Yellow Jersey
A Very Special Cycle Trail
Monday, 2 November 2015, 6:00 AM

The Old Ghost Road will be one of the world's great cycling experiences when it is completed next year. The 85km trail traverses a wonderful region of the northern West Coast that is remote, beautiful and diverse.  From sea level near the mouth of the Mokihinui river to 1300 metres on the Lyell Range and then down again, the trail offers a challenging ride for experienced mountain bikers.

I was lucky in October to be able to ride a number of sections of the trail with a helicopter helping us over the bigger climbs and through some of the unfinished parts.

We met our Helicharter Karamea helicopter beside the upmarket Rough and Tumble lodge perched on the side of the Mokihinui river and were flown in 15 KMs over the narrow and picture perfect gorge with the single track trail snaking along the edge of the river below us. We were dropped at the first hut – Specimen Point - and sampled 45minutes of lovely undulating single track through mixed podocarp, beech forest with great views of the river. Having ridden most of NZ's Great Rides the bush and river views here are as good as anything I have experienced and the track quality is excellent.

Photo © Just MTB

Coming out at the ‘Mokihinui Forks’ and looking across at former farmland where deer are often seen provided an interesting contrast to the bush covered trail we had emerged from.

Flying from here over the wide and forested southern Mokihinui valley led us to the first serious climb- albeit done in the chopper- where one of the trail builders camps was clearly visible. These guys are the heroes of the trail, living in this isolated and often harsh environment building trail metre by metre.

Over the ridge and we get dropped off at the head of Stern Valley for a down hill section on some brand new trail passing through massive rocks above a couple of large mountain tarns. A somewhat challenging section but it will pack down with use and the views are very rewarding.

Once we reached the tarns the gradient settled down and the more established trail was a pleasure to ride...again through lovely beech forest with plenty of bird sound.

Our last helicopter lift was the most spectacular. We flew up and over the highest point of the trail and were greeted by a wide vista spectacle of the distant southern alps. The trail below us zig zagged up a couple of ridge lines to stop at the precariously sited Ghost Lake hut. At 1200m the highest hut on the trail and close to the high point of the trail overall. While we didn't stop here this is the place I most want to come back to. The climb from either end of the trail to this point will be demanding but the reward of that view will make the effort well worthwhile, a feeling of being on top of the world in every respect.

Photo © Phil Rossiter

Our last and longest section of riding started a couple of KMs below the hut and had us bursting with smiles as we enjoyed 25kms of fantastic single track downhill. Not overly steep or technical, just lovely flowing trail through majestic beech forest.  7kms down we stopped at the Lyell saddle hut and read the October 4 visitor book entry stating "15cms of snow on the ground, can't go any higher!" Snow in October highlights how rugged this ride could get in bad weather.

The last section to Lyell passes several former gold mining settlements, long since abandoned and in places that makes you question the sanity of whoever chose the sites. Proximity to gold obviously outweighed any other concerns...such as how do I dry my clothes if my house is in shade for 9 months of the year?

While the Lyell camping ground was our end point it would be an equally good place to be start your ride, especially if you are travelling between Nelson and the West Coast. A current option is to ride some, or all the way up, to the Ghost Lake hut. You can stay there overnight and the following day explore a little beyond the hut before enjoying the wonderful downhill ride back to Lyell, or return the same day.

Photos © Richard Rossiter / Phil Rossiter

Alternatively a helicopter ride from either the Lyell or Mokihinui side to one of the high points and riding out the same day would be an absolutely outstanding experience. Helicharter Karamea are great operators and can offer affordable transport, especially if they have a machine in the area.

In my mind this is a very, very special trail. It's not for everyone and you need to pick the weather but the visionaries behind this trail have given NZ a world class tourism asset.

Useful links  
For latest trail information,mapsand hut bookings.
For helicopter charters.  
For good quality mountain bike hire in Westport.

Originally published in NZ Bike Issue 79, February 2015


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