out that they are on possum control! Possums. In this landscape? In fact they are on a possum counting expedition, checking to see if any are in the area. I guess they'd be easy to spot...
I leave David chatting to the DOC guys and head up to the Lake Sedgemere viewpoint. The shelter is just like the one we saw at Lake Tennyson last July, when we drove in to there from Hanmer Springs. An information panel attached to the shelter explains the design and I think it fits into the landscape very well. There are numerous interpretation panels attached to the shelter to explain the history of the area and the importance of Lake Sedgemere.
The lake is virtually a large puddle surrounded by a wetland but in fact this lake along with the surrounding ‘tarns, seeps, flushes, swamps and fens’ of Sedgemere and Tarndale is the most significant high country wetland system in South Marlborough supporting a wide range of plant species, fish, insects, lizards & birds. We only see the plants.
Beside the shelter is a large rock with a memorial plaque for WB Acton-Adams who was the runholder for over 30 years for a vast area which became the three high country stations that now belong to the Crown (Rainbow Station is leasehold land and as such the road through it is private).
We head back to the road to continue on towards Lake Tennyson, still another 16kms further on. We start to falter about here and wonder whether we should turn around and head for home. The gravel road and the dust is starting to get to us but we decide to carry on, it is only 16kms after all (but as I’ve mentioned before, it always feels at least double that when on a dusty gravel road).
We pass over another gravel slide, open the last of the gates and start to climb through Island Gully towards the high point ahead of us. Off to the side are more huge ‘rocks’ and a small wetland that has a few cattle resting beside it.
At the top of the climb we arrive at Island Saddle, at 1347 metres above sea level this is the highest point on the Rainbow Road. It is also the watershed between the Wairau & Clarence Rivers and the boundary between Marlborough & Canterbury.
I take a photo looking back down the the valley from where we have come. The vegetation is now tussock grasslands and alpine groundcover in many different shades of green.
As we head down the other side of the saddle the vista opening up ahead of us is breath-taking, the road drops steeply and winds it’s way through the valley ahead. The road down this steep section is the worst we’ve encountered so far; it’s very badly corrugated as we bounce about inside the cab. David tries various speeds to try and counter the ruts but nothing helps and we’re both grateful when we finally reach the bottom. Lake Tennnyson must surely be around the far bend!
Ahead of us I spot what looks like an oasis, a cluster of bright green 'palm' trees beside a bridge. They look totally out of place and when we get close I see they’re just a group of ordinary trees that look a little like wattles. Maybe there was once a house here beside Serpentine Creek.
Another wetland system of tarns nestles into the landscape below one of those ever present pylons. This is the beginning of the Clarence River which winds it’s way towards Hanmer Springs, through Molesworth Station, along the inside of the Seaward Kaikoura Range, around the top of the range and out to the east coast entering the ocean at Clarence which is between Kaikoura and Kekerengu.
Finally we reach the turn off to Lake Tennyson where a short track takes us to the lake’s edge. A lonely DOC dunny sits in the middle of the tussock. There’s a 'basic' DOC camp here at the lake and by basic they mean a long drop, a camp site wherever a clump of tussock isn’t growing and fresh water- from the lake.
There’s no snow on the mountains across the lake this time but there’s a cool wind blowing and it’s pretty bleak and miserable when the sun disappears behind a cloud. David parks the ute to break the wind, we get the chairs out and have a quick but satisfying late lunch (it’s around 3pm- no wonder the sandwiches are soggy!) before bundling everything up and back into the vehicle and heading back the way we'd come.
It took us four hours to travel the 73kms from St Arnaud to Lake Tennyson but this included many stops along the way. Hopefully we'll be able to halve that on the return journey. In fact we need to otherwise we won't make it back through the last gate before it's locked at 6pm.
To be continued……
Part 3- The Return Journey