On the upper West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand an old gold miners’ road has been revamped into a grade 4 (advanced) mountain biking and tramping trail. It connects the Lyell campground on the Buller river to Seddonville in the Mokihinui gorge. The Murchison earthquake of 1929 ruined this road and country side. The slips were too dangerous to traverse so the small mining villages became ghost towns and the road was forgotten. Until a group of passionate mountain bikers from the Coast decided that it should be ridden again. Completed in 2016, the Old Ghost Road, at 85km is the longest single track mountain bike trail in NZ.
Being the keen mountain biking family we are, we thought the OGR would be a good track to smash out over Easter weekend. The participants included: Stacey (mum aka positive pedaller), Grant (dad aka speed demon), James (boyfriend aka now a true mountain biker) and myself (aka mountain goat). In the week leading up to our expedition Cyclone Cook looked set to ruin our plans, predicting heavy rain and high winds. We travelled to the coast anyway because we don’t give up that easily.
We awoke to drizzle on our cabin roof in Reefton, as we neared Lyell the heavens opened and we set our bikes up in the pouring rain. All I could do was laugh, what we were doing was absolutely ridiculous; heading out for a three day bike ride in full-on rain, who does that? Despite this we geared up and rode away. The first day began in Lyell and we rode uphill for 10km, a hard slog up a constant stream of water running down the track. We had a quick stop for lunch at Lyell Hut before making our way up to the ridge, where wicked side winds pounded our faces. A few hairy moments on a ridge kept nerves high before a short decline to Ghost Hut where we stayed for the night. The incredible views of Ghost lake were obscured by low cloud and rain. Dry clothes were on and dripping clothes were hung around the fire in the hut.
After a long night listening to the continuous West Coast rain pouring onto the hut roof we greeted the day to even less of the view than the previous day. Our spirits were high enough to throw our damp gear back on and hit the track again. The descent from Ghost Hut was quite steep and technical in places, this is the part of the track rated grade 5, it ended abruptly with a steep uphill to the Skyline Ridge. Exposed to the wind and rain, we rode along for a short while before descending the skyline steps with our bikes on their back wheels. 270 steps later, we began the long, flowing, super fun downhill through Stern Valley to the Stern Hut.
The skies began to slowly clear after lunch and there were small patches of blue sky as we rode and walked the switchbacks leading up the Boneyard, a gravelly, rocky track up the side of an old slip in the valley. As we crossed the Solemn Saddle the sun finally made an appearance, the track was slightly drier and we enjoyed once again long flowing descent. All our faces lit up with stupid grins, as we launched through rivers and creeks spraying water everywhere. The track flattened out past Goat Creek Hut and we rode alongside the Mokihinui rover to Sand fly City Hut for a drier night.
Our final day begun with low cloud and some touches of blue sky as we ventured onto the trail one last time. The final 20km was an undulating riverside track with several bridges, although very sturdy and well-made, the swing bridges still get the heart racing. A few areas were narrow but well sign posted, telling cyclists to dismount for a short while. A short sharp climb 2km from the finish made you work hard one last time before cruising downhill to the Rough and Tumble creek/lodge area. Our Old Ghost Road experience finished with a quick dip in the river, several swarms of sand flies and pizza and beer at the lodge. Well deserved team!
- Great signage throughout the track; for narrow areas where biking is not recommended and every kilometre there’s a track marker.
- Getting to the top of Solemn Saddle and the sun was out and the track was dry-ish and flying down the smooth, twisting downhill.
- The huts had good facilities, bowls, plates and cutlery and Ghost hut also had gas stoves and the long drops weren’t too bad.
- My skills for biking through creeks/rivers definitely improved over the weekend
- I loved how dry my bag was under its waterproof cover, nothing inside got wet, primo!
- The de-hydrated meals were surprisingly good, we had tikka masala, cottage pie, beef casserole and the apple pie was particularly good.
- Carry a bag the correct size – James and I took tramping packs that were too big for biking with, we didn’t have much choice as we don’t have smaller packs. We managed by adjusting the straps and lowering the frame, but would definitely use a smaller bag when I do another ride like this.
- Take a clean pair of socks for each day – in dry conditions this wouldn’t be such a problem but in the rain putting a dry pair of socks into wet shoes was amazing, it doesn’t take long for them to get wet again but still worth it.
- Safety first, ride as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to walk if you have to – there were a few steep ridges, sharp corners and just a bit slippery in the conditions so walk if you need, there is beautiful flowing downhill that you can make up for.
I can’t deny there weren’t any times where I was thinking “why do we do this
shit stuff?” or whinging about the long uphill that never seemed to end. But, you know what they say “What goes up, must come down” and I wouldn’t have whinged so much if I knew how great the long winding downhill was going to be. Despite the lack of views and heavy rain, it was a 10/10, would recommend to other mountain bikers who have some experience under their belt and would like to turn their weekend mountain biking trips into an epic adventure.
Thanks for an awesome weekend guys 🙂
Photos taken on a mixture of Dad’s phone, my phone and James’ camera.
For more info about The Old Ghost Road check out the website, they have also written a book and made a documentary about the making of this awesome trail.