Where: New Zealand, North West corner of the South Island
What: Old Ghost Road, 85km
Day 1: Lyell – Stern Valley hut 43k
Day 2: Stern Valley hut – Seddonville 42km
How: Moutain Bikes
Who: Claire Bennett & Martha Gill
When planning my trip to New Zealand and looking at what else I could fit into my whistle stop tour of the south Island as well as racing, the Old Ghost Road was up there at the top of the list!
An 85km old gold miners trail, restored as one of New Zealand’s premier backcountry mountain bike trails.
The weather forecast for the next two days wasn’t looking great, wet, but nothing we Brits aren’t used to. I chatted with Anka Martin about the conditions and to get some advice, we agreed it was a goer. We just needed to be sensible.
Sunday was spent getting the hire car booked (hard to tell from a small photograph of a car as to whether it would fit two bikes, people and kit in!!), food shop for the two day adventure, booking the hut, booking the shuttle back to the start and getting packed up ready to make a swift getaway from Nelson on the Monday.
Day one: Lyell – Stern Valley Hut
With two bikes, kit and myself and Martha loaded into a Toyota Yaris, we made the 2hr journey south west to the start: Lyell.
Getting sorted at the car park was a short lived affair, the sand flies got the better of us and we soon whizzed out the car park, stopping briefly to take a photo of course at the gate!
The trail started quite mellow, slowly starting to make its way up to the high point for the day, just short of 1300m. The trail meandered its way up a well made trail lined with iconic New Zealand ferns, the native forest was so lush and green.
The trail soon started to feel like an adventure, disappearing further into the forest and leaving civilisation behind. Marker posts counted out the Km’s, every single one! We soon started to get that familiar, uncomfortable sore bum feeling you get when your bag is slightly heavier than it’s used to!
The trail is shared with trampers (walkers!!) we didn’t see many, might have had something to do with our midday departure from the start. Would we make it to the hut before dark? Was the rain going to hold off? That was all part of the adventure!
The terrain changed from native forest to tussock lined ridge lines, with views for miles as we topped out at the highest part of the trip. Now for a bit of free wheeling!
The trail was exposed and narrow in places, pretty exciting!
Making many stops for photos and absorbing it all, we enjoyed whooping and wailing down the descent to the Ghost Lake hut. Awesome, tight, loose switchbacks led us from the hut to a short climb where we arrived at Skyline ridge.
A superb piece of trail, snaking our way across the ridge heading downhill on loose dusty ground. Perfect! Off the bikes for the Sykline steps, 60 vertical metres of height loss in the form of steep wooden steps leading us onto the most amazing flow trail all the way to our home for the night: Stern Valley Hut at 400m. Arriving at the hut by 6pm we had managed to make the first day into the hut before dark, just!
Along the way there are many huts, we chose the Stern Valley Hut, it’s a category 1 hut, meaning it’s a well equipped hut. We just needed to take in food and a sleeping bag. Stoves, gas, pans, cutlery, water, bed was all provided.
We settled into the hut for the night with our hut buddies, two kiwi guys running the OGR and a kiwi couple riding the OGR in 3 days. Supper constituted of a cupa soup starter, rehydrated spag bol, a craft ale and some chocolate, swifty followed by bed (by 9am! Rock and roll!)
Day two: Stern Valley Hut – Seddonville
Folk started to stir just as it was getting light. We resisted and lay there listening to chatter amongst the parties. We’d worked out we didn’t need to leave till 8.30. The hut was warm and the beds were comfy, getting out of bed was a little difficult! With that familiar stiffness feeling we went about getting breakfast on.
This time dehydrated yoghurt and muesli, sounds awful but was actually quite palatable!! With bags reloaded and waterproof jackets on we left the hut on our way. Mist was hugging the hillsides all around us, it was super still, so quiet as we started the climb. The jackets soon came off, just too warm and humid! Unlike the UK, even though it was raining it was warm rain!
Once we’d done the climb, 40 mins after setting off we descending down to Specimen Hut. A great piece of flown, fun trail. Lots of ferns heavy with rain drooping at the side of the trail made for really wet arms as we descended! We were good on time so stopped off at the hut and made a brew.
The remainder of the trail, ~15km, can only be described as the most enjoyable and beautiful section of undulating trail I’ve ever ridden. High above the Mokihinui River, traversing skinny, exposed trails, with crazy suspension bridges over huge creeks! Mega!!! The km markers were telling us we were sooo close and boom!
At 83km in a steep climb hit! Feeling pretty tired we were happy to push eventually rolling out of the forest and through the finish gate at Seddonville to complete our OGR mission!
What a trail! The work that has gone in to get that trail to the standard it is with a well maintained hut network is impressive! New Zealand knows how to do adventure tourism!
Martha and I went and sat at the Rough and Tumble lodge to await our shuttle back to start at Lyell. Feeling pretty chuffed with our efforts, completing the OGR in two days, taking just under 12hours of riding.
Pretty amazing to consider I was sat booking all the component parts of the OGR on the Sunday afternoon, riding it by midday on the Monday and finishing it by 1pm on the Tuesday. That’s credit to how well set up adventures like these can be done in NZ. Mother Nature was on our side too, the rain never really materialised.
I can’t recommend the OGR website enough, that made doing the adventure in a tight tImeline achievable. All the info you need in one place!
Our shuttle driver met us early and lucky for us was happy to get us back to our car, two hours down the road. A quick turn around was needed once again to avoid the savage sand flies! Bike wheels whipped out, bags thrown in and boom we were on our way to celebratory fish and chips!