In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

There's a place that I dreamed of....

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From:       Kirstie and Stuart
Subject:   There's a place that I dreamed of....
  Date:         21st January 2005
    St Arnaud, Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand


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 forest islands.

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 Lake Rotoiti

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.



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