By Don Herron, Visitor Centre Ranger
The Old Ghost Road is one of New Zealand’s premier multi-day single track rides—it is also the youngest.
The Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust is the group behind The Old Ghost Road. The Trust was responsible for the construction of the track and the four new huts situated along the track.
For those choosing to ride this wonderful track it is recommended riding south to north. It can be completed in two-three days and can be ridden year around.
I was fortunate enough to do this as a ride in early May. We did it over two days with a night at the marvellous Ghost Lake Hut. We had planned to spend the second night at Specimen Point Hut, but the hut was fully booked.
First piece of advice: Book well in advance; this is a popular track.
In early May the sand flies are still as hungry as ever. After the typical photo shoot under the “Old Ghost Road” sign we headed off to discover this place for ourselves. Our party of three was a good size, big enough to share group gear and small enough to get along quickly.
From the southern end at Lyell the track climbs up gently on the old gold rush roads. Past abandoned settlements such as Gibbstown, Zalatown, which have been consumed by the bush. As often with small settlements linked to the gold rush they appear almost overnight. Once the gold is gone so are they. Often all that is left behind is some rusty iron, tools and wagon wheels used by the hopeful few. What makes places like this even more incredible is that the roads were blasted and dug by hand. Which was a herculean feat.
While stopping to read the signs we were visited by the inquisitive toutouwai/robin. Head cocked watching us carefully, hoping for us to drop something tasty. The kererū look down upon us cycling past, it’s too much effort for them to move to check out what’s going on below. Tūī and korimako/bellbirds warble and sing high in the trees, also too busy to come and say hello.
DOC signs along the way point out and offer a taste of what it was like to live and work there. After a short 18 kilometre climb Lyell Saddle Hut is reached. This is a new hut built for the track, it has views of the forest and mountains. As its name suggests it sits west of a small saddle. The track continues to climb up with a series of large switchbacks. This is the newest part of the track as the old road only got as far as the saddle. Time, money and energy and the lack of gold stopped it from going any further.
The track pops out into the open and sidles along the eastern slope of Mt Montgomery (1332 metres). Rocky Tor (1456 metres) is a steep sided rocky peak which dominates the view. Have a break, after climbing around 1110 metres you deserve it, plus the views are amazing. Far below is the West Coast and lights of the nearby coal mines.
The track continues towards Rocky Tor before cutting across its western flank. This part of the track is on some exciting technical downhill riding. “Heavens Door” is a small saddle north of Rocky Tor. It offers incredible views of the surrounding country, and is worth well a stop for some photos.
Second piece of advice: If you’re not a technical rider, get off and walk. You don’t want to fall here.
Ghost Lake Hut sits at 1200 metre on a rocky point with spectacular views, it is a logical place for your first night. The distant lights of Murchison flicker to the south east. The weather for the first day was perfect, no wind blue skies and views in all directions. An ideal way to spend a day riding in the mountains.