The most remote and challenging of New Zealand’s Great Rides, this is an epic wilderness adventure for fit, intrepid mountain bikers.
The Old Ghost Road is New Zealand’s longest single-track and a must-do for experienced cyclists in search of the ultimate backcountry ride. The trail’s builders have resurrected an old gold miners’ route between the ghost town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge and Seddonville on the West Coast. It’s the ability to traverse such an awesome wilderness on purpose-built, flowing track, staying overnight in remote huts, that makes the Old Ghost Road the cutting edge of cross-country mountain biking.
Remote, rugged and long, the Old Ghost Road well deserves its grade 4 (advanced) rating and should only be attempted by riders who are technically competent, fit and totally self-sufficient.
Awe-inspiring return rides can be had from both ends, allowing riders to use their own transport and ride in and back as far as they wish. The full trail is completed in 2–3 days by overnighting in backcountry huts along the way.
The trail can be ridden in either direction, but it is recommended that riders start at Lyell Historic Reserve and travel north. It’s a steady climb through virgin forest to Lyell Saddle Hut, from where the trail continues on to the exposed Lyell Range tops and the highpoint (1280m) before reaching Ghost Lake Hut. To the hut and back to the Lyell is an epic 66km day ride featuring some of the trail’s most spectacular scenery.
The middle section from Ghost Lake to Goat Creek (opening late 2015) starts with a thrilling 11km downhill into the Stern Valley followed by a sharp up and down again to Goat Creek Hut and the confluence with the Mokihinui River south branch.
The section from Goat Creek traverses giant podocarp forest to Mokihinui Forks and beyond, downstream to the head of the Mokihinui River gorge. This last leg undulates as it hugs the sides of the impressive gorge before delivering riders to the Seddonville trailhead.
View trail map here.
Riders need to be fit and experienced. The Old Ghost Road is a grade 4 (advanced) single-track that varies in terrain, much of it narrow and rocky with large obstacles. As well as being long and technically challenging, there are numerous steep sections with stomach-churning drop-offs and parts where riders are required to dismount. A high-quality, ship-shape mountain bike is essential, as are tools and good mechanical skills.
The trail is well signposted, but riders should still carry a map and a cellphone, although there is only limited coverage between the Lyell and Ghost Lake. It is recommended that riders carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) – available for hire from Habitat Sports in Westport – and let someone know their intentions before they set off.
The trail is open all year but can be subject to heavy rain, cold temperatures and snow on elevated sections, even in summer, so appropriate clothing is vital. Being a wilderness ride, all food and equipment must be carried; the trail website has a useful list of gear to bring, along with detailed information on current trail conditions.
The southern trailhead is at Lyell Historic Reserve, on State Highway 6 in the Buller Gorge, with the northern trailhead 3.5km inland of the West Coast town of Seddonville. Both are approximately 45 minutes’ drive from Westport, the closest major town. Pick-ups and drop-offs can be organised with Hike n Bike Shuttles; it’s about 1.5 hours drive between trailheads.
On the trail are four basic huts that must be booked in advance through the Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust, each with mattresses, water supply and toilets. There are also two basic Department of Conservation huts on the trail at Mokihinui Forks and Goat Creek and a campsite at the Lyell trailhead.
Seddonville, a short ride from the northern trailhead, has a well-equipped campground and the homely Seddonville Hotel. There’s also plenty of accommodation in Westport and the surrounding countryside; those providers partnered with the trail are listed on the Old Ghost Road website.