The first signs of civilisation are usually
spotted a few kilometres out of town. "Stuart, look, a sign.
I've seen a sign" shouts Kirstie excitedly. Tired legs find
a new lease of life in a race to bring the lettering into
focus and get our first glimpse of the delights that lie
beyond. "A hostel…there's a hostel here." We conjure up
mental pictures of fresh crisp sheets on bunk beds, of a
fully equipped kitchen, and deliciously hot showers. Or
the sign might be for a café. At once we can smell cappuccino
and taste freshly baked croissants. For the last few kilometres
of this wilderness we pedalled in the burning sunshine,
amusing ourselves by sign spotting. "Kiwi Park Campsite-
will there be Kiwi's?"
As soon as we saw the first café in Murchison
we hit the brakes. Cameron was already half way out of his
buggy and screaming to be released from the straps. In the
café garden was a small climbing frame. Having been playground
deprived for a week, the kids raced up to it joyously. We
were similarly unrestrained with the café menu. Baskets
of wedges with sour cream, plates of nachos, bowls of latte
and a selection of cakes. The children drank their apple
juice in one gulp, and thirstily clamoured for more. We
were back in civilisation, and boy did it taste good.
It's a thumbs up to civilisation
Next stop, the supermarket,
where aisles and aisles of fresh produce tempted us to buy.
Ripe strawberries, fat avocadoes, hairy Kiwi fruit, fresh
new potatoes. Matthew suddenly developed a craving for green
beans, and demanded we buy a kilo of them. Half an hour
later we were a hundred and fifty dollars poorer, and the
buggies were groaning with the strain of all the food. The
bags wouldn't fit in, and so the kids shared their seats
with several bulging carriers. "Green beans, green beans,"
they chanted over and over. "Can we have carrots, can we
Mum? And green beans too?" That evening we tucked into bowls
of fresh vegetables, a real vegetable dinner.
While we ate we chatted about
the trials of the last seven days, about our meeting with
Wally and Noreen way back in Hanmer Springs and about their
story of romancing in the Alpine village of St Arnaud at
end of the Rainbow Road. We decided we had to see the place
for ourselves. The intrigue and mystery of the Rainbow's
end exerted so powerful a pull that we quickly abandoned
the delights of civilized living to take to the back roads
again for one last 70km push to St Arnaud.
"I don't f***ing believe
it," cursed Kirstie as we pushed both bikes up a steep shingle
track, "I'm sick of your back routes. I swear I'll never
ride another gravel road again. I've had enough." We all
had by now.
"Will this ever end?"
"Dad, why are we camping
with the flies again?" asked Matthew as he helped set up
the tent at the beautiful but sandfly infested Lake Rotoroa
at the bottom of the track. "Because I am stupid and filthy,"
said Stuart beating his brow while admonishing his poor
judgment and route choices.
We finally rode into
St Arnaud on a road which our eyes told us was pure downhill
but our legs swore was uphill all the way. "The Gods have
this place well protected," said Stuart. Thankfully our
altimeter confirmed our legs were telling the truth and
we were not going mad. We parked up the bikes and ate ice
cream in this quiet, one shop village lying high in the
mountains, perched at the top of Lake Rotoiti.
Alpine decorated bars celebrate
our arrival at St Arnaud, the end of the Rainbow
Part of the Nelson
Lakes National Park, St Arnaud is a peaceful sanctuary set
amidst vast honeydew beech forests that reach from lakeshore
to mountain top. The forest hums with wasps in search of
honeydew, kaka chatter in the canopy and bellbirds chime
their pure, enchanting magic. St Arnaud is home to the Rotoiti
Recovery Project, pioneering conservation work which aims
to turn back the clock and revive ancient forest eco-systems
damaged by man and the pests we introduced to the countryside.
Stoats, possums, deer, rats and mice numbers have been heavily
controlled to create 'islands' of forest where nature's
old balance of species can be restored. With fewer predators
it is hoped that kaka, kiwi, yellowheads, geckos, and giant
snails can be reintroduced and flourish while forest foliage
can thrive safe from browsing mammals. One day they hope
visitors will be able to walk back in time in these mainland
We strolled with the kids
on the interpretive 'Honeydew Walk' through sunlit woods
amidst the black fungus covered trunks of mountain beech.
Some people think kids as young as ours are too young to
learn about eco-systems but we're continually surprised
at just what they can take in when you bother to explain
it simply and make a game of it. "Let's be stoats Dad,"
said Matthew, "and we can eat kaka for dinner." "No, I'm
a wasp," said Cameron, buzzing and stinging his brother,
"I want a drink of honey." "That's the honey over there
Cameron," said Matthew, pointing to sweet drops of nectar
hanging off silky threads poking out of the sooty fungus.
"That's right Matt. And that sweet juice is hanging at the
end of the scale insects anal tube, the insect with longest
anal tube in the world,'" added Stuart reading off the interpretive
panel. An obscure fact that somehow reminded us of our arduous
9 day, 280km journey from Hanmer to St Arnaud, the long
and windy way around.
"Let's be stoats Dad"
We spent the weekend like
a normal family. On Saturday morning we woke up in clean
white sheets in a little wooden cabin. We put the television
on for the kids to watch cartoons, made fresh coffee and
lay in bed reading the weekend papers and eating biscuits.
We hired a canoe and paddled around the mirror-like misty
lake, drinking in its mystical atmosphere.
Early morning paddling on
Perhaps we experienced something
of the romance of Wally and Noreen's pot of gold, or perhaps
we had found the end of our own rainbow. The gain, in
the end, was worth the pain.