Taste Of: Riding the Old Ghost Road in April
The Old Ghost Road is a great all weather ride. It’s also a trail that will soon be found on the bucket list of mountain bikers the world over. I recently spent a very soggy few days there, and came away planning for return visits.
One day out from our departure, MetVUW foretold of torrential rain for day one, followed by just normal rain (clearing) on day two. Our plan was to cover the 85km between Friday afternoon and Sunday lunchtime, so the first stage only required us to get to the first hut on the trail, at Lyell Saddle…
As it happened, the 20km ride to the Saddle (900 m climbing) was relatively dry. Most of it was an easy climb through bush, and we arrived after a couple of hours, in very good spirits, and as wet from the inside as from the outside.
Lyell Saddle is one of four new huts on the OGR. The new huts are are really well stocked with big fires for drying gear, bike racks and repair stands and in most cases, fantastic views. They can be booked at oldghostroad.org which also has lots of info about the track and the facilities at each hut.
We set off next morning into light drizzle. Our group of five included one experienced bikepacker (who rode from Seddonville to meet us and ride back), a couple of fit young’uns (only in our 40s) and two slightly older gents. We are all pretty competent mountain bikers, so it was a great mix that gave us enough but not too many breaks. After a long but comfortable climb with the odd view peaking out from gaps in the mist, we arrived at the famed Ghost Lake Hut, which I’m told has stunning views on a fine day.
After a brief sojourn to utilize the flash composting toilets we carried on across the awesome Skyline Ridge and down the slightly terrifying Skyline Steps. Carrying a loaded bike down these windy, narrow and wet steps was fairly slow and even the daredevil of the party treated this section with respect.
Some great fast mostly downhill single track followed, producing some very big grins even as the rain picked up a notch. A stop at Stern Valley Hut for a cuppa, lunch and change of shorts in front of the fire had us all in pretty good shape for the last section of our 47km day. This took us up past Lake Cheerful, a wee climb through The Boneyard – a wasteland massive boulders from the Inangahua earthquake – and though the start of the muddy forest sections, to our destination at Mokihinui Forks Hut. This is a pretty basic old DOC hut – the only old hut on the trail – but is perfectly adequate, though without the spectacular views of the preferred Specimen Hut a further 3km on. We were out for about 8 hours this day – a bit less than five hours riding – and another 1000m climbing.
My vision of the final day was of a short and easy ride to the end of the track and dry clothes – a bit like the final section of the Heaphy track. The reality somewhat different. This section of the track is very muddy when wet and within minutes we were soaked from the ground up from riding through large puddles and small rivers that ran down and across the track. Mostly this terrain is pretty easy, but parts do require some reasonable skills and care as the drop off into the Mokihinui Gorge is sheer. After a fun couple of hours the sun came out signaling the end of our ride (of course!) and time for a great outdoor shower and coffee at the Rough and Tumble Lodge, conveniently located right at the end of the track.
I can honestly say this is my favourite multi day ride – and I’m not a person who relishes riding in bad weather. You do need a group that looks out for each other and who all have a reasonable level of skill and experience, because its not a walk in the park. As a grade 4 (advanced) trail at high altitude it is considerably more challenging than the Queen Charlotte or the Heaphy.
*We all rode full suspension XC or trail bikes – a hardtail would also be fine, and probably much easier for attaching racking systems.
*People do ride the full 85km in one day – but it would be a very big day out. You certainly wouldn’t have much time for taking in the views, reasonable rest stops and chatting with other track users along the way.
Read about how the Old Ghost Road trail was established in the 2017 edition of the Ride Manual.