By Don Herron, Visitor Centre Ranger
Our first day on The Old Ghost Road had us starting at Lyell and heading up into the mountains, ending with a night at Ghost Lake Hut. That’s a climb of around 1110 metres! Our second day is down and out via the Mokihinui River Gorge.
The forecast for the second day was not ideal—showers and heavy rain. It’s the West Coast, when it says it’s going to rain, it rains. The forecast didn’t bode well for spending the day riding 50 kilometres out to Seddonville.
Third piece of advice: pack warm and waterproof wet weather gear.
We left Ghost Lake Hut early, in the rain. It didn’t stop for the rest of the day. The first three kilometres are technical as the track drops quickly with a series of switchbacks that are hard going in the wet. A small steep climb takes you to the “Skyline Ridge” which I’m sure on clear days has great views.
It was heads down bums up. This section was exposed, not nice when the rain is going left to right. It didn’t appear to be falling from the sky but coming from the surrounding hills. When you get to the steps are at the northern end of Skyline Ridge, it’s a compulsory bike carry.
From the Skyline Ridge you end up in the upper reaches of Stern Creek. The track heads down in a series of zig and zags coming along the creek on your right. By this time it’s a powerful flooded brown torrent, I was impressed. Little did I know that this was only a trickle compared to what was to come.
Stern Valley Hut is similar in construction to the two previous huts. It sleeps 12, wood burner and has two small buildings that sleep four. These buildings are locked during the winter months. But are cooler alternatives to the hut in the warmer summer months. The best feature is the bike stand and tools, handy to do some basic maintenance of your machine. With the rain getting heavier we pushed on past Stern Valley Hut.
Fourth piece of advice: take plenty of food, if the weather is bad it is important to fuel up regularly.
Stern Creek heads of to the west draining into the south branch of the Mokihinui River. We head of to the east up the Earnest Valley. A nice open valley with little cover from the elements. Lake Grimm and Lake Cheerful sit at the end valley. We were grim because we were wet, and cheerful cause we were riding our bikes.
After a short sharp climb through the “Bone Yard” to Solemn Saddle the track then descends down to Goat Creek and Goat Creek Hut. Which due to a swollen un-bridged Goat Creek we decided to view it from afar.
Goat Creek Hut sits on the confluence of the Goat Creek and the powerful South Mokihinui River. The Mokihinui River makes Stern Creek look like a trickle. It had been raining for many hours and the Mokihinui River was in full force. We were all glad of the bridge that took us to the western side and down towards Mokihinui Forks Hut.
As the name suggests Mokihinui Forks Hut sits on the junction of the north and south Mokihinui Rivers. It is one of the original DOC huts, but has been upgraded with a larger sleeping area and covered porch. A quick stop and something to eat and we where off, as the rain had started to hammer down again.
The track sits high above the Mokihinui and heads downstream towards the last of the new huts. Specimen Creek Hut is in a fantastic location. Sitting above the Mokihinui on a high terrace with views down river and across to Pakihi creek. Specimen Creek is a great spot for a second night for bikers. Just before the hut I had noticed an unusual and not so good sound coming from my rear brakes. On closer inspection my brake pads where worn through, they were new for this ride!
Fifth piece of advice: take spare parts for your bike, tubes, brake pads etc. The Old Ghost Road terrain is unforgiving.
From Specimen Point Hut the track heads down into the Mokihinui Gorge. This last part of the track has to be one of the best parts. The views from the top of a mountain will always win out compared to a view of a river. But a West Coast river in flood is a sight to be seen.
With so much water the gorge was amazing. Water was everywhere. From the sky above, the river below. The ground under your feet felt like it was made of water, splashing up as you rode along. Surprising there was little mud, maybe it had been all washed away? Water was cascading off the sides of the hills over the track forcing you to ride underneath. If somehow a part of you was dry before, riding under these waterfalls soon fixed that.
The small un-bridged side streams were a brown torrent. Threatening to wash your bike away from underneath you. After riding through one that almost covered my bike. I subsequently decided to check the others first before committing. In the larger bridged streams the water was moving so fast it was hard to focus on it. The Mokihinui got larger as we headed out. At one stage we had to shout at each over of the noise of the river and the rain. A small climb brings you to the end of the gorge. The Mokihinui Gorge was a spectacular way to end a few days riding.
Seddonville is couple of kilometres down the road and was a welcome sight. It was warm, dry and most importantly had hot food!
Sixth piece of advice: go and do it, you won’t be disappointed!
To book the huts and get more information check out The Old Ghost Road website.