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Whats in a Name

The origins of the name ‘Rainbow’ are a little unclear – either an urban myth or more likely the translation of an old Maori name.

Urban Myth

The origins of the name Rainbow can be traced back to the 1850s, from the book ‘Foot Prints’ by J N W Newport. This is referred to in ‘Marlborough Place Names’ where Newport described the naming of the valley with the following story:

“This valley was named after a shepherd called Rainbow who first stocked a run here with about 8000 wethers. Mr ER Goulter states that when Rainbow returned after an absence of about a year, he found all his sheep had disappeared, and the missing sheep were never found.”[1]

Maori Origins

The colonial exploration of the Upper Wairau in April 1855 saw Travers, Locke, Maling and Oldham accompanied by Maori guides heading into the region, and in their descriptions of the journey they wrote:

“… Te Kopi o Uenuku (the Rainbow River) had its source in the mountains above Lake Rotoroa”.[2]
The Nelson Examiner published a number of original articles written by Travers, the first of these was dated 5 May 1855. In his articles, Travers described the explorers slog through foul weather into the area, before being forced to turn back from somewhere near Tarndale. A few years later, on 14 March 1860, Travers reported:
“From the size of the river at the point where we first struck it, and from the appearance of the valley towards the north, I should suppose the river-course to this point to be about 10 miles, through a glen bounded on either side by rugged mountains, the Clarence, the Wairau, and the Te Kopi-o-Wenuku  or Rainbow River, rising amongst those which lie on its eastern side”.[3]

Mt Robert

In early records, Sir Julius von Hasst is credited with being the first to climb Mt Robert on 17 January 1860.  Hasst was married to Antonia Johanna Caroline Schmitt, and Mt Robert is reputedly named after their son Matthais Robert who was 12 years old at the time of the first climb.

Six Mile Creek

One of the fords on the Rainbow Valley road crosses Six Mile Creek. The exact origins of the name of the creek are a mystery – exactly six miles from where? It has been thought that six miles might refer to the distance from the creek to the original homestead. In any case, the ski field nestles comfortably in Six Mile basin which gives rise to the creek.

A photo of the first old original rope tow up at the Rainbow Ski Field in Six Mile Creek. The tow was powered and driven by an old diesel Fordson tractor, which had its back wheels taken off and replaced by large role pulleys. To allow the pulleys to run freely and drive the rope tow the tractor was jacked up onto an iron frame. The tractor was housed in an engine shed which was purposely built for it.

Notice the large diesel tank situated behind the engine shed which was very close to the creek in the foreground. Because this creek drained the wetlands area on the right of the photo, this tank was shifted to another safer site. In later years, large concrete culvert pipes were put in this creek then filled and levelled out over the top of them.

Photo taken by Malcolm Aitken about 1982.

[1] ‘Marlborough Place Names’, ‘Foot Prints’ by J N W Newport.

[2] Te Tau Ihu O Te Waka, a history of Maori in Nelson and Marlborough, Volume 11, 2007, p.292, chapter by Hilary & John Mitchell.

[3] “Papers Past” original articles written by Travers in the Nelson Examiner.

Find out about the Rainbow ski field trails here

Find out about the Rainbow ski field road reatures here