Words, photos, and video by Deane Parker (@deaneparkernz)
Aotearoa, or New Zealand, for those not geographically familiar, is made up of a bunch of islands facing perpendicular into the prevailing westerly flow. In the subtropical latitudes, temperate climate with damp air moves over both main islands. Southerly flows drag freezing polar air from Antarctica or warm moisture-laden air from the North and South Pacific. Clear as mud, right? Aotearoa… the land of the long white cloud. Basically, what this means is we have very changeable weather. Kiwis commonly use the saying “four seasons in one day” as this is what can be expected. Backcountry and trips above the treeline can go from summer to blizzard in an instant.
The Old Ghost Road (OGR) has been around for a few years now, and by now most BIKEPACKING.com followers will have seen some footage of mountain bikers and bikepackers riding it. Without a doubt, it’s become a hub for backcountry bikepacking. New Zealand conservation legislation doesn’t allow charging for access to the public estate, so the trust that runs the OGR came up with a clever scheme to ensure users pay a fair contribution towards the exorbitant costs to keep the trail open and riding sweet through some of the most challenging terrain possible.
There are a few options on offer, but most will fall into the “through-user” category. This costs $150 NZD and lets you book any of the huts for 1-4 nights, which allows for walkers’ slower paces and the 85km trail to be broken into achievable pieces.
There are options to turn the OGR into a loop by combining the Heaphy to the north, as we did with the Fluid Trails trip, or the Denniston Plateau, which Muel and I considered for this trip as we both haven’t done it. However, it involves a fair amount of road and less appealing forestry roads.
The idea of an out and back meant more high quality singletrack and another night in one of the swanky huts. That’s the other massive bonus of the trail run by the trust: an amazingly warm and comfortable hut that’s fully appointed with a gas stove, kitchenware, comfortable bunks, clean toilets with bum tickets, and even a workstand and tools. There are sleep outs if you want to have some privacy and tent sites for type-II sorts or those on a budget.
On this trip we kind of lucked in and out. The atrocious weather on the first day scuttled our plan to ride the whole trail twice but we got to ride the gnarliest sections twice in a three-day, 104km, 100% singletrack out and back route.
On the flip side, the forecast must have put other trails users off, and we almost had the track to ourselves, apart from a hardy few and the OGR workers we encountered putting our pingers to good use, providing sustainable jobs in what was traditionally mining a district by maintaining and upgrading the trail. They also serve as hut wardens and I’m sure rescuers to many crashed and broken riders.
On that note, upon reflection, being out on the Lyell Range in these conditions is a serious proposition. If one of us had crashed or had a mechanical, shit would have gotten really serious really quickly. Stopping wasn’t an option, and only the allure of Ghost Lake Hut was worth the risk, and the knowledge of having ridden the OGR several times before. This ain’t a friendly climate, go prepared take gear for four seasons and a PLB/Spot/Inreach. My advice? Add it to your bucket list!
About Deane Parker
Deane Parker has always been drawn by the allure of the backcountry, and always will. For as long as he can remember he’s always been passionate about exploring new landscapes, what’s around that corner, over that ridge, or in that canyon. Backcountry bikepacking, bikerafting, and packrafting are the pursuits he’s been most drawn to, through the evolution of being an adventurous kiwi born and bred in Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand—an Adventurer’s nirvana.
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