5th February     THE RAINBOW ROAD

From the spa fun in Hanmer Springs, we drive via Jacks Pass on a bumpy gravel path to the remote and majestic Lake Tennyson formed from a glacial moraine dam, where we camp up for the night under a blanket of stars.   As we are up at 1100 metres, the temperature drops to zero so we layer up in the tent and manage to stay warm.  Waking up in the morning to the beauty of the lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains is astounding even though it is slightly freezing!  Trout are happily jumping out of the lake too!  A fellow camper tells us that fresh snow had just fallen on the mountain behind us during the night.

The 112km Rainbow Road crosses private land and is only open for public access from late December to early April.  The road was built in the 1950’s to install electricity pylons to the Nelson and Buller regions and is a historic stock droving route.

Leaving the lake after breakfast, we hit the 4×4 only track.  Steadily climbing we reach an altitude of 1250metres on the gravelly mountain ridge road and have our first glimpse of the Great Canterbury Plains.

The drive takes us over Island Saddle Pass at 1347m above sea level and the highest publicly accessible road in NZ.

After crossing Rag & Famish creek we continue onto the Sedgemere Lakes, known for their bird life.  We take a detour down to the edge but the lakes are deserted.  Over Bert’s creek, a small waterfall flows down the mountainside.

Back on the gravel track we drive along the narrow gravel mountain ridges with rock falls to one side leading down to the river.

We follow the river along to No Mans Creek and along to the Upper Wairau Valley.  Martin wants a photo and has to wade through a large puddle of freezing cold water to do so!  Upon entering Rainbow Station the road turns a little rougher.

The drive is stunning, through alpine country of clear rivers, bluffs, flat valleys and of course spectacular high country towering mountains interspersed with open grazing country filled with hundreds of sheep and cattle.


The landscape takes us from the top of craggy mountain slopes and down to the valley floor which is covered in flowing tussock grasses.

There is a junction of two roads, one leads straight up and another rubbly one leads along the river.  We decide to take the lower one and go into a steep fast flowing stream but make it through ok.  The car can’t get up the rubbly steep bank on the other side so Martin has to wade in and put some large rocks down for the car to grip on to.  With the car bouncing and sliding all over the place, he manages to pull it up.

We meet a group of cyclists at the gate before entering Hell’s Gate driving into a narrow gorge.

A bridge crosses the Wairu River followed by lots of mini fords and streams.

Out of the gorge and back into the valley, the mountains open up again. Triangular tipped green hillsides surround us.  Over bumpy Connor’s Creek with a waterfall to the right of the crossing, we push on down the valley.

On arriving at the Old Rainbow homestead, a man appears to collect the toll road payment of $25.

The alpine scenery suddenly gives way to a shaded beech forest which we drive through for a few kilometres, pulling off a side road to a secluded spot by the river where we stop for some lunch.

Arriving at the end of the road in St Arnaud’s, we stop at the Alpine Lodge for a drink before driving onto a holiday park in Motueka south of the Abel Tasman National Park.

A funny scene unfolds at the campsite, with a mans voice coming from the women’s bathrooms along the lines of “what do you think you’re dong? where’s your friend? do you think this is funny?! i’m calling the police! etc etc.

We start to wonder what is going on, then a few minutes later see a half naked and wet young woman come running out of the bathrooms and into a car where her ‘accomplice’ had been waiting.  She was using the showers without paying and from the look on her face obviously regretting it! lol  They take off at high speed with the campsite owner running after them!