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The Old Ghost Road is an iconic 85 kms single track which follows a historic gold minerâ€™s route that connecting the old dray road in the Lyell (Upper Buller Gorge) to the mighty Mokihinui River, north of Westport.
The trail is named after the spirits of the old miners and track builders that seem to loom over the route as it passes through seven ghost towns. The story of the track's vision and restoration is almost as impressive as the spectacular scenery and history of the area (check out the short documentary Muscle & Dreams for this story).
Thanks to thousands of volunteer hours and around $6 million in funding, the trail now has 16 new bridges and four cosy new back country huts.
Lyell to Ghost Lake (30 km)
The first 17km of The Old Ghost Road, from the Department of Conservation (DoC) campground at Lyell to the Lyell Saddle, is now rideable with a well benched trail winding in and out of valleys at a four percent gradient past ghost towns, small mountain streams and through the giant beech forests of the Lyell valley. A new 12-bunk hut at the Lyell Saddle opened in 2013. This provides one option for those wanting a shorter first day - alternatively, push on for the top. The trail reaches an impressive 1,300m altitude, and if you're lucky with the weather you'll have some spectacular views as the trail cuts across rocky alpine terain. Keep in mind that the West Coast weather won't always play its part here, so don't be surprised if you have a bit of rain!
A few kilometers of descent will take you down to Ghost Lake Hut, another of the new facilities with a warm fire available and a deck that overlooks the next section of trail.
Ghost Lake to Specimen Point (38 km)
Although the profile indicates a nice downhill section for most of the day, the morning's ride is surprisingly hard work. A steep trail with plenty of tight switch backs leads down to the Skyline Steps where bikes must be carried down a new staircase. Eventually though the trail does ease off into some of the best riding with flowing track through native bush. Take a rest at Stern Valley (and grab the insect repellent), as you have your final climb of any significance up ahead through the Boneyard, a boldery terrain dotted with ponds and landslips.
From here the trail speeds up as it follows the new route down towards the tiny Goat Creek Hut, then follows the river valley down to Mokihinui Forks. Specimen Point Hut is a little further on, overlooking the clear waters of the river.
Specimen Point to Seddonville Trail Head (17 km)
An easy day to finish, leaving plenty of time to find a West Coast pub for the afternoon. The trail is generally flat and easy, with some short exceptions around Suicide Slips where riders may need to dismount. There are some steep drop-offs as you pass through Mokihinui Gorge. At the end of the trail, the Rough And Tumble Lodge offers comfortable facilities and accommodation.
This is a serious back-country outing that provides an iconic outdoor experience. Be prepared for any weather or circumstance on this trail, and don't do it if unsure of your abilities. The trail is serviced by helicopter, which offers the option of transporting your gear, but best to carry your own supplies if you can. Huts must be booked, often well in advance during the peak season.
Ultimately the vision for the Old Ghost Road is to form a 160km circuit encompassing two mountain ranges, three river systems, and seven ghost towns, connecting the Mokihinui to the Lyell via Seddonville, through Charming Creek, the Stockton and Denniston plateaus and the Mackley Road. No doubt this trail will continue to improve over the years to come, but it isn't worth waiting around for that. It is now ready and waiting to enjoy!