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

Somewhere over the Rainbow

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From:       Kirstie and Stuart
Subject:   Somewhere over the Rainbow
  Date:         13th January 2005
     Rainbow Road, Canterbury, New Zealand


Wally and Noreen were from the other side of the Rainbow. Childhood sweethearts separated by marriage to other people and reunited to spend their later years together, they'd found their pot of gold and very happy they were too.

Wally first introduced himself to us when we first arrived in Hanmer Springs, a pretty alpine style thermal springs resort two hours drive North from Christchurch. "You cycling our beautiful country? Good on you, where you off to next?" He was excited to hear we were hoping to take the Rainbow Road, a 112km wilderness trail from Hanmer to St Arnaud. It became clear that St Arnaud was a place of great significance to this eccentric old gentleman. For us, it looked like a fascinating shortcut, a wild and beautiful route through mountainous back-country and, best of all, avoiding a much longer way around with the holiday traffic, unbearable at this time of year. Even before we'd met Wally, we'd set our hearts on travelling this legendary trail where 'vast screes spill from ridge crest to valley floor in a lonely landscape.' Wally used to take his boys shooting up the Rainbow and knew the country well, "It's a tough trail and wild tussocky country, a hard ride in an old van," he warned us, "If you try it, you'll know soon enough whether you want to carry on or whether it's too much for you."

We'd done our homework on the route, and sought local information on its condition and viability. All in all it sounded quiet, beautiful, wild, challenging, possible but closed. The day we arrived in Hanmer a landslip blocked part of the road closing it temporarily. The word was that clearance was underway and bikes would be able to get through within a few days so we took to the thermal pools to wait it out.

Three days later we lost patience, and packed up our bags to find out for ourselves what lay the other side of the Rainbow.On our way out of town a familiar brown Cortina estate overtook us, swerving in front and mounting the pavement. A sprightly old Wally jumped out grinning wildly, his spectacles reflecting the midday sun. He was pleased to see us again and keen to introduce Noreen, shuffling her out of the old car with pride.

Childhood sweethearts Wally and Noreen

"Heading on the Rainbow then? I said to Noreen you weren't the type to be put off easily. But if you change your mind there's a sealed road that'll take you all the way to coast at Kaikoura. Good as gold. You'd love it there." We blocked the road and chatted for a while captivated by these sweethearts who had taken more than forty years to get it together. As we made to set off, Wally thrust a piece of paper in our hands with his address and phone number on it, "Perhaps we can correspond. And if you make it, say hello to St Arnaud for us. It's a very special place. " And then in a parting whisper, "We had our first intimate acquaintance there, you know, all those years ago. The parents were there to chaperone but turned a blind eye lucky for us." He grinned, waving us off and beeping his horn as we cycled towards the start of the Rainbow.

It began with a tough 6km 600m climb up the winding and gravelly Jack's Pass. The sun was oppressive and a hot North Westerly wind was gusting in our face. As the gradient increased our wheels began to lose traction, spinning helplessly on the loose gravel, tyres spitting shingle, caught between the upward thrust of our wasting muscles and the downward pull of leaden buggies. Progress was painfully slow but metre by metre, pushing, pulling and pedalling, sweating, swearing and screaming, we made our way up.

"Rainbow, what Rainbow?" This road could drive a girl crazy

After a while we abandoned cycling, left one bike in a ditch and together pushed the other up the hill. After two hours we were 200m and 3km up when a passing truck stopped us and asked where we were going. "i wouldn't go that way," he said. "I've just come from working on the Rainbow Road. It's piled with boulders. You'll never make it with those." He gestured towards the buggies and then looked more closely. "You haven't got kids in there?" He looked startled. "Nah. You can't do that. A Chinese woman tried it with a kid a while back. Kid was crook by the end, lungs full of dust." He sped off, his tyres kicking back an avenue of grime and dust, making us choke. "How many Chinese women have you ever seen on a bicycle?" said Stuart scathingly. But the seeds of doubt had been sown presenting us with a real dilemma. Should we follow our Rainbow over Jacks Pass, conquering Island Saddle's 1347m pass on the way to St Arnaud. Or should we turn back for an extra seven hilly days riding, risking life and limb on the holiday highways, never to find out what lies at the end of the Rainbow. We called a family meeting but two of us were fast asleep in buggies. We sat on the gravel exhausted and unsure of which way to turn.



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