St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs
21-24 January 2000
This well advertised trip was so oversubscribed that the number of participants extended to 26! It was a fine exercise in logistics. A party of 25 assembled to catch the 6.30 Lynx ferry. Frozen meat and other perishable foods were packed into three large chillybins. Party members' packs were checked through as usual, then 25 folk with 25 mountain bikes boarded the car deck of the ferry. Rodney, our leader, was aboard with his borrowed Toyota Land Cruiser full of such items as a gas barbecue, tarpaulins, ice, containers of water and he greeted us in the Club Class Lounge… for this was a gourmet trip!
A smooth fast crossing and we transferred the packs and bikes to three trailers, one behind the Land Cruiser and two behind the buses. We were to become expert at this. Our camp at West Bay, St. Arnaud was set up by the light of a huge yellow moon and we were sleeping by 11.30.
Next morning was grey but dry. A small fit group of cyclists was starting from the campsite. After a repack of bikes and packs the rest were taken in the buses to the Rainbow Ski Field road end which was actually quite a few kilometres less than had been planned. Another repack of packs into the large trailer pulled by the Land Cruiser and we were off. The road, which is gravel and advertised as suitable for 4WD although possible for 2WD, was in reasonable condition. The first 10 kilometres followed the Wairau River through beech forest and crossed various side creeks. A light wind was behind us and it was very pleasant undulating riding. At the locked gate, where a DoC warden is stationed over the summer, we caught up with Rodney and the support vehicle. We had a drink and snack stop.
Carrying on, the valley became less wooded and more open and we had some long level sections as the wind increased behind us. We were passed by a few cars going in the opposite direction and as we neared Hell's Gate, a fine gorge, it began to rain. It continued quite steadily and as we reached Coldwater Creek camp spot, Rodney decided to make an earlier than planned lunch stop. Moments after we made some shelter with a tarp the heavens opened and it blew hard. The fit group caught up and we huddled together, cold and wet, while we boiled billies.
After some discussion it was decided that because of the wind it might be better to stop at Lake Sedgemere rather than the exposed and considerably further Lake Tennyson. We set off again in the rain. Motor bikes and cars passed us then we had the road to ourselves. As we continued through the gorge and then followed the narrowing valley the rain eased. One puncture was all that we had had so far with 52 wheels! We crossed the Wairau and the boundary between the Rainbow and Molesworth Stations. We were in South Island tussock country and were high enough to have subalpine gentians flowering alongside the road. The rain eased but the wind increased. And as we rode down the hill towards the Lake Sedgemere stop we were all quite willing to stop and pitch camp after 31km total (for most). We had some shelter from some planted pines and the "kitchen" was set up in the shelter of a locked cabin. 26 people then proceeded to enjoy a gourmet BBQ and potluck dinner!
The forecast was not encouraging, yet next morning the sky was clearing and we set off with a steady and unrelenting climb to Island Saddle at 1347m, our highest point. We waited for the whole party and had fine views in all directions. After an exhilarating ride down, steeply at first then more gently we reached Lake Tennyson. It was sunny and clear but with quite a chop on the lake. In the distance Mt Una in the Spensers was still carrying snow patches. We stopped briefly then carried on downhill with the wind giving some of the riders speeds of over 50km per hour. We collected together at Duncan's Creek for lunch and lazed in hot sun - a striking contrast to the day before! The afternoon was a bone and teeth shattering ride as we followed the Clarence River down past the Jacks and Jollies Pass turnoffs and into the Acheron. It was after 4pm when most of the riders reached camp at the Acheron Accommodation House, a fine example of a cob building built in the 19th century and restored by the Historic Places Trust. The gourmet standard was continued at dinner and as the distance cycled today was 70km, most had excellent appetites. The puncture tally for the day was two.
The forecast continued to be poor and in the morning we had a fine example of a northerly arch with grey/black sky to the west. We set off early, steadily back up the road we had come down, sometimes against the wind, sometimes with it on our backs. The wind was getting stronger and as we approached the Jollies Pass turnoff we seemed to be cycling into a huge rainbow in a blue/black sky. We were in a spectacular rain shadow. Some of the group went over Jacks Pass, some chose Jollies. Both lots got blown up and over the passes. The hard part was to slow down on the other side with both the wind and gravity at work.
We reached Hanmer Springs before 10am to discover the storm had caused a power blackout and small branches had been blown off trees. Fortunately the power came back on and we adjourned to the hot pools for a soak. One puncture and one scraped elbow today. After a quick lunch our three vehicles were once again loaded up with packs and bikes.
The four and a half-hours ride to Blenheim took us to Alan Scott's vineyard and restaurant. Yes another good meal! We caught the Lynx back, now so efficient with our unpacking and boarding.
A cycling trip like this requires good planning and a team effort, which is similar to tramping, yet the potential for problems with bikes and differing abilities, is perhaps greater. This was a well planned and thoroughly enjoyable trip.
Those who went "Over the Rainbow" were: Adrienne, Alan, Anne, Carol, Dave, Derek, Edith, Erica, Howard, Ian, Jenny, John, Lynn, Mary, Merran, Peter, Rodney (leader), Sarah, Sean, Sheena (scribe), Stuart, Sue, Sylvia, Tim, Thomas and Vivienne.