History, views, pristine forest, a big river gorge.
The Old Ghost Road is New Zealand’s latest named track, just opened in December 2015, and offers a lot. In fact, it’s entirely audacious. Much of the area has just been included into Kahurangi National Park, although the track is administered and maintained by a non-profit organisation.
The history is from the gold mining era, 1870s — 1912, when a pack track was built at either end: in the south up to Lyell Saddle, in the north, the first few kilometres up the Mokihinui River are to Rough and Tumble Creek, then heading over to Karamea. Lyell produced serious quantities of gold and was once a thriving town, although now little remains from that era, other than the cemetery.
There are sporadic views along the track in the forest, but once on to the tops around Rocky Tor the views are extensive and dramatic.
The track is fully benched with an easy gradient, after all, it’s been designed as a mountain bike route, although tramping is allegedly also encouraged. It has some wiggly woggly sections.
The Old Ghost Road is a new track and with 14 bridges is close to floodproof. Even the ford on the way to Seddonville has a footbridge. The track is close to Great Walk standards.
That all sounds fantastic, but there is one issue for people walking the route. Keep an eye out for those adrenaline-crazed mountain bikers zipping past in their pelotons.
where | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
Lyell campground on SH6 in the Upper Buller Gorge, 15 km northeast of Inangahua, to trail end carpark 2 km south of Seddonville on the West Coast north of Westport.
Can be walked in either direction, transportation might dictate this.
distance | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
time | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
4 days — tramping
2 or 3 days — mountain bike
when | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
Anytime, but best when there are longer and warmer days, ie, the summer months, November to April. Note that with the hut booking system the numbers are essentially limited. Best to check when you can get a spot in a hut before getting too far down the track with making plans.
The Lyell Range around Rocky Tor, undulating around 1200 — 1400 m can be snow-covered in winter and may present an avalanche risk.
maps and GPS | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
The official Old Ghost Road map is probably sufficient.
Land Information New Zealand, LINZ, has the track on Lyell BR 22, Topo50 map, the map which covers the entire route.
Newtopo make an A1 waterproof map of the Old Ghost Road for $24.
route description | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
The Old Ghost Road website has the main information about the track.
The DOC Old Ghost Road page has some information, including brief track notes from hut to hut.
huts and campsites | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
There are 6 huts along the track, 4 of which have “sleepouts”.
The Mokihinui Forks Hut and Goat Creek Hut are still managed by DOC, and they are both free to stay. The other four are managed by the Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust, and you have to pre-book and pay.
The shared accommodation fee is a flat rate of $160 per adult and $80 per child (16 and under). The fee covers your entire trip whether you choose to spend 1, 2, 3, or 4 nights on the trail (it is not per night)
You need to book your accommodation, but note that places in huts fill quickly in the summer months so book well ahead to avoid disappointment. Beds at Ghost Lake Hut are particularly sought by mountain bikers.
There’s also a useful campsite at the southern trailhead:
There are small official paid campsites at Lyell Saddle Hut, Ghost Lake Hut, Specimen Point, and Stern Valley Hut. You can camp at Goat Creek Hut or Mokihinui Forks Hut, and basically anywhere else you like along the trail for free.
Tramping times | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
Here’s the DOC stated tramping times between huts, as shown on their website, usually actual walking times, ie, not taking into account any long breaks.
Unfortunately, this time information tends to emphasise a pointless aspect of tramping, The Destination, and, some trampers feel they need to test themselves, rush, to prove something to someone. Aren’t you there to experience your environment, notice things, go down to the river and spot a huge trout, and watch the bellbirds flitting around? There’s no actual requirement to occupy the full 10 hours a day racing through the landscape.
Lyell campsite/Highway 6 to Lyell Saddle Hut
Tramping time: 4 — 6 hours
Mountain biking time: 3 — 4 hours
Distance: 18 km
Lyell Saddle Hut to Ghost Lake Hut
Tramping time: 3 — 5 hours
Mountain biking time: 2 hours 30 minutes — 4 hours
Distance: 12 km
Ghost Lake Hut to Stern Valley Hut
Tramping time: 3 — 4 hours
Mountain biking time: 2 — 3 hours
Distance: 13 km
Stern Valley Hut to Goat Creek Hut
Tramping time: 3 — 4 hours
Mountain biking time: 2 — 3 hours
Distance: 14 km
Goat Creek Hut to Mokihinui Forks Hut
Tramping time: 2 — 3 hours
Mountain biking time: 1 — 2 hours
Distance: 8 km
Mokihinui Forks Hut to Specimen Point Hut
Tramping time: 1 — 1 hour 30 minutes
Mountain biking time: 30 minutes — 1 hour
Distance: 3 km
Specimen Point Hut to Seddonville roadend, West Coast
Tramping time: 4 — 6 hours tramping
Mountain biking time: 2 — 4 hours
Distance: 17 km
getting there | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
The biggest issue is that the ends of the track are more than 100 km apart, so if you leave your car at one end you have to somehow get back that distance.
If you can be dropped off at the Lyell campsite carpark, what’s the problem? Hitching is possible as there is a reasonable level of traffic on the roads at each end.
Using public transport: There’s an early morning, 7 15 am, some days Intercity bus, $45, from Nelson to Westport that can connect with the Karamea Express bus (03-782 6757; email@example.com) to Karamea that will drop you off at Seddonville for $35 a person by 12 30 pm, just enough time to make it up to Specimen Point Hut before dark, ie, you can get from Nelson to the first hut, including a four to five-hour walk, in a day. That’s useful. Or you can get off at the Lyell campsite on Highway 6 and walk up to Lyell Saddle hut.
Groups can use Trek Express, which offers Nelson to Lyell for $70, or Nelson to Seddonville for $110, minimum 4 people. They do have scheduled trips you can join where you only pay the per person price, mostly used by those on the Heaphy Track but Trek will drop you off along the way for the same price.
If you can get to Westport Hike n Bike have a variety of options.
supplies | Old Ghost Road, Mokihinui Forks Ecological Area/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
Nelson, Richmond or Westport have the usual major supermarkets, either Countdown, New World, Pak’nsave, for getting the main supplies.
Gas canisters, Shellite or Fuelite for your stove can be obtained at outdoor and hardware stores if you haven’t been allowed to fly with it.
warnings | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
For trampers there are a few issues.
The Old Ghost Road has immediately become an unbelievably popular mountain bike track, visitors flocking in from around the world, all that single track, 85 km, and particularly at the weekend the track is already extensively used by adrenaline-charged crazies on two-wheels. There is a helicopter service to fly groups up to the highest point and let their bikes coast down to Lyell which is very popular at the weekends, at least in the summer months.
You may meet a peloton of mountain bikers making haste down the slope, brakes squealing, perhaps, or just fanging it.
There is a fair proportion of the track through the Lyell Range when you pop out of the forest onto the tops, up around 1300 m, and are entirely exposed to the elements. For those who are not used to New Zealand alpine conditions, it can be a shock how quickly the weather can turn nasty in a big way. From cloudless skies to horizontal rain with 100 km/hour winds in less than an hour.
Oh, I’d better mention this. The trail has been built and managed by a private trust which has taken an entirely idiosyncratic approach to the huts. Many of the sleeping areas are insanely uninsulated and not at all insect-proof, poorly configured with basic requirements such as bench space and pack storage woefully inadequate. There are often unnecessary steps everywhere, with decking that will become greasy. DOC got these things right more than 10 years ago.
The huts are expensive. A flat rate of $160 for up to four nights.
The Old Ghost Road is a track best walked in the off-season, preferably mid-week.
other websites | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
DOC has the Old Ghost Road website.
Nga Haerenga/The New Zealand Bike Trail has some information.
a big image slideshow | Old Ghost Road, Kahurangi National Park/Lyell-Radiant Conservation Area
Here’s a 52-image slideshow from the Old Ghost Road giving an indication of the general track conditions and sights along the way, if you need any further convincing.
Click on the thumbnail image below to get the slideshow started, then you can click on the left or right sides of the bigger images to go forward or back.
Images of the Old Ghost Road huts can be found in the other Kahurangi huts section.