Mountain biking the Old Ghost Road on New Zealand’s West Coast is a story of muscle, grit and determination. Not that these are prerequisites for riders – although a modicum of each won’t go amiss – no, the true story of the Old Ghost Road belongs to the handful of visionary volunteers that built this epic backcountry track.
Since opening in December 2015, the Old Ghost Road has firmly become a “must do” for mountain bikers, and its 85km of flowing single track are one of the best adventures I’ve ever had on a bike. We took 2-days to complete the journey, although you could easily take tour time on the trail as there are a number of huts along the way which are fully-equipped with cooking utensils so that bikers can travel light.
Fresh & clean at the start of the Old Ghost Road, near Lyell, West Coast NZ.
Waterfalls & lush rainforest welcome riders at the start of the Old Ghost Road
Beginning at Lyell on the Buller River, the first 35kms of the trail climb steadily through lush West Coast rainforest with cascading waterfalls tumbling across the track. Despite the length of the climb, the average gradient is only around 4% and a comfortable spin quickly sees you gain altitude.
Exposed slips are a frequent hazard for bikers, & were a real challenge for the engineers of the Old Ghost Road
Most of the track is rideable, but there are some sections where it pays to get off and push!
Riding through beech forest is a rare treat, elsewhere in NZ forest like this is the restricted to hikers.
Riding up through ancient beech forest
Emerging from the beech forest to spectacular alpine views
The views above the bush line were worth the 35km climb!
The track sidles around the ridgeline towards Bald Hill (1,385m)
A panoramic view of Bald Hill with the track sidling around to the left.
Our little convoy of bikes keeps steadily climbing upwards….
A masterpiece of alpine track building, but the exposure can cause a wee bit of nervous twitching!
Keep your eyes on the track and don’t look down! Heading towards the high point on the Old Ghost Road, ‘Rocky Tor’ (1,456m)
Nigel happy to be at the top! Mostly downhill for the next 50km!
Celebrating a successful summit!
Our first night was to be spent at Ghost Lake Hut, and we took our time getting there – the landscape and views really insist that you ride at an easy pace. However, perhaps the best views are reserved for the hut, a truly spectacular location for the night.
Home sweet home. One of the “summer sleep-outs” at Ghost Lake Hut
Sunset over the Old Ghost Road. The track can be seen below winding its way up the ridgeline – with perhaps a tad more uphill on tomorrow’s itinerary than anticipated!
Sunrise above the clouds at Ghost Lake Hut
We awoke to another bluebird sky on day 2 with low cloud blanketing the valleys below. The first hour on the track were to be the most technical of the trip and we chose to walk many of the sections. Whilst the trail is definitely rideable there were some exposed parts where a fall could have been, erm, terminal….
Ghost Lake Hut perched like an eagle’s eerie on the cliff edge. Location, location, location…
Day 2 post-breakfast climbing, but Nige seems to be enjoying it!
Single track heaven – biking along the Skyline Ridge.
Zipping along the Skyline’s single track on a bluebird day
The Skyline Steps – more ingenious engineering and the only option to negotiate down a series of steep bluffs.
Negotiating the Skyline Steps
Once we’d hiked down the Skyline Steps with our bikes slung across our shoulders, we enjoyed 20kms of some of the best downhill, flowing single track that we’d ridden anywhere – barely touching our brakes for 20km until we reach the Stern Valley Hut for lunch.
Creek crossings and wet feet are all part of the Old Ghost Road experience… Although we were lucky to score 2-days of blue skies and sunshine – somewhat of a West Coast rarity!
Lush green forest at the entrance to Mokihinui Valley, near the “Resurgence” where the river reappears from underground and bubbles up to the surface as a crystal clear spring.
Goat Creek Hut – one of the original backcountry huts on the Old Ghost Road
“The Boneyard”. Hot, dry and dusty riding.
The glistening green waters of the Mokihinui River, it would have been a tragedy for this beautiful valley to have been dammed and flooded for hydro-power.
The mighty Mokihinui River thunders through the valley on the way to the West Coast
Swing bridges criss-cross the Mokihinui Gorge
Riding along the banks of the Mokihinui River on the home stretch of the Old Ghost Road
The final leg of the Old Ghost Road follows the raging waters of the Mokihinui River and a series of swing bridges, yet more marvels of engineering, span the gorges and tributaries of the river valley. For a period of time the river was scheduled to be dammed for a hydro-power scheme that would have seen the valley flooded and the Ghost Road would never have been built. Thankfully, the valley was saved from flooding so that bikers and hikers can continue to enjoy access to this spectacular landscape on a truly world-class track.
Rolling under the gate at the end of the track and arriving in Seddonville, there is one final exclamation mark to complete the journey along the Old Ghost Road, and that’s a cold beer and a comfortable bed at the Rough & Tumble Lodge, almost as iconic as the Old Ghost Road itself!
Muddy & sweaty at the end of the Old Ghost Road in Seddonville but with a cold beer at the Rough & Tumble Lodge just moments away!