Hunting for Ghosts

Keen to explore the South Island’s mountain bike gem, a few friends and I headed to the north west corner of the South Island in search of some epic single track. The Old Ghost road delivered this in bucket loads, 85km of amazing track crafted by tenacious West Coasters. A simply stunning route, carved through this wild landscape.

After an early start from Christchurch we left Lyell at 10.45 and began the journey that would see us traverses majestic native forest, open tussock tops, river flats and forgotten valleys. We wanted to soak in the views and our leisurely pace was further slowed with a few mechanicals; no air in the suspension, broken chain and ripped side wall (that was my contribution). As it was Labour weekend, all the huts where fully booked so after brief stop at Ghost Lake we headed towards Stern Valley hut and started to tackle the most challenging section of the route.

A rogue track builder had put in countless switchbacks as we started a fast decent towards the ridge line that would take us to the Skyline steps. Due to the terrain and financial restrictions, the steep steps where the only viable option to get off the steep terrain. We where well rewarded though, with some sweat single track to the Stern Valley hut. We arrived in daylight which is a bit of a rarity with this group. With a full hut, we had the Blue Duck sleep out, equiped with insect nets – essential in these parts to keep the sandflies at bay.

Near the start of day 2 we had an amazing climb through a bolder field and more epic single track descents. We soon headed into the Mokihinui Valley and successfully negotiated the narrow bluffs with names such as ‘Suicide Slips’. The track had become gradually flatter and we made good time as we headed for the Seddonville pub for a feed. The nachos didn’t really hit the spot as we headed into Charming Creek which back in the day was valued for its coal. To extract the black gold railway tracks where laid and this now forms a fair chunk of the track with a tunnel or two thrown in for good measure.

Granity was a welcome sight and the hunt was on for some real food. Good old West Coast hospitality came through as we all indulged in the stable Kiwi culinary dish, the pie! But these where far from ordinary pies, hell no! Mine was a Rogan Josh pie, oh so good. My sweat tooth got the better of me so I couldn’t resist the chocolate cake…so so good! With our appetites satisfied, it was time to head towards Denniston and make a dent in the rest of our circuit before the light faded.

Our slog up the Denniston road took an hour and then we headed towards the plateau in search of the pylon track that would lead us back to Lyell. This area still has the visible scars of its mining past. They where bred tough back in the day, and they had to be to survive these challenging conditions. Our route finding was made easier with the National Cycle Network signs keeping us on track. We kept on climbing and eventually hooked up with the pylon road. We soon lost altitude very fast as the track took the most direct route down the mountain and eventually spat us out at our campsite for the night; the only piece of flat land around. We’d timed it to perfection with just enough light to set up camp and get our food sorted, we even had time for a campfire.

Our finally morning dawned overcast but perfect conditions for the days climbing. Our biggest obstacle lay in our way and if the Mackley River was too high we’d have over a 100km detour. I had been through the area over 5 years ago and got to this very river and had to turn around as it was in flood. However we had better luck this time so there was no issues crossing the river. A steep ascent greeted us on the other side of the river which would be the last major one for the trip. Houses, electric fences, traffic; we where soon back in civilisation and after just over 3 hours we’d completed the circuit. It was one hell of a ride with great weather, awesome company and some culinary treats rounding off our wee adventure.