Cycling The Old Ghost Road
Thought it was time we checked out the Old Ghost Road since it had been open since Dec 2015 and in the first two months they had 2,500 keen cyclists ride it. We managed to clear the last week before Easter in our diaries and got our hut bookings locked in. Expectations were high when we arrived in Nelson, picked up our rental car and unpacked our bikes at Nelson Auto Rentals. With a three day, good weather window we set off the following day from the Lyell carpark and our team of four (Mike, John, Paul and Pete) commenced the 19km, 700m+ vertical metre climb to the Lyell Saddle hut. The first 12km was a reasonably constant, manageable gradient broken by various historic points of interest and the big slips. The last 7km to the saddle flattened out and we all had big gins on our dials by the time we reached the hut in just under 3 hours. An easy first day had us relaxing in a great hut with fabulous views north to the Glasgow range.
A clear sky and mist covered mountains had us on the trail by 8am anticipating a wee 600m climb up the slopes of Bald hill and onto the open tussock tops. We were passed by a couple of track workers on trail bikes as we laboured up the hill in granny gear. Once above the bushline the views were spectacular, comparable to anything I have experienced whilst tramping all around NZ. Now that we were in the open we had views of the trail meandering around the side of Mt Montgomery and Rock Tor. We suddenly started to grasp the amount of effort required to hack this trail around these granite slopes with the help of wee bit of explosives, small earth movers and lots of man power.
We deemed it safer to walk the worst parts of the sidle but before long we arrived at Heavens Door with its cloud shrouded view out to the east. A fast downhill to Ghost Lake hut had us arriving as a Helicopter dropped off a couple of bikes. Wayne from Helicopter Charters Karamea was working with a few of the team cleaning out the composting toilet and stocking up on firewood. A lunch break at the hut had us checking out the next big downhill with heaps of acute zigzags before a climb up to Skyline and the steps. The hut's location is spectacular and you could spend hours looking at the view. A quick, but careful decent thru the zigzags and a another climb upto Skyline had us checking out the trail down to the Boneyard and Solemn Saddle in the distance. But that was tomorrows ride and now we had the steps which weren't as bad as anticipated. A great, fast downhill all the way to Stern Valley hut which I thought was the best bit so far! Total riding time for the 25km was 3.25hrs with lots of additional time spent looking at the views. We had a full hut and cabins with the hut full of trampers from the Christchurch Over Forties Tramping club who had an average age of 71. Good to see lots of trampers enjoying the track without any problems with riders.
Day Three had us ascending out of the Stern valley with a weary eye on the sky for the forecast heavy rain in the afternoon. The Boneyard provided us with an appreciation of the forces of nature as we climbed up the earthquake scarred slopes to the Solemn Saddle. From here, there was approx 30km of downhill to Seddonville but the rain was arriving early. Luckily its a fabulously fast, flowing trail that had us before long at Specimen Point hut for lunch and then a quick ride thru the gorge in the rain to Seddonville. The locals were moving the cars to the other side of the ford as we arrived so obviously they were expecting a major cloudburst.
As we sat in the Seddonville pub that night enjoying a few quiet ones we marveled at the audacity of the locals who ignored the doubters and overcome any obstacles in their way. Thank you for your perseverance. A great track which I'm sure will become the jewel of the NZ Cycle Trails and a huge success. This was my first cycling trip where I had got above the bushine to enjoy the spectacular views these elevations offer, now for the next one!!
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