St Arnaud to Hanmer Springs or Blenheim
A long, beautiful, isolated gravel road through stunning semi-alpine country, clear rivers, bluffs and flat valleys. One to two days. This is one of New Zealand's great rides but empty of any stores or supplies. Take plenty of water and food and you will thoroughly enjoy this adventure.
Take State Highway 7 out of St Arnaud and follow the road to the Rainbow Ski field turn off on your right. The road dips and curves through a bush valley down to a river that runs along to your left. Don't head up to the ski field by mistake, but keep the river to your left hand side and follow it along a reasonably flat, metalled road with the occasional pylon on your right.
This is a rough track, but you can cover it reasonably well with a standard touring bike. Keep your tyres pumped up hard to prevent notorious 'snake bite' punctures as the river stones on the track frequently shatter into sharp edges.There are several places to camp along the way, most notably Coldwater Stream. You may be required to pay a nominal toll at the old coach house at the beginning of the track. Toward the end of the Rainbow Road the landscape opens up to reveal your first glimpse of the great Canterbury Plains. From here it is all downhill to Hanmer Springs. Take a rest here for a while, there are a number of hot springs in the area and a welcome place to bathe and soak any aching muscles.
Hanmer has campgrounds, backpackers, supermarkets, coffee bars, restaurants and a bike shop. It's a good place to relax and refresh yourself before tackling the longer, but equally stunning, Molesworth Road north to Seddon.
If you do not wish to travel the Rainbow Road, try this route east to Blenheim. It's a quiet, rolling day that rises briefly for a few kilometres out of St Arnaud and then strolls slightly downhill all the way to Blenheim. It's a good road with the wind behind you and the scenery is quiet and pastoral and there are a few interesting bridges and shingle streams. You can cover some long kilometres very quickly on this road and in good conditions you can make up to 25-26 kilometres an hour depending on your legs.
There are no stores until the pub at Wairau Valley, although there is a basic DOC camp at Kowhai Point (toilet and water tap, but water must be boiled). Stop at Renwick, 10 km this side of Blenheim and immerse yourself in the wine growing area of Marlborough. Enjoy yourself!