Biking the Old Ghost Road on their 10 year anniversary.
There has to be some reward for ten years! My husband, Hamish, mooted the idea that we do something different for our 10 year wedding anniversary and quickly backed it up with the suggestion of biking the Old Ghost Road. I must admit I was slightly sceptical at first, well for all of 2 minutes, then totally bought into the idea and couldn’t wait to pull on the lycra.
There is a multitude of ways to do the Old Ghost Road, New Zealand’s longest single-track backcountry mountain bike ride (85ks). This is how we did it, we biked Lyell to Seddonville, over 2 days, using a shuttle service to the start (Lyell) driving the morning of Day 1 from Seddonville and leaving our vehicle at the finish (Seddonville Hotel). I would recommend you have some fitness under the belt to maximise your enjoyment. Grade 4 with Grade 5 from Ghost Lake Hut to Stern Valley Hut.
The day finally arrived
We drove from Rangiora to Seddonville (4.5hours) the night before and booked a room at the Seddonville Hotel ($80). A shuttle was arranged to take us back to the start (Lyell, which was 1 hour 40 mins drive back though the Buller Gorge) with Hike and Bike. We enjoyed the real West Coast experience; whitebait burgers for tea, big bots of beer in the pub, a publican who liked to chat and very friendly locals (sand-flies).
Packing light was a challenge but thankfully the weather forecast was superb (about 27 degrees both days) and all the huts have pots/pans/crockery/plates etc. We elected to only take our small gas cooker, one change of clothes, sleeping bag, snacks, 1x dehydrated meal each and packet porridge so we ended up travelling very light. Water was not a problem, we each only carried a water bottle on the bike as there was plenty on the track from streams and of course all the huts have drinking water.
The track itself
Day 1 – Lyell to Ghost Lake Hut – 30ks, 5 hours (riding time), numerous photo stops are compulsory
Lyell to Lyell Saddle Hut, climbed from about 230m to 850mASL, 18k, 2 hours. A gentle increase through forest and it is not too demanding on a nicely formed track. Hamish blew a side wall on his tyre (the new tubeless system didn’t have a hope of filling this hole) within the first hour. The sharp rocks left him wishing he was carrying a spare tyre piece but a large tube patch on the inside of the tyre seemed to do the job, although the patch did have an ominous bulge. Plan B would be actioned at the hut later that day.
Lyell Saddle Hut to Ghost Lake Hut, a good climb from 850m to 1300m ASL, 12k, 3 hours. This is where it becomes really apparent how much work has been put into this track. It’s quite a steep climb to start over a rocky trail with switchbacks for a couple of km’s, you then burst out into the open country above the bush line and are greeted with the most amazing views. There are heaps of cool signs dotted throughout the track that are aptly named based on the surrounding area. Lots and lots and lots of history surrounds the track so we were having quite the educational experience.
After climbing to the highest point on the Old Ghost Road, the trail traverses a steep face for some time (don’t look down). It was hot when we did it, but I can imagine this is where it could get sketchy if the weather was dodgy or about to get dodgy. You would want to make sure you had enough time to get to Ghost Lake Hut; especially if doing the ride in the winter months.
An outstanding hut in a superb location (words can’t describe). The main hut sleeps 12 and there are two summer sleepouts that sleep 4 each. We stayed in a sleepout, it’s not insulated so lives up to its name. The huts were full the night we stayed there –you need to book via the website Old Ghost Road $30 a bed or $70 for 4 in the sleepout. As the 17 other people were all boys I felt pretty hard-core being the only chick in the house. There were mutterings of “this is a pretty cool thing to do for your wedding anniversary”. I just lapped it up.
The huts have great bike maintenance setups, with tools, floor pump etc so if you need to do any repairs you are sorted. Here is where Hamish tracked down a spare piece of tyre and cut a section out and placed it over the rip on his. This proved to be a good decision as the next day there were some rough stuff on fast downhill so no doubt the original tyre patch would have failed.
A wander further down the track from the hut is a must after tea, it gives you an idea of what’s to come in the morning (maybe not such a good idea if you’re the nervy type) and you get great views looking back up at the high position of Ghost Lake Hut and a real feel for the amazing feat it was to helicopter the gear in to build this hut.
Day 2 – Ghost Lake Hut to Seddonville – 55ks, 7 hours (riding time)
Ghost Lake Hut to Stern Valley Hut, mostly downhill (one small technical climb), 13k, 1.75 hours. We were treated to an amazing sunrise and it was so warm (lucky). Breakfast was overlooking the clouds contemplating the adventure ahead.
We left early 7.15am and got straight into the technical stuff! Now is a good time to say work on your tight switchbacks before you go. I gave up attempting a few of them as the consequences were too great if it didn’t pan out. Down the track we flew and then a bit of a short grunt up to the SkylIne Ridge. This was my highlight section - stunning scenery and technical ridge riding all in one.
We were way above the cloud line and still early in the morning so lots of cloud waterfalls all around. Then we met the Skyline Steps, an impressive man made feat. 60m of near vertical drop off the bluff via the steps takes you down back into the trees, then a super-fast, fun and easy downhill to Stern Valley Hut. Some people bike to here on Day 1, but I think it doesn’t compare to Ghost Lake Hut and there are a LOT more sand-flies. That’s the most technical section of the whole track done so doing it with fresh legs after a morning coffee makes it all the more enjoyable.
Stern Valley Hut to Goat Creek Hut, 14k, 1.75hr ish. We headed along the valley floor a bit before entering The Boneyard with views back to Lakes Grim and Cheerful. It was getting quite hot already, I would recommend an early start as I can imagine it would be very hot later in day. It’s quite a grunt up through The Boneyard but its only short and is over pretty quick. Once you reach the saddle its a lovely fast flowing track down to Goat Creek Hut. We boiled the billy for a lazy cuppa in the sun here – it was our wedding anniversary after all!
Goat Creek Hut to Specimen Point (past Mokihinui Forks), 11k, 1.5 hour. More of the same easy flowing downhill following the Mokihinui River until we came to the river forks. Fun and fast. There is a hut here at the forks; we didn’t even go inside as we had our lunch head on and had planned on a stop at Specimen Point Hut. About 15 mins on and we reached Specimen Point. Another stunning location overlooking the river and I would imagine if you are doing the track as a 3 day you would spend the night here.
Specimen Point to Seddonville, 17k, still fun, lots of little tributaries that you ride through, plus a few impressive bridges. You do kind of have your home radar on, so one short climb bet me and I ended up walking it, I think it was only about 400m though. Could’ve/should’ve ridden it!
A compulsory beer at the Rough and Tumble Lodge with a swim in the Mokihinui River was relished. We got to meet Marion Boatwright, one of the many driving forces behind the instigation of Old Ghost Road, which was nice to formally pass on our gratitude. It really is a epic ride that will not be forgotten any time soon.