Lyell — Seddonville (2-4 days, 85km)
Where else can you ride past mining relics of a bygone era, ascend through swathes of native forest to reach breathtaking views, descend into open river valleys scattered with lakes and tarns, weave through giant podocarp rainforest inhabited by abundant wildlife, sidle along a cliff-hugging trail in a stunning river gorge and stay in huts occupying the most commanding of positions? Welcome to The Old Ghost Road.
The Old Ghost Road is quickly becoming known as one of the premier backcountry mountain biking routes in the world. This is unlike most other trails in The New Zealand Cycle Trail – this 85km trail is a very serious adventure with technical terrain and plenty of climbing and descending. While not for the faint-of-heart or inexperienced rider, if you match your experience level to this trail and prepare appropriately, The Old Ghost Road will reward the fit and experienced adventurer with an other-worldly experience.
To broaden the audience and to make The Old Ghost Road more accessible to a wider range of appetites, a set of new exciting packages – Old Ghost Adventures – has been created. Old Ghost Adventures include such options as helicopter assists to the astounding alpine tops, helicopter luggage assists, rustic luxury accommodation to start or end your journey, end-to-end transport shuttles, heli-biking or heli-hiking and even rafting the Mokihinui Gorge as the final leg of your journey. Visit the official trail website for more information.
The past is never too far from daily life on the West Coast, New Zealand’s pioneer frontier, and there are endless opportunities to explore the rich mining heritage throughout this region.
The Old Ghost Road trail follows the paths taken by miners and passes through the ghost towns left behind by several mining operations. Keep your eyes peeled for mining relics, historical artefacts and information panels explaining the significance of the area – you’ll really get a feel for life as a miner in the late 1800s.
When dining at a restaurant on the West Coast, be sure to check the menu for the local delicacy, whitebait. This native freshwater fish is a West Coast specialty and it tastes delicious.
- GIVE A LITTLE If you would like to assist with the on-going maintenance and enhancement of The Old Ghost Road experience, please check out our Givealittle donations Page.
RIDING THE TRAIL
All three sections of The Old Ghost Road Trail are now open to ride. It is recommended that The Old Ghost Road be ridden in a south to north direction starting at Lyell.
- The 30km section from Seddonville to Mokihinui Forks and on to Goat Creek Hut
- The middle 20km section from Goat Creek Hut to the Ghost Lake Hut
- From the south, the 30km section from the Lyell campground to the Ghost Lake Hut
Allow two to four days to ride the trail and keep an eye on The Old Ghost Road’s official trail website for regular updates on trail condition. Hut accommodation must be booked in advance through the trail website.
The Old Ghost Road is a Grade 4 (Advanced) trail. Because of its remoteness, significant distance and the steep sided nature of the trail in places, it’s recommended that it only be attempted by technically competent and fit riders.
The Old Ghost Road is rideable throughout the year, but extreme caution should be taken in winter as parts of this trail traverse exposed subalpine areas reaching 1280m elevation. Occasional snowfall should be expected above the treeline.
Care is advised regarding weather conditions. On average the wettest season is spring (September-November) and the most settled weather is late summer to early winter (February- June), although as with weather conditions throughout New Zealand, the weather can vary throughout the year and hazardous conditions can be experienced in the height of summer.
The trail is obvious (being a 1m-to-2m wide path) and is accessible at the southern end at the Department of Conservation’s Lyell Campground (signposted off State Highway 6 in the Buller Gorge) and at the northern end adjacent to the Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge (4km beyond Seddonville). Trail elevation data, trail maps and hut bookings are available on the official trail website.
Riders (and trampers) will need to carefully plan the duration of their trip based on distance, elevation, fitness levels and weather. Trail users should avoid over-estimating their abilities.
Six huts are located along The Old Ghost Road. Bookings via the official trail website are essential. You will find a toilet located at each hut.
“In my mind this is a very, very special trail. Due to its remoteness and grade, it’s not for everyone and you need to pick the weather, but the visionaries behind this trail have given New Zealand a world-class tourism asset.”
Richard Leggat – Chair of the New Zealand Cycle Trail Inc.
The Old Ghost Road is located on the upper West Coast of the South Island. The nearest domestic airports are in Westport and Nelson. There is an international airport in Christchurch. There are also daily bus services from Nelson and Christchurch to Westport.
The southern end of The Old Ghost Road starts at the Department of Conservation’s Lyell campground (State Highway 6) in the Upper Buller Gorge. If you are not driving, you will need to arrange a shuttle or bus to drop you off or pick you up.
Distances (and estimated driving times) to the Lyell campground:
- From Nelson – 160 km (2 hrs)
- From Christchurch – 325 km (4 hrs)
- From Westport – 62 km (50 mins)
From Nelson/Murchison: Follow State Highway 6. The Lyell Campground is 35 km (25 mins) beyond Murchison.
From Christchurch: Follow the Lewis Pass Highway. At Reefton turn right onto SH69. At Inangahua Junction turn right onto SH6. The Lyell campground is 15 km (10 mins) beyond Inangahua.
From Westport: Take SH6 up the Buller Gorge. At Inangahua Junction turn right staying on SH6. Lyell campground is 15 km (10 mins) beyond Inangahua.
The northern end of the Old Ghost Road finishes at Seddonville, 50 km (45 mins) north of Westport on State Highway 67.
It doesn’t take long to plan. We’ve developed a guide with the NZ Mountain Safety Council to help you. Read and download the guide FREE and ensure you’re prepared for the following.
The Old Ghost Road is a remote wilderness experience and you will need to plan and prepare thoroughly to get the most out of your experience.
Before you head off,carefully plan each leg of your trip based on distance, elevation gain/loss, fitness levels and weather. This is not the trail to overestimate your abilities.
There are no towns or shops located along the trail, so you will need to take all necessary provisions, including first aid.
Six huts are located along The Old Ghost Road. Bookings are essential and can be made via the official trail website. You will find a toilet located at each hut.
Carry sufficient water to meet your daily needs. While rainwater is provided at each hut location, it cannot be guaranteed in periods of drought.
There is very limited mobile phone coverage along The Old Ghost Road (coverage is limited to short sections along the Lyell Range and at Ghost Lake hut).
Major stream crossings are bridged, however in periods of intense and/or prolonged rainfall, surface flooding can make certain areas hazardous or impassable. Riders (and walkers) should plan accordingly and check the weather forecast before heading off. In the event of unforeseen flooding, you must be prepared to wait for water levels to subside.
Sandflies also inhabit low lying areas of The Old Ghost Road. The huts have been constructed with insect mesh, but for extended periods outside, insect repellent is advisable.
Weather plays a major part of your Old Ghost Road experience, in terms of both enjoyment and safety.
While The Old Ghost Road is rideable throughout the year, be aware that the section between the Lyell Saddle and Ghost Lake Hut features exposed sub-alpine areas reaching 1340m elevation and occasional snowfall should be expected.
Extreme caution is advised regarding weather conditions. Do not attempt The Old Ghost Road during or with forecast adverse weather (snow, high rainfall, high winds).
On average the wettest season is spring (September – November) and the most settled weather is late summer to early winter (February – June). Inclement weather can occur at any time of the year – so prepare accordingly and don’t get caught out.
Important Info for Cyclists
The Old Ghost Road is an 85km single-track adventure through remote valleys, mountain tops and river gorges. We’d love as many mountain bikers as possible to come and enjoy this trail and landscape………BUT, the reality is The Old Ghost Road is not suitable for riders of all ages and abilities.
For those wishing to ride the entire trail, we recommend starting at Lyell and riding in a south to north direction owing to the technical nature and gradient of 4km of trail north of Ghost Lake (this section is easier to descend than ascend).
The Old Ghost Road is a Grade 4 (advanced) mountain biking trail and has a variable natural surface. In general and in accordance with international standards, riders should expect the following on a Grade 4 trail:
A mixture of long steep climbs, narrow trail, poor traction and difficult obstacles to avoid or ride over. The outer edge of the trail may be exposed with steep sides or drop-offs in places. Most riders will find some sections easier to walk.
Our main aim is for mountain bikers to enjoy this experience and be safe doing so. This is as much about planning, preparation and the expectations you form, but it also involves you being realistic about your own ability. If you are in doubt, we recommend using the following guide to determine whether The Old Ghost Road is for you:
- Can you ride along a narrow winding trail that is only 400-600mm wide in places?
- Are you competent and confident riding along a trail with steep, exposed edges and drops on one side?
- Can you ride over rocks, drops and obstacles the size of soccer balls?
- Are you fit enough to ride long steep hills for an hour at a time?
- Can you ride for extended periods (up to 8 hours) each day?
In recognition of user needs, we have tried our best to ensure the trail standard and surface is as good as possible. But The Old Ghost Road traverses some wild lands and steep sides and drop-offs are unavoidable. Undoubtedly, this is part of the attraction of The Old Ghost Road – but only if this is within your capability and comfort zone. Please do not attempt The Old Ghost Road if it is not.
There are twenty-one bridges along The Old Ghost Road that provide safe passage over the main waterways. Be aware that some remaining (unbridged) waterways and trail sections have potential to flood under heavy and/or sustained rainfall. The most notable of these is Irishman’s Creek (at the 4km mark in the lower Lyell Gorge). Note that bridges exist (south to north) at the following locations:
- Lyell Creek (lower Lyell Gorge);
- Deep Creek (Lyell Gorge);
- Stern Tributary (Stern Valley);
- Stern Creek (Stern Valley);
- Earnest Main (Earnest Valley);
- Earnest Tributary (Earnest Valley);
- Goat Creek Tributary (upper Goat Creek);
- Goat Creek (upper Goat Creek – this is not at the hut site);
- Unruly Creek (Mokihinui River South Branch valley);
- Mokihinui River South Branch (Mokihinui River South Branch valley);
- Wet Creek (Mokihinui River South Branch valley);
- Limestone Creek (Mokihinui River South Branch valley);
- Specimen Creek (head of Mokihinui Gorge);
- Suicide Slips East (upper Mokihinui Gorge);
- Suicide Slips Middle (upper Mokihinui Gorge);
- Suicide Slips West (upper Mokihinui Gorge);
- Jones Creek (mid Mokihinui Gorge);
- Anderson Creek (mid Mokihinui Gorge);
- Angel Creek (lower Mokihinui Gorge);
- Johnny Cake Creek (lower Mokihinui Gorge); and
- Welcome Creek (lower Mokihinui Gorge).
Please take note of the typical cycling times required.
Riding The Old Ghost Road
For most fit and competent riders, The Old Ghost Road will typically be ridden over 2-4 days. A south to north route (Lyell to Seddonville) is strongly suggested for best experiencing the track.
Beginning at the southern trail head at the Lyell Campground, most riders will cover the 18km climb to the Lyell Saddle Hut (875 metres above sea level) in 3-4 hours (765 m of ascent). For the fit and keen and for those that got away from Lyell early, you have the choice of continuing on up onto the open tops of the Lyell Range. Approximately 6 km of climbing through bush and 6 km of predominantly open tops travel offering dramatic views over 2.5 – 4 hours will have you arriving at the breath-taking Ghost Lake Hut site (12 km on from Lyell Saddle). Views abound en route to the west and north and the views continue at the hut site to the south and east.
Ghost Lake Hut sits at 1200 metres above sea level in a stunning setting. With almost 30 km behind you (from the Lyell Campground) and the high point of the ride in the bag, only masochists or the irreverent will continue past this point on Day 1 – it is the perfect point to ‘call it a day’. Once you get there, we think you’ll agree.
Check your brakes before departing from the Ghost Lake Hut site as the trail descends almost 800 metres over the next 13 km to the Stern Valley Hut. The first 4km of this section is the most technical of the entire trail reaching Grade 5 in places – BE PREPARED. At the end of the breath-taking Skyline Ridge you’ll reach the Skyline Steps. Their reason-for-being will become clear once you’re there. Again, please BE PREPARED for these. You’ll need to carry your bike down 60m of narrow and winding steps before climbing back into the saddle for a flowing descent into Stern Valley and you arrival at Stern Valley hut. The ride from Ghost Lake Hut to Stern Valley Hut is unlikely to take too long – count on 2 – 3 hours. From the Stern Valley Hut the trail meanders on up through the interesting Earnest Valley (northern tributary of Stern Creek). Some ‘earnest’ climbing is again required to gain a low but sharp saddle (Solemn Saddle) that allows passage into the ‘Hanging Judge’ in the headwaters of the Goat Creek catchment. From here it’s on down to the confluence with the Mokihinui River South Branch and the existing Goat Creek Hut (14 km on from Stern Valley Hut). Riders could expect to cover this distance in 2 – 3 hours.
From Goat Creek, riders will wind their way through towering podocarp forest to the Mokihinui ‘Forks’ and the refurbished DoC hut located there (8 km from Goat Creek – approximately 1 – 2 hours). After turning left at the Mokihinui Forks, riders will come upon the Specimen Point Hut site 3 km downstream towards at the head of Mokihinui River Gorge. Riders should allow 30 mins to 1 hour for this section.
From the Specimen Point Hut settlement, the Mokihinui Gorge shows the way to the sea. The old miners’ road is rejoined for the undulating and at times, cliff-hugging, 17 km journey out to the Seddonville end of the trail through the spectacular Mokihinui River gorge (2-4 hours).
Congratulations, you’ve just ridden The Old Ghost Road.