The weather isn’t looking good for Wednesday and Thursday, the backpackers is fully booked and there isn’t going to be a second night.

I’ve gotta move on.

I was in early enough yesterday to sort out all my food requirements for the next few days when I will be walking the Old Ghost Road. And booked some nights in the huts, this track is mostly not covered by my backcountry hut pass. $30 a night seems steep, that’s up there with the luxury of the Abel Tasman or Heaphy Track 5 star accommodation.

Clothes washing can wait.

The morning is foggy, Murchison gets this a lot, but I decide on hitching off early. No point in hanging around.

I’m over on the side of the road near a big cafe just before the bridge having had a decent breakfast just after 8.

Not much traffic but a few big four-wheel-drives with just the solitary driver zip on past, gathering speed for the big 100 sign just before the bridge. I can see them coming for a kilometre down the street, long enough to get my hopes up.

In the distance is another hitchhiker, with a dog, he slowly approaches, then I’m awkwardly still hitching with another guy and his dog. We have a chat, he wants to get back to the Lewis Pass.

Surprisingly a car stops, I run down.

Most cars should be going to the West Coast, but this is going to Christchurch. I call out to the guy, the driver doesn’t mind the dog.

He’s off. He just got here and immediately got lucky.

I’m still waiting, now for more than an hour.

But not for long, strangely a Mercedes stops, fits me in and the driver plants boot, we’re away.

I hear his full life story before it’s time for me to get out not far down the Buller River at Lyell. It was once a township, of a sort, now only the cemetery remains.

The campground is almost full with the full assortment of Wicked and Maui vans, and some standard travellers beaten up vehicles, and there are additional cars parked with racks for mountain bicycles, maybe users of the Old Ghost Road.

This tramp can’t be classed as a primary goal of the summer, it’s an afterthought, a bit like my experience of the Queen Charlotte Track which I didn’t really enjoy as my finale on the South Island half of Te Araroa last year.

The Old Ghost Road has been primarily built as a mountain bike track and has only been fully open for a big two months.

Well, let’s get this right. Lyell was a gold mining settlement and the first bit of the track, up to Lyell Saddle, 18 km, was built as a dray track to link to another goldfield and has been cleaned up and extended so the total length is now 85 km.

It’s a Sunday and there are a few day walkers at the bottom, I meet 18 riders coming down in various bunches, 10 of them had been helicoptered to 1300 m and they were just cruising down, peloton-style, pedalling not quite always necessary, to the 150 m mark at the bottom.

For me it’s a very steady first day climb, the hut is at 875 metres, the track perfectly manicured, an even gradient, always uphill, although narrow in parts. There’s a couple of slips from the 1929 Murchison earthquake to cross that have 100 metre-style drop-offs, some areas have remnant mining equipment scattered around.

It’s an entirely different experience to my previous couple of weeks, but I don’t mind, its kinda nice just to be able to stride along without having to think about foot placement, or overgrown track, or steepness.

+++++horizontal rule+++++

A guide to the night’s accommodation: Lyell Saddle Hut

Yup, it's a big water tank. | Lyell Saddle Hut, Lyell Range/Radiant Range Conservation Area
← Day 12 | Civilisation! Murchison, err, backpackers Day 14 | Stern Valley Hut, Lyell Range/Radiant Range Conservation Area →