120_Earnest Valley

Info for Cyclists

The Old Ghost Road is an 85km single-track adventure through remote valleys, mountain tops and river gorges. We’d love as many mountain bikers as possible to come and enjoy this trail and landscape………BUT, the reality is The Old Ghost Road is not suitable for riders of all ages and abilities.

For those wishing to ride the entire trail, we recommend starting at Lyell and riding in a south to north direction owing to the technical nature and gradient of 4km of trail north of Ghost Lake (this section is easier to descend than ascend).

The Old Ghost Road is a Grade 4 (advanced) mountain biking trail and has a variable natural surface. In general and in accordance with international standards, riders should expect the following on a Grade 4 trail:

A mixture of long steep climbs, narrow trail, poor traction and difficult obstacles to avoid or ride over. The outer edge of the trail may be exposed with steep sides or drop-offs in places. Most riders will find some sections easier to walk.

Our main aim is for mountain bikers to enjoy this experience and be safe doing so. This is as much about planning, preparation and the expectations you form, but it also involves you being realistic about your own ability. If you are in doubt, we recommend using the following guide to determine whether The Old Ghost Road is for you:

  • Can you ride along a narrow winding trail that is only 400-600mm wide in places?
  • Are you competent and confident riding along a trail with steep, exposed edges and drops on one side?
  • Can you ride over rocks, drops and obstacles the size of soccer balls?
  • Are you fit enough to ride long steep hills for an hour at a time?
  • Can you ride for extended periods (up to 8 hours) each day?

In recognition of user needs, we have tried our best to ensure the trail standard and surface is as good as possible. But The Old Ghost Road traverses some wild lands and steep sides and drop-offs are unavoidable. Undoubtedly, this is part of the attraction of The Old Ghost Road – but only if this is within your capability and comfort zone. Please do not attempt The Old Ghost Road if it is not.

There are fourteen bridges over waterways on The Old Ghost Road (and three other ‘land bridges’ over the infamous ‘Suicide Slips), yet there are still some waterways with potential to flood under heavy rainfall.  The most notable of these is Irishman’s Creek (at the 4km mark in the lower Lyell Gorge).

Note that bridges exist (south to north) at the following locations:

  • Lyell Creek (Lower Lyell Gorge);
  • Deep Creek (Lyell Gorge);
  • Stern Tributary (Stern Valley);
  • Stern Creek (Stern Valley);
  • Earnest Main (Earnest Valley);
  • Earnest Tributary (Earnest Valley);
  • Goat Creek (Upper Goat Creek – this is not at the hut site);
  • Mokihinui River South Branch;
  • Limestone Creek (Mokihinui River South Branch valley);
  • Specimen Creek (head of Mokihinui Gorge);
  • Jones Creek (mid Mokihinui Gorge);
  • Anderson Creek (mid Mokihinui Gorge);
  • Johnny Cake Creek (lower Mokihinui Gorge); and
  • Welcome Creek (lower Mokihinui Gorge).
Riding The Old Ghost Road

For most fit and competent riders, The Old Ghost Road will typically be ridden over 2-4 days. A south to north route (Lyell to Seddonville) is strongly suggested for best experiencing the track.

Beginning at the southern trail head at the Lyell Campground, most riders will cover the 18km climb to the Lyell Saddle Hut (875 metres above sea level) in 3-4 hours (765 m of ascent). For the fit and keen and for those that got away from Lyell early, you have the choice of continuing on up onto the open tops of the Lyell Range. Approximately 6 km of climbing through bush and 6 km of predominantly open tops travel offering dramatic views over 2.5 – 4 hours will have you arriving at the breath-taking Ghost Lake Hut site (12 km on from Lyell Saddle). Views abound en route to the west and north and the views continue at the hut site to the south and east.

Ghost Lake Hut sits at 1200 metres above sea level in a stunning setting. With almost 30 km behind you (from the Lyell Campground) and the high point of the ride in the bag, only masochists or the irreverent will continue past this point on Day 1 – it is the perfect point to ‘call it a day’. Once you get there, we think you’ll agree.

Check your brakes before departing from the Ghost Lake Hut site as the trail descends almost 800 metres over the next 13 km to the Stern Valley Hut. The first 4km of this section is the most technical of the entire trail reaching Grade 5 in places – BE PREPARED.  At the end of the breath-taking Skyline Ridge you’ll reach the Skyline Steps.  Their reason-for-being will become clear once you’re there.  Again, please BE PREPARED for these.  You’ll need to carry your bike down 60m of narrow and winding steps before climbing back into the saddle for a flowing descent into Stern Valley and you arrival at Stern Valley hut. The ride from Ghost Lake Hut to Stern Valley Hut is unlikely to take too long – count on 2 – 3 hours.

From the Stern Valley Hut the trail meanders on up through the interesting Earnest Valley (northern tributary of Stern Creek). Some ‘earnest’ climbing is again required to gain a low but sharp saddle (Solemn Saddle) that allows passage into the ‘Hanging Judge’ in the headwaters of the Goat Creek catchment. From here it’s on down to the confluence with the Mokihinui River South Branch and the existing Goat Creek Hut (14 km on from Stern Valley Hut). Riders could expect to cover this distance in 2 – 3 hours.

From Goat Creek, riders will wind their way through towering podocarp forest to the Mokihinui ‘Forks’ and the refurbished DoC hut located there (8 km from Goat Creek – approximately 1 – 2 hours). After turning left at the Mokihinui Forks, riders will come upon the Specimen Point Hut site 3 km downstream towards at the head of Mokihinui River Gorge. Riders should allow 30 mins to 1 hour for this section.

From the Specimen Point Hut settlement, the Mokihinui Gorge shows the way to the sea. The old miners’ road is rejoined for the undulating and at times, cliff-hugging, 17 km journey out to the Seddonville end of the trail through the spectacular Mokihinui River gorge (2-4 hours).

Congratulations, you’ve just ridden The Old Ghost Road.