OLD GHOST ROAD
It's a harsh, majestic, beautiful, rugged and remote sub-alpine land where no mountain biker would ever have dreamed of taking a bike but thanks to vision, persistence, sweat, tears and a few million dollars, an ultra-epic 85km trail has been constructed through this awesome, unforgiving wilderness.
The south end starts at the former mining town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge. The trail follows an old miner's track that gains about 750m as it climbs steadily up through beech forest. It's well benched into the hillside and generally friendly but remember, if you're not used to bike-packing the extra weight will mess with your balance. First stop is Lyell Saddle after 18km where there is an 11 bed hut.
From Lyell Saddle there is a new machine-made 12km trail that relentlessly climbs more than 400m to Ghost Lake at 1200m. Just above the tree line the track becomes grade 5 ; rocky, narrow and precipitously exposed for about a kilometre before easing back down a little to Ghost Lake Hut.
Ghost Lake Hut is perched high above a cliff looking down on Skyline Ridge and the next amazing hand-made section of trail. You're up above the tree line here and the alpine views go on forever on a clear day. This hut is the most popular on the trail.
The ridge drops off steeply below the hut and the trail is grade 5 for a few kilometres as it zigzags its way down in dozens of trecherous switchbacks and then makes its rugged way along Skyline Ridge. You can look forward to rocks, steps, roots, narrow, steep, mud, exposure and other surprises. All in all you'll know you're alive. Then you'll come to the steps. There are 300 odd where the terrain overwhelmed the track builders at the end of Skyline Ridge. Below the steps the track is machine-made, down-sloping and generally fast - quite a blast - but variable. After 11km, and a descent of nearly 800m, at the 42km mark you'll reach the Stern Valley Hut.
Then the climb up the Boneyard to Solemn Saddle will sear your lungs, bring tears to your eyes, and stretch your chain. After that you'll experience a life-changing descent into a glorious mountain valley and arrive at the magnificently sited Specimen Point Hut after 25km at the 67km mark. You will have passed a good DOC hut at the Mokihinui Forks about 3km before the Specimen Point Hut. And there is a little old DOC hut at Goat Creek, 13km after the Stern Valley Hut. Neither of these has gas hobs.
From Specimen Point Hut it's a spectacular 18km ride as you follow the Mokihinui River down through a stunning gorge to the end of the trail near Seddonville.
SHUTTLES, DIRECTION, HUTS, ETC
Most people park their cars at the Lyell Creek trailhead and get a shuttle back from Seddonville. There is a list of shuttle operators on the website: www.oldghostroad.org.nz.
The ultimate shuttle is probably to park at Seddonville and helicopter to the start at Lyell with a gear drop at Ghost Lake Hut or Stern Valley Hut. That way you're riding light for the big climb. With a group it won't break the bank and on a fine day the helicopter ride is once-in-a-lifetime awesome.
The trail can be ridden both ways but is best ridden from Lyell to Seddonville. It is shared with hikers and is popular with them.
Here are some of the overnight combinations:
Some uber-legends ride the whole 85km in a day.
You could take 5 days staying in Lyell Saddle, Ghost Lake, Stern Valley and Specimen Point huts. That's the way backpackers usually do it - often in reverse order.
A popular option is to take 3 days staying at Ghost Lake Hut and either Stern Valley Hut or Specimen Point Hut. If Ghost Lake Hut is booked out you can substitute Lyell Saddle Hut. The distance between Ghost Lake and Specimen Point is long but is much more down that up so is very do-able.
It's commonly done in two days staying in Ghost Lake Hut or often Stern Valley Hut.
The Old Ghost Road is an epic multi-day remote alpine wilderness adventure. You need endurance and advanced riding skills to enjoy this challenge. Unless you can splurge out on helicopter portage you'll have to carry quite a bit of gear including sleeping bag and food - not to mention clothes fit for alpine conditions.
You can book a bed in the huts at http://www.oldghostroad.org.nz. It's an excellent website with news, inspiring photos, videos, maps and all the information you'll need before setting out on the trail.
Updated February 2017 by Jim Cummings