Old Ghost Road, New Zealand

  • Distance

    52 Mi.

    (84 KM)
  • Days

    3

  • % Unpaved

    100%

  • % Singletrack

    100%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    99%

  • Total Ascent

    8,992'

    (2,741 M)
  • High Point

    4,330'

    (1,320 M)

Contributed By

Montana Miller

Montana Miller

Guest Contributor

Montana trims his nose hairs with safety scissors, because they’re less dangerous to nostrils than pointy scissors. He learned to ride mountain bikes on some slag piles outside of Pittsburgh, and has since ridden in more scenic places. When he’s not touring with his tiny wife, he lives in a van down by the river between the Pennsylvania and West Virginia border. He writes other things on dirtcruise.com.

The Old Ghost Road is the longest singletrack ride in New Zealand, and the best. The trail winds through dense native bush, and rocky high alpine on good bench-cut and machine built tread. It’s fantastic backcountry riding, made accessible for intermediate mountain bikers.
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The best long single track ride in New Zealand, the Old Ghost Road starts deep in dense, mossy and gnarled native bush and slowly climbs up to a misty high alpine ridge line, passing dozens of waterfalls along the way.

Up high, there’s tight single track, exposure on trail that’s been painstakingly blasted into hard granite, all followed by a ripping descent with sharp switchbacks where you’d better stay on target.

The trail is based on a route that was surveyed for a mining road in the late 1800s, when a gold rush swept through New Zealand. After finding the antique map, the trail’s founders discovered that some of the single track was ready to go— and the rest was hacked in over the years using a combination of trail building machines, dynamite, helicopters, gravel crushers, and hand tools.

  • Old Ghost Road, bikepacking New Zealand
  • Old Ghost Road, bikepacking New Zealand
  • Old Ghost Road, bikepacking New Zealand
  • Old Ghost Road, bikepacking New Zealand
  • Old Ghost Road, bikepacking New Zealand

It’s an impressive piece of work, the grades are all consistent and mellow, making it one of the most rideable backcountry trails around.

The trail has a swanky system of huts (with fully equipped kitchens), campsites, and helipads. So all styles of ride, from a standard self-supported bikepack, to a multi-day cruise with helicopter food drops, are all possible. Wherever you camp, you’re likely to be visited by wekas, one of New Zealand’s prehistoric-looking native birds. The wekas are famous thieves- so don’t leave anything outside that you don’t want to walk away.

For a two-day ride, the campsite at the end of the first climb at Ghost Lake, is a killer place to stay. It’s cool, comfortable, and has a phenomenal view. The lower elevation campsites are plagued by sandflies- if planning to camp there, it would be a good idea to reserve a spot in one of the huts instead.

The trail ends in Seddonville, an old coal mining town. The pub is the only business in town, but after this epic ride, it’s all you’ll need.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • A well-done mix of tight single track, exposure, views, waterfalls and dense bush.
  • The campsite at the end of the first climb at Ghost Lake, is a killer place to stay.
  • A swanky system of huts (with fully equipped kitchens), campsites, and helipads.
  • Getting robbed by wekas, one of New Zealand’s prehistoric-looking native birds.
  • This is a big, backcountry singletrack ride. But compared with North American routes like the Colorado Trail and Arizona Trail, the Old Ghost Road is pretty easy going. The surface is well maintained and consistent.
  • The trail is maintained by the Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust. Make a donation if you liked the ride.
  • Book huts and campsites well in advance.
  • Be ready for high alpine conditions, although the trail tops out at 4300 feet, conditions are similar to what you’d find above 11,000 feet in North America.
  • The weather is unpredictable – New Zealand is a small, mountainous island that’s battered by arctic wind. Puffy coats and rain jackets required.
  • If it rains, the trail can be muddy, and the descents will be much more technical when wet.
  • Lower campsites are full of sandflies. Bring long sleeves or repellent.
  • Five huts and campsites along the route – Lyell Saddle, Ghost Lake, Stern Valley, Goat Creek, and Specimen Point. The huts have water, a kitchen, composting toilets, and bunks. They’re beautiful spots. If you want to stay in a hut, book at least a month in advance at www.oldghostroad.org.nz/bookings/. Tent sites are also available at the huts, and are less popular with local riders (so they don’t take as much planning to get a spot).
  • Lyell Campground at the trailhead is a good place to start a trip, the Seddonville Holiday Park at the other end is cheap and has showers.
  • Water is available at all the huts, there’s also plenty of filterable surface water on the route.
  • No food on route, the closest town to the Lyell start is Murchison, 30 miles away.
  • The Seddonville Hotel in Seddonville has good burgers and cheap beer.

Make it a Loop

Another popular option is to loop it from Westport. To do this use the shaded red line on Open Cycle Maps (shown in GPX embed). This utilizes some gravel, additional singletrack, the Charming Creek Walkway, and a stretch of coastal pavement to bring it to around 111 miles (179km).

Notes from established trail:

From the Lyell Campground, start the long climb up to Lyell Saddle, then continue to Ghost Lake. With 3900 feet of elevation gain, this climb will take most (or all) of the first day. But it’s sweet riding- non-technical, and the grade is the most consistent and mellow that you’ll ever find on backcountry singletrack.

At about 3500 feet, the trail leaves the bush and heads into the alpine zone above tree line. The trail here has been blasted into the side of a granite ridge, and it’s rocky and tricky in spots. A mistake here could be fatal.

Traverse the last ridge to the Ghost Lake hut. This is a good spot to camp if you’re doing the trail in two days. The views are killer, and it’s sandfly-free (sandflies can be unbearable in many areas of the South Island). After sunset, Murchison is visible way down in the valley below.

If you’ve got the skills, the descent from Ghost Lake is fantastic. It starts on a boardwalk in the bush, then drops steeply down a series of incredibly tight switchbacks on the side of a cliff. Rip through some muddy, rooty trail, then a steep climb up to Skyline Ridge. The ridge is more tight, technical riding, which finally ends at the Skyline Steps.

If you’re not comfortable with extremely tight switchbacks and exposure, don’t underestimate how long this section will take. It’s much more difficult riding than the rest of the trail. If you make it to Ghost Lake late in the afternoon, don’t try to continue to the next hut that day.

The Skyline Steps are the only unridable portion of the trail. With a loaded bike, they’re hard enough to walk. Saddle on the shoulder is the easiest way to go. A couple hundred vertical feet down, and the trail opens up again. It’s rolling, machine-built cruising the rest of the way to Seddonville.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Kara Folkerts

    this looks like a killer route!!

  • Cool! That’s our premium back country trail. Another good option after May 1 when the Heaphy track opens for the MTB season is to combine the two tracks for a ‘Top of the South’ loop. https://www.facebook.com/asphotonz/posts/1233137586705733

  • xyrandus

    I had this idea too! Planning to begin on the Heaphy on May 1 and then head down to the Old Ghost Road after. Will be my first bikepacking trip, can’t wait!

  • “OLD GHOST ROAD”… brrrrr, scary.

  • Yeah, kind of looks like a theme park with that entry sign (second to last pic)!

  • Nice. Looks like there are a few loops you can make out of it…

  • lollycake

    That Lyell campground is one of the most intensely sandfly swarmy areas in this region, which is saying a lot.

  • Per

    That looks absolutely amazing…
    Definitely on the “to do” list
    Noticing more and more really nice rides in New Zealand

    http://spottymoz.com

  • Nice! You can also add the Denniston Shortcut into the mix for a fantastic loop with no shuttling needed: http://goodrotations.co/bikepacking-old-ghost-road-roundabout/

  • Cool. Yeah, we had made a note of that under Trail Notes.

  • Ooops, missed that! Cheers

  • William Clark

    Always wanted to explore this track! For this terrain, did you find the Chronicles or Ikons were better performing?