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Level: Advanced
Length: 51 mi (82.1 km)
Surface: Singletrack
Configuration: One-way
Elevation: +6/772 ft
Total: 26 riders

Mountain Biking The Old Ghost Road

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#6 of 387 mountain bike trails in New Zealand
#605 in the world

It's a harsh, majestic, beautiful, rugged and remote sub-alpine land where no mountain biker would ever have dreamed of taking a bike but thanks to vision, persistence, sweat, tears and a few million dollars, an ultra-epic 85km trail has been constructed through this awesome, unforgiving wilderness.

The south end starts at the former mining town of Lyell in the Buller Gorge. The trail follows an old miner's track that gains about 750m as it climbs steadily up through beech forest. It's well benched into the hillside and generally friendly but remember, if you're not used to bike-packing the extra weight will mess with your balance. First stop is Lyell Saddle after 18km where there is an 11 bed hut.
From Lyell Saddle there is a new machine-made 12km trail that relentlessly climbs more than 400m to Ghost Lake at 1200m. Just above the tree line the track becomes grade 5 ; rocky, narrow and precipitously exposed for about a kilometre before easing back down a little to Ghost Lake Hut.

Ghost Lake Hut is perched high above a cliff looking down on Skyline Ridge and the next amazing hand-made section of trail. You're up above the tree line here and the alpine views go on forever on a clear day. This hut is the most popular on the trail.

The ridge drops off steeply below the hut and the trail is grade 5 for a few kilometres as it zigzags its way down in dozens of trecherous switchbacks and then makes its rugged way along Skyline Ridge. You can look forward to rocks, steps, roots, narrow, steep, mud, exposure and other surprises. All in all you'll know you're alive. Then you'll come to the steps. There are 300 odd where the terrain overwhelmed the track builders at the end of Skyline Ridge. Below the steps the track is machine-made, down-sloping and generally fast - quite a blast - but variable. After 11km, and a descent of nearly 800m, at the 42km mark you'll reach the Stern Valley Hut.

Then the climb up the Boneyard to Solemn Saddle will sear your lungs, bring tears to your eyes, and stretch your chain. After that you'll experience a life-changing descent into a glorious mountain valley and arrive at the magnificently sited Specimen Point Hut after 25km at the 67km mark. You will have passed a good DOC hut at the Mokihinui Forks about 3km before the Specimen Point Hut. And there is a little old DOC hut at Goat Creek, 13km after the Stern Valley Hut. Neither of these has gas hobs.

From Specimen Point Hut it's a spectacular 18km ride as you follow the Mokihinui River down through a stunning gorge to the end of the trail near Seddonville.

Most people park their cars at the Lyell Creek trailhead and get a shuttle back from Seddonville. There is a list of shuttle operators on the website:

The ultimate shuttle is probably to park at Seddonville and helicopter to the start at Lyell with a gear drop at Ghost Lake Hut or Stern Valley Hut. That way you're riding light for the big climb. With a group it won't break the bank and on a fine day the helicopter ride is once-in-a-lifetime awesome.

The trail can be ridden both ways but is best ridden from Lyell to Seddonville. It is shared with hikers and is popular with them.

Here are some of the overnight combinations:

Some uber-legends ride the whole 85km in a day.

You could take 5 days staying in Lyell Saddle, Ghost Lake, Stern Valley and Specimen Point huts. That's the way backpackers usually do it - often in reverse order.

A popular option is to take 3 days staying at Ghost Lake Hut and either Stern Valley Hut or Specimen Point Hut. If Ghost Lake Hut is booked out you can substitute Lyell Saddle Hut. The distance between Ghost Lake and Specimen Point is long but is much more down that up so is very do-able.

It's commonly done in two days staying in Ghost Lake Hut or often Stern Valley Hut.

The Old Ghost Road is an epic multi-day remote alpine wilderness adventure. You need endurance and advanced riding skills to enjoy this challenge. Unless you can splurge out on helicopter portage you'll have to carry quite a bit of gear including sleeping bag and food - not to mention clothes fit for alpine conditions.

You can book a bed in the huts at It's an excellent website with news, inspiring photos, videos, maps and all the information you'll need before setting out on the trail.

Updated February 2017 by Jim Cummings

First added by Ginny_Tory on Dec 28, 2013. Last updated May 10, 2020. → add an update
Before you go
  • Drinking water: yes
  • Lift service: unknown
  • Night riding: unknown
  • Pump track: unknown
  • Restrooms: yes
  • Fat bike grooming: yes
  • E-bikes allowed: unknown
  • Fee required: unknown
This trail information is user-generated. Help improve this information by suggesting a correction.
Getting there
The southern end of The Old Ghost Road starts at the Department of Conservation's Lyell campground on State Highway in the Upper Buller Gorge. The Lyell campground is a 50 minute drive from Westport, a two hour drive from Nelson, and a four hour drive from Christchurch. The northern end of The Old Ghost Road finishes at Seddonville, 50km, 45 minutes drive north of Westport on State Highway 67, three and a half hours drive from Nelson, and a five hour drive from Christchurch.
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The Old Ghost Road Trail map

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(on Jun 13, 2019)
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  • kiwi_mtb

    Start at Lyell car park. Ride up 26km to top shelter and amazing views. Catch your breath and enjoy the ride down.

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  • Toby Roberts

    Wow- this trail has pretty much everything. Sustained uphill grinds, alpine ridge lines, lush forest, river valleys, tight switchbacks, sweeping descents, stairs ( yes really) and some of the most breathtaking views I've ever had the chance to fly past on two wheels.

    I did the 85km trip in two days starting in Lyell and staying at Ghost lake hut on the first night, then riding out of Seddonville on the afternoon of the second day.

    We rented bikes ( Spec Camber Comps) and shuttled with Habitat Sports in Westport the night before our ride and we're able to book to stay in the brand new, spacious, private apartment above Habitat the night before. This option is highly recommend and can accommodate up to 5 riders. Perfect for groups wanting a base camp before heading out on this epic ride as we did. It also made the early start the next day that much more bearable as we only had to walk downstairs for our bike fit and departure for the trail. Bikes , shuttle service and accommodation were all well priced and we received great customer service. (I'm not affiliated- just a happy customer )

    Day 1 was a sustained and unrelenting climb on pristine cliff-edge single track through lush forest stopping for lunch at Lyell Hut before the gradient increased a little and we eventually opened out into the alpine zone. The gradient is unrelenting but never so hard as to finish you off. Endurance over bike handling skills were the order of the day and some incredible views of you don't get caught in the clouds.

    Day 2 started with a fantastic sunrise at Ghost Lake and an immediate descent on twisting switchbacks before opening into a spectacular ridge line trail and 6km of flowing downhill. Another short climb and another descent and we hit the 300 steps, and insane engineering feat of trail building that links the two parts of the track. After the hike-a-bike, more flowing downhill before a small uphill section in the boneyard and then another epic descent followed by an easy pedal over flat and undulating terrain along the river to Specimen Hut before a final push all the way to the end of the trail. Epic.

    Advice- pack as light as you can, book huts well in advance and make sure you have a good core fitness level to see you through the first day.

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  • Desperado

    Don't underestimate the challenge of this amazing trail; it is only suitable for fit, advanced riders. It's a tough, alpine adventure ride. And yes, it's stunning with sublime scenery and a non-stop interesting trail. Don't do it in the face of a bad weather forecast. Most people ride it from South to North, starting at Lyell, which is the way to go!

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  • Adventurers Travel Co

    An absolute must do for any good mountain biker visiting New Zealand or an essential requirement if you live here! Yeah it's tough, yeah it's technical but the rewards will surpass all your expectations. Fantastic views, 'top of the world feeling' ridge line riding, beautiful bush, dramatic river gorges, welcoming huts, long downhills and a couple of decent climbs that will make you feel like you've really worked hard for that beer at the end!. We can't recommend it enough. Need any help organising your NZ mountain biking adventure, get in touch with us. Find us on Facebook.

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  • Jim Cummings

    The Old Ghost Road is an epic adventure ride that you'll never forget. You need to be fit and skilled because it's merciless.

    The long, long, climb up to the little tarn called Ghost Lake will build your character but the view from the top will soothe your soul. You'll love the ride down to Skyline Ridge and before you've completed the adventure you will have discovered the meaning of life.

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