Bike it, hike it or run it?
This purpose built 85km single track is fast becoming one of the best backcountry mountain bike routes in the world.
The Old Ghost Road runs along the old dray trail that was used by gold miners residing in the gold mining town of Lyell after it was established back in the 1860’s. Lyell is situated at one end of the trail and the stunning Mokihinui River gorge at the other. The revived trail traverses bush-clad valleys and tussock tops delivering stunning panoramic views, and sidles rock and scree faces that resulted from the 1929 Murchison earthquake.
There is no questioning that this is a superb piece of New Zealand backcountry and with $6.5million spent on the track and huts it is no rough bushbash. The question is should you only do it on a mountain bike? What about hiking or trail running?
For mountain bikers, the decision is simple – bike it!
It is a purpose-built track, cambered in the right places but challenging. It is a Grade 4 track so needs to be treated with respect. If you are not a fit and experienced mountain biker and if you don’t like steep climbs, unavoidable obstacles and narrow tracks with a reasonable drop off, then this isn’t the track for you. If you can handle some of those things but not all, then I say give it a go. Walking some of the more technical switchbacks or getting the old ‘sewing machine leg’ going on some of the narrow sections is all good for a bit of an adrenalin hit. It also gives you a benchmark so you must come back again and cycle some of those sections you walked next time.
For hikers, it depends on how you view sharing a track with cyclists.
We are incredibly spoilt here in New Zealand, with almost a third of New Zealand’s total land area designated for conservation and under the management of the Department of Conservation, we are not short on choices for hiking destinations.
The Old Ghost Road is a well formed and maintained track, the huts are incredibly well equipped with cookers, pots, cutlery, cups and even coffee plungers, so it makes for a pretty easy hike in spectacular country.
The downfalls, well, it depends on how you look at it; if you like the challenge of having a rough track and having to scramble occasionally, or look for markers to ensure you haven’t veered off course, then you won’t find this on the Old Ghost Road. If you like being able to drift off into your own headspace and not think about every step you take and be rewarded with 360 degree vistas of backcountry splendor, then you are in luck.
It is a 4-5 day hike and with six huts along the track you can design a multi-day hike that works best for your party. There is not a preferable direction for hikers. Mountain bikers often traverse from Lyell to Seddonville so it is personal preference.
Your attitude towards the shared use of the track is all down to individual experience and preference. Trip Advisor reviews suggest there is a very easy relationship between the two recreation user groups, with consistent feedback like this:
"The first thing for me was the easy relationship between cyclists and trampers, men and women both. I expected the cyclists might treat the trampers as a bit of a nuisance, but far from it. Trampers were welcome, the cyclists were great on the track at warning, where possible, of their approach, the numbers following, etc. Trampers in turn called out their numbers." Dan from Tauranga who visited in February 2017
For trail runners – it depends whether you can run 85km with 2,600m of ascent.
For the trail runner that likes the big distances or multi-day running this track is hard to beat.
What makes it so good?
- Most the track is pretty smooth and this is particularly true at either end of the track when one may be failing to lift their feet as high as usual.
- The track is mixed terrain so plenty to distract you; the stunning Mokihinui River gorge, swing bridges, waterfalls, tussock tops, stairs and switchbacks.
- If you are doing it as a multi-day trail run having such well-equipped huts makes your pack so much lighter.
- There are six huts so if you blow out, twist an ankle or the weather comes in there is shelter.
- It is an A to B trail with plenty of shuttle and car relocation options.
- It is a challenge but for the uber-fit it is all runnable!
There is the Old Ghost Ultra event each year if you would like some company running the trail and the security of knowing you are participating in a supported event. No pressure to be with the front runners that completed the 2017 event in a blistering sub-7-hour time.
No matter how you cover the distance on the Old Ghost Road just put it on your bucket list, you will not regret it.
Before you go take a moment to read more about the Old Ghost Road and on your return, consider giving a donation to this incredible not-for-profit community group. Once you have hiked, biked or run the trail you will appreciate the massive volunteer efforts that have gone into making this trail possible – they deserve our support.