One of New Zealand’s best known mountain biking tracks, The Old Ghost Road turns out to be slightly more popular with hikers than bikers (about 52:48 ratio). I walked the 85km track over New Year 2020, enjoying relatively luxurious huts and epic mountain views, and less so the track surface (built for bikers) and persistent sandflies.
At Ghost Lake Hut the large group of hikers from the previous day were at the hut getting ready to leave, with their bikes heavier now they had all the sleeping gear and food that had been helicoptered up to them. The next section of track is where walkers need to be most aware of bikers as they can come from behind going fast down the hills. I strapped my bright orange rain jacket to the back of my pack to make myself more visible. Ideally I would have waited until they left but there seemed to be a fair bit of faff going on so I headed out ten minutes before them. After 13km I got to the next hut more than half an hour before them, so it was a good thing I didn’t wait.
Their pace was slowed by the first 4km being the most technical of the whole track, a solid grade 5, the hardest mountain bike track rating. The steep and winding track could clearly be seen ahead.
Boardwalk runs past Ghost Lake, a rather murky green small body of water.
There were great views of the landscape, which would be tricky to admire and take photos of while tackling this tight series of switchbacks.
The track rose steeply up toward Skyline Ridge with panoramic views.
The track was being worked on, with various pieces of equipment covered in green tarps in the middle of the track.
The Skyline Ridge offered more grand views of Newton River Conservation Area and Kahurangi National Park, with the ridge line marking the border between the two.
This would be technical riding and therefore made for more interesting walking.
When they were building the track they got stuck with a particularly steep section to navigate, so ended up putting in the Skyline Steps to get people 60m down to the Stern Valley below.
From there it was 9km through fern lined bush, running along by Stern Creek, crossed by a couple of bridges.
After 25km it was good to reach Stern Valley Hut by early afternoon, for a quick shower (lots of sandflies here) and a long afternoon catching up with writing blogs. This is more like a typical DOC hut in style, but with the same facilities as the other huts.
It was a long afternoon though, in a full and noisy hut during which I started to think about potentially finishing the track the next day rather than the following day as planned. This would avoid the heavy rain forecast for the last day, give me some time in civilisation before my next adventure, and avoid having an entire afternoon / evening in the next hut. It would involve walking 42km though, the furthest I’ve ever walked in a day, with a multi-day pack, over undulating terrain. A good challenge!
Which I started at 6am the next day, hitting the track at dawn with my camera stowed away as it was raining lightly, so most of the photos that follow were taken on my old iPhone. The air was thick with sandflies, I’ve never seen so many flying around.
Thankfully they lessened when I got out of the bush and headed up hill past Lake Grim and Lake Cheerful.
The Boneyard was quite an eerie spot on a low cloud but thankfully mostly dry day.
It was a pretty uneventful walk with a number of bridges crossing streams flowing into the Mokihinui River South Branch.
With a large suspension bridge crossing the river itself, complete with a door to prevent possums from crossing over. They live on one side of the river but thankfully haven’t made it to the other side yet.
The bush was particularly atmospheric to wander through.
The Resurgence was an attractive freshwater spring.
After 5 hours and 25km I reached Specimen Point Hut in time for a much needed lunch. It was a nicely located spot looking down Mokhinui River Gorge, if home to plenty of sandflies, hard to avoid on this track.
I didn’t stay for long though as still had another 17km to walk. It was scenic walk through Mokhinui River Gorge, with a number of bridges and some protective fencing, along with a surprising number of hardy trail runners, three passed me.
There were more decent views and bridges, along with a small waterfall, and historic mining remains.
More atmospheric bush made the final stretch of track relatively interesting to walk and it was basically flat. After just over three and half hours I reached the end / start of the track at Seddonville, just after the group of bikers finished the track.