The Old Ghost Road
Kahurangi National Park.
The 85 kilometre Old Ghost Road follows a historic gold miner's route that connects the old dray road in the Lyell (Upper Buller Gorge) heading northward to the mighty Mokihinui River, then to continue the 160 km journey you can join the Charming Creek Walkway and the Denniston Plateau on the wild West Coast. Now completed the full ride makes a complete back-country loop for intermediate to advanced riders and trampers of basic fitness.
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!
Earthquakes in 1929 and 1968 left roughly a quarter of the never-completed Lyell to Mokihinui Road buried and left for dead. For 130 years the West Coast bush did its best to obscure the route. Feral goats made up the only maintenance force through the years, keeping a hoof path open and establishing walks where needed.
The Mokihinui-Lyell Back country Trust's efforts to re-open the 16km section of the road to the Lyell Saddle began in 2007 with volunteers clearing windfall and a joint mission with the Department of Conservation to see what four men and a couple of mini-diggers could achieve. By 2009 six kilometres of track had been restored. Next was a series of weekend warrior attacks at what are under-statedely called the 'Big Slips.' Volunteers finally accomplished what even the goats could not: a 600mm wide path across these monuments to the big quakes.
Trampers- suggested itinerary
Day One – Lyell Car park (DOC Camp ground) to Lyell Saddle Hut, 18km, 4-6 hours. Steady grade on the old benched track climbing to the Lyell Saddle hut (885 metres above sea level). Beech forest dominates.
Day Two – Lyell Saddle Hut to Ghost Lake Hut, 12km, 3-5 hours. 6 km of graded climbing through cloud forest up to the tussock tops of the Lyell Range. Then it’s 6 km of relatively level open-tops travel to ‘Ghost Lake’ and the stunning Ghost Lake Hut. Unparalleled views of pure South Island majesty are yours with every stride. Note there is no water available once on the alpine tops. Carry sufficient supplies. Take your time and enjoy the scenic stopping points.
Day Three – Ghost Lake Hut to Stern Valley Hut, 13km, 3-4
hours. Two sharp descents and ridge travel mark this day and it’s predominantly downhill (800 metres of altitude loss) all the way to Stern Valley Hut. There is no water in this section until Stern Creek is reached. Carry sufficient supplies. Prepare yourself for the Dr Seuss-like ‘Skyline Steps’ at the end of Skyline Ridge.
Day Four – Stern Valley Hut to Specimen Point Hut, 25km, 7-8 hours. With various destination options this day (including intermediate but more basic hut sites at Goat Creek and Mokihinui Forks), it’s on up Earnest Valley (north branch of Stern Creek) and through the strange but gorgeous open meadows of its catchment. At the twin lakes (Lake Grim and Lake Cheerful), the track switches back into climb mode through the ‘Boneyard’ heading for ‘Solemn Saddle’ and then leads on down through ‘The Hanging Judge’ into the headwaters of the Goat Creek catchment. Scrub and grass covered valleys form the way until the final couple of kilometres through bush to the historic Goat Creek Hut. Stern Creek Hut to Goat Creek Hut 14 km; 3-4 hours. From Goat Creek Hut it’s 8 km of flat walking down through the beautiful podocarp forest of the Mokihinui River South Branch to the Mokihinui Forks Hut (2 -3 hours). Then just a further 3 km, 1 – 1.5 hours down to the Specimen Point Hut settlement at the head of the mighty Mokihinui River Gorge.
Day Five – Specimen Point Hut to Welcome Bay/Seddonville, 17km, 4-6 hours. Undulating walking as The Old Ghost Road picks up the old miners’ track hugging the true left bank of the mighty Mokihinui River gorge with stunning river views.
Bikers- suggested itinerary
For most fit and competent riders, The Old Ghost Road can be ridden over 2-4 days. A south to north route (Lyell to Seddonville) is strongly suggested for best experiencing the track.
Lyell Campsite to Lyell Saddle Hut
Beginning at the southern track head at the Lyell Camp ground, 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).
Lyell Saddle Hut to Ghost Lake Hut
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 to Stern Valley Hut
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 track reaching Grade 5 in places. At the end of the breath-taking Skyline Ridge you’ll reach the Skyline Steps. 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 2 – 3 hours.
Stern Valley Hut to Goat Creek Hut
From the Stern Valley Hut the track meanders on up through the interesting Earnest Valley (northern tributary of Stern Creek). Some 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 is 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.
Goat Creek Hut to Mokihinui Forks Hut
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.
Specimen Point Hut to Seddonville
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 track through the spectacular Mokihinui River gorge (2-4 hours).
The full back-country circuit now completed can then continue from Seddonville through Charming Creek and up the old winding bridle track to Stockton Plateau. The route will then make it's way along the Denniston Plateau and through a number of ghost towns, before joining the rough carriage way of Mackley Road as it snakes it's way off the plateau and down to the Buller River at New Creek, 3 kilometres short of Lyell and a camping ground. A full circuit of 160 kilometres resulting in a one of a kind experience encompassing two mountain ranges, three river systems, and seven ghost towns.
Trek Express is predominantly a trampers transport that has operated for over 20 years servicing mostly the two ends of the Heaphy, and recently the Old Ghost Road. Over the last 5 years we have adapted the trailers to fit small or large amounts (17 bikes) to accommodate varying shapes and sizes of bikes for both the Heaphy and The Old Ghost Road. However, due to several drivers working for the company we do not charge for the bikes as some drivers may not specialize in carriage and loading of bikes. For group charters of bikers we will do our best to provide an experienced driver who is preferably a biker him/herself, or an experienced driver that has handled bikes before and of course with a specialized reliable trailer. Therefore, as a policy, Trek Express and The Heaphy bus assert you must load your own bike at your risk and we will supply all proven reliable trailers and equipment at no extra cost in return.
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