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URGENT Safety Message: Please note that traffic volumes in the area have increased significantly since the Kaikoura earthquake due to the close of State Highway 1. It is NOT RECOMMENDED for riders to use State Highway 63 between Tophouse Road and St Arnaud village due to these increased traffic volumes.

St Arnaud — Hanmer Springs (2-3 days, 112km)

The Rainbow Trail connects St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs via the Wairau-Hanmer Springs Hydro and Tophouse roads and has long been a popular cycle touring route. It offers cyclists a remarkable wilderness experience with craggy, beech-covered mountains, flowing tussock lands and vast screes spilling from ridge crests to the valley floor in a remote high-country landscape.

It also connects with the St James Cycle Trail, one of the Great Rides of Nga Haerenga – the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

The road was built in the 1950s when the electricity pylons were installed to supply power to the Nelson and Buller regions. It was also the original stock route between Marlborough and Canterbury.

There are three basic campsites and three back-country huts available for accommodation along the trail. These are all located in Department of Conservation land, so visit the DOC website for more details.

HANMER SPRINGS THERMAL POOLS AND SPA

There’s no better way to ease aching muscles at the end of your ride than by relaxing at one of the best outdoor thermal retreats you’ll find anywhere. At Hanmer Springs you can enjoy the natural thermal water, pure air and surrounding mountains all year round.

Open-air thermal pools and sulphur pools allow you to soak up the rich minerals and the views, or truly relax in your own private spa. For more indulgence treat yourself at The Spa where massages and beauty treatments ensure the perfect pampering experience.

LAKE TENNYSON

This scenic high-country glacial lake sits in a beautiful, isolated spot at the headwaters of the Clarence River on the eastern fringe of the Nelson Lakes National Park. You can go camping and fishing here.

RIDING THE TRAIL

St Arnaud to Coldwater Creek (68km 1 Day) – Grade 3 Intermediate Coldwater Creek to Hanmer Springs (51km 1 Day) – Grade 3 Intermediate Severn to Sedgemere Link (24km) – Grade 4 Advanced

The Rainbow Trail travels through a remote area of New Zealand and across private land.

You cycle this route at your own risk, so safety is your responsibility. Plan your ride in advance, go well equipped and please respect the rights of the landowner.

You will pass through two working farms on this trail – Rainbow Station, which is privately owned, and Molesworth Station, which is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Access through this land is a privilege, not a right, so please keep to the trail and do not venture on to farmland.

  • Leave gates as you find them and respect stock and property.
  • Be prepared to encounter both livestock and vehicles at any point along the trail.

The Rainbow Trail starts approximately 9km east of St Arnaud at the Rainbow Rd turn-off on SH 63. The trail starts with a sealed section of road that winds its way to the Old Rainbow Homestead and toll gate where you will pay the $2 fee during the open season.

Permission for access is required outside the open season.

Beyond the old Rainbow Homestead and toll gate the Rainbow experience really begins. The trail fords a number of streams and crosses a bridge over the Wairau River before entering ‘Hell’s Gate’, a scenic narrow gorge.

You’ll find the Coldwater Creek campsite just above the gorge and the boundary between Rainbow and Molesworth stations is just a little farther on from there.

The turn-off to the Sedgemere Sleepout is located just after the trail recrosses the Wairau – it’s a few hundred metres down a side road off the trail. A short detour past the sleepout car park will provide you with a spectacular view over several high country lakes.

Island Saddle marks the highest point on this route and the boundary between Marlborough and Canterbury.

Not far from Island Saddle, a further detour (3km) will take you to Lake Tennyson, a scenic lake formed by a glacial moraine dam – an ideal spot for a picnic.

Approaching Hanmer Springs there is a three-way intersection before Jacks Pass on the northern side. If you’re keen for more cycling, continue left here on to the Molesworth Muster Trail, a 207km cycle trail through Molesworth Station to Blenheim. You might want to stop in Hanmer to restock supplies first, though.

Heading right down Clarence Valley Rd, you’ll enjoy a long downhill into the Hanmer Springs township and a soak in the famous hot thermal springs.

Getting There

St Arnaud is in the Upper Wairau Valley, 85 km from Nelson or 131km from Picton (via Blenheim).

Hanmer Springs is 134km north of Christchurch.

Bus services are available to and from both destinations.

Visitor Information

Be Prepared

There are no shops in between towns on the Rainbow Trail, so you will need to carry all of your supplies.

MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE: No mobile coverage available.

DRINKING WATER: Drinking water is scarce along the route. Some huts may have water supplies, although this is not assured in spells of dry weather. There are many clear streams along the way.

IMPORTANT: Access to Rainbow Road is seasonal and can be closed due to heavy rain or fire risk. 

The best time to ride the Rainbow Trail is when it’s open to public access (from Boxing day to Easter Monday). While access can be obtained outside of the open period – cyclists are advised against riding this trail during winter or after heavy rainfall.

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