Ghost ex Machina

Words by Guy Wynn-Williams
Photos by Dom Blissett, Jamie Nicoll, Odin Woods, Richard Goldsbury and Tony Hutcheson

Since opening in 2015, the Old Ghost Road has rocketed to the top of every kiwi mountain biker's must do, or must do again list. 85km of crafted singletrack through pristine bush and wicked geology from the South Island’s Buller Gorge through to the West Coast - the OGR was built with 25,000 volunteer hours, $6.5 million of NZ Cycle Trail funding, community grants, sponsorship and donations… and a ton of local tenacity.

Last year around 10,000 riders and walkers completed the trip. It's so popular that when Cherie suggested a Ground Effect work junket back in September, the first Saturday night she could book the Ghost Lake Hut was in April this year. After a collective gasp of disbelief around the office, all 20 bunks in the main hut and the two sleepouts were duly booked and paid for. Family and our Ground Effect 'Revolutionary' sponsored riders were enlisted to join us, food and logistics sorted, and golden weather pre-ordered.

Our convoys from Christchurch and Nelson converged at the DOC campground in Lyell on Friday night. The horrendous rain of the preceding days had cleared. Jo and Anja provided cakes washed down with single malt, and Tristan warned of an epic sandfly assault in the morning.


Top to bottom: Sasha, Fraser and Nicole get the cream. Photos: Tony Hutcheson

Lashings of Yum granola and plunger coffee kicked off a leisurely start to the next day. Low cloud, mist and gorillas were parked over our part of the world, but we were grateful for the uncharacteristic absence of bitey things.


The reason for breakfast. Photos: Odin Woods


Jostling for pole position in the class photo. Photo: Dom Blissett

Smooth, wide and of a modest gradient, with occasional impressive drops - the reclaimed old dray road to the Lyell Saddle Hut provides a relaxed prologue to the trip. Chitchat was interspersed with endless photographic stops.


Scott and Anja spin out of Lyell. Photo Odin Woods


Jo 'all smiles' WW. Photo Tony Hutcheson


A rolling bike gathers no moss. Jo E proves the proverb. Photo Odin Woods


Tristan gets close to the edge. Photos Richard Goldsbury

There was a lot of digital camera amongst the troops. Richie, Tony and Odin handicap themselves with an extra 10 kilos (or more) of tripod, lenses and batteries - not that it shows in their climbing speed or agility on descent. The endless rounds of "let's try that shot just one more time" resulted in longer ride times than normal - but magic kodak moments.


Odin and Richie. Photos: Dom and Tony


A tangled web of Steve in orange. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


Damian and Richie fuel up for their next move. Photo Tony Hutcheson


The Dom and Richie overpass. Photo: Odin Woods


Tit for tat. Photo: Odin Woods


Sasha makes like Dr Zeus amongst the dracophyllums. Photo: Ricard Goldsbury

The track beyond Lyell Saddle Hut steepens a little and winds seductively through the jurassic bush to the final ridge before the Ghost Lake Hut. Light drizzle and a moody Scottish ambience supplanted the hoped-for big vistas.


Pukana Steve. Photo: Tony Hutcheson


Can't see the Jillian for the trees. Photo: Richard Goldsbury.


Damian advocates for enduro bike packing. Photo: Odin Woods


Odin and Dom hunt gorillas on the tops before dropping in on Ghost Lake Hut. Photo: Tony Hutcheson

By late afternoon the photographic stragglers joined the rest of us at the hut. The fire was crankin' - cheese, chips and Garage Project ales consumed. A feast of porcini risotto followed. It transpired that it was Tony's birthday - lucky we had single malt and chocolate to celebrate.


Portrait of a birthday boy. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


The Ghost Lake Trattoria. Photos: Tony Hutcheson and Dom Blissett


The lights of Murchison in the distance. Photo: Odin Woods

All hands were on deck at 6:30 in the morning. Motor drives captured the sunrise. Porridge was consumed with varying levels of reluctance before the train rolled out in stages. Next stop the infamous Ridgeline Steps and Stern Hut beyond.


Odin at sunrise. Photos: Richard Goldsbury


Richie returns the favour. Photo: Odin Woods

Tristan and Anja's friend Wayne from Helicopter Charter Karamea flew in for coffee at 8:30 and generously backloaded some excess camera gear out for us. It transpires there was a lighthearted wager to better the 6 hour 53 minute winning time in the Old Ghost Ultra running race. Tristan and Anja gave it a nudge the next day - riding the 'reverse' OGR in 6:49 and 6:56 respectively. Impressive.


Sasha eyes up her new motor. Photo: Richard Goldsbury

The last remnants of cloud fled the scene as we exited Ghost Lake. There were large helpings of fizz on the superb 800m descent - technical, a bit slippery in places and exposed in others. The trail guide advises to walk if you're not confident. Big grins and plenty of excited jibberish announced our arrival in the Stern Valley as we regrouped over a mid morning snack.


The train leaves the Ghost Lake station. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


The party (hat) continues. Jamie and Sasha dual down the Stern Ridge. Photo: Odin Woods


Guy imitates Rudolf at Easter. Photo: Tony Hutcheson


Tony out from behind his camera. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


The track swoops below Richie, past the helipad, to the Ridgleine Steps. Photo: Tony Hutcheson


Like something from Wizard of Oz. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


Richie pumps his tyres with helium. Photo: Tony Hutcheson


Anja always on the race line. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


Rich W and Heidi snake their way west. Photo: Odin Woods


Jamie and Richie rail another hairpin. Photo: Tony Hutcheson


Fraser and Finn do that father and son thing. Photo: Odin Woods


Scott with eyes only for the trail. Photo: Dom Blissett


Sasha puts the hammer down... Photo: Odin Woods


... as do Jamie and Tony. Photo: Richard Goldsbury

It's a long but not too taxing, nor too technical, ride out from the Stern Hut. The short climb past Grim Lake and through the Boneyard is the only significant uphill. We were chased by sandflies down the spectacular Mokihinui Gorge to the Rough and Tumble Lodge for cleansing beer and pizza and a restorative swim in the river.


A reflective moment at Grim Lake. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


Nicole grinds up and through the Bone Yard. Photo: Jamie Nicoll


Guy, Scott and Tony homeward bound. Photo: Dom Blissett


Anja and the mighty Mokihinui. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


Jo E and Nicole with the Mokihinui behind. Photo: Richard Goldsbury


Sasha (and Dom) chose to wheelie all the swing bridges on the way out. Photo: Tony Hutcheson

The conception and building of the Old Ghost Road is an extraordinary, almost unimaginable, achievement. Riding it is sublime. Repeating it already anticipated with impatience.


OGR class photo. Up high: Tristan and Odin.
Standing room only: Damian, Jo WW, Rich W, Jillian, Scott, Guy, Richie G, Finn & Steve.
Crouching tiger: Anja & Dom
Down low: Tony, Nicole, Sasha, Fraser, Jo E & Jamie.
MIA: Cherie, Ollie & Heidi.


22 Comments

Claudia
Claudia

May 01, 2017

Great article, spectacular photos! Well-done to everyone! I opted to walk it in March in 4 leisurely days with “boring” ;-) sunny weather. I’m writing an article for the German magazine “360° Neuseeland” and would love to include one or two of your awesome photos if possible. Could you contact me please?

Jill Jones
Jill Jones

April 29, 2017

Looks awesome! Stunning pics!

Andrew Honeysett
Andrew Honeysett

April 29, 2017

Great article & photos, thanks for sharing! This is next-level team building for sure! One question though…if someone has a thing about heights do you think they’d manage( that “someone” being me I confess)?

Cheers!

Andrew.

Meredyth Anderson
Meredyth Anderson

April 29, 2017

Wow, fabulous, thanks so much for sharing.

Bruce Walker
Bruce Walker

April 28, 2017

What a great record of trip. That photo of Odin and Dom hunting gorillas has to be one of the all-time great MTB captures. Great stuff.

Tony Duder
Tony Duder

April 28, 2017

Looks fantastic!!! Doing it next week with a mate, can’t wait.
SO PROUD TO BE A KIWI

Bagfin
Bagfin

April 28, 2017

A grand tale stunningly told in pictures…

tim oakley
tim oakley

April 27, 2017

awesome work guys we have just done the ghost road on the 24th of march for the second time in a year dii it in may last year ghost lake hut then specimen point , march we tried one night at stern valley , seven in our group you would know myself ,Ivan Grooby we helped with track building on craigiburn flock hill.
we found track a bit cut up beyond ghost lake to skyline ridge but sweet down hill to stern valley .saw plenty of goats thru boneyard couldn’t wait for downhill after and the ride out is always spectacular .
would prefer riders to pay to ride trail instead of paying to get in huts should pay if they are to ride right thru for the up keep , maintanence of track , but overall it will always be awesome

so go hard ride on

Tim Oakley

sarah
sarah

April 27, 2017

Looks fabulous & definitely on the list!! Huge congrats to all those involved in making it happen !

Jamie Anderson
Jamie Anderson

April 27, 2017

I’d like to say a massive thanks to the Ground Effect team, a truly remarkable bunch. During my time on the OGR, which would have been another peaceful but lonesome bike packing extension, ya’ll made me welcome with no end of food and entertainment. I was propelled equally by the crew’s vibe as much as the scenery on the trail. Mad bunch. Definitely adding a few more Ground Effect pieces to the meagre wardrobe – my kit was put to shame. Cheers
Jamie Anderson

Iain Clark
Iain Clark

April 26, 2017

Brilliant article ,something my mate John suggested we look at doing ,looks like a epic adventure indeed ,quite a bit of logistics involved here !

Jimmy Cat
Jimmy Cat

April 26, 2017

That is an unbelievable photo blog I wish I had the legs and stamina and technical ability to do it

Aaron Clark
Aaron Clark

April 26, 2017

Perfection. Very well captured!

Cliff Kingston
Cliff Kingston

April 26, 2017

Fantastic photos, I am sure it was worth carrying the extra gear, as some of us may never get to make that ride, due to time, opportunity or lack of suitable ability.
Well done and thanks for the views

Niki van de Vyver
Niki van de Vyver

April 26, 2017

Awesome photos :)
My husband would love this ride, looks a bit tricky for me though ?

Shane Madden
Shane Madden

April 26, 2017

Great photos

murray applegate
murray applegate

April 26, 2017

wow can,t wait to do this. awesum pics well done
Tu
Tu

April 26, 2017

That looks like an awesome trip!
Do you think it would be doable for my wife who has balance issues but makes up for it with caution less enthusiasm?

Jock Robinson
Jock Robinson

April 26, 2017

What a coincident.
Our party of 4 returned yesterday from riding OGR over 3 days [Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd April] overnighting Ghost Hut & Specimen Point. Has to be the most exciting, exhilarating and awe inspiring ride in God Zone New Zealand. Full credit to the OGR Trust and volunteers that made this part of NZ accessible to us MTB’er. THANK YOU.

With a 2 night stop over in Nelson on the way home we decided to ride the Dun Mountain Trail loop whilst we were in the region. The immediate descent from Copper Mine Saddle to Maitai Dam tested the bike suspension and human body parts, however we all survived injury free and only one puncture. Great ride however the trail signage could have been clearer. We didn’t have a map or instruction and ventured up some trails due to misguided or poor navigational skills?? Still a nice day to ride.

Leaving Nelson yesterday [ANZAC day] to catch our return ferry home to Palmerston North we joined in the ANZAC Civic commemoration at Havelock. An opportunity to remember the human sacrifices of our fallen comrades.

It was also timely to reflect on those hardy souls that ventured into the wilderness of the Wild West Coast in the 1800’s who paved the way for what we have today?

We haven’t downloaded our photos yet but your timely email article reinforces the fantastic 4 days riding we have just completed down south and the wonderful time we had.

As we have completed most of the North Island trails, it now back to planning our next MTB adventure down south.

Stu Burrows
Stu Burrows

April 26, 2017

Wow Great photo’s , Our group in August last ,rode to the Lyall Hut over night then continued next day, got snowed in at the 25km mark , turned around and went back, in March we Heli’d to the same mark and continued our objective, absolutely loved it all , thanks for your report and photo’s well done . Cheers Stu . Gold card MTBikers .

Sarah & Lee (@TeamBenter)
Sarah & Lee (@TeamBenter)

April 26, 2017

You guys rule. No wonder you make such good gear… Love your work. #PedalOn!

vicki
vicki

April 26, 2017

awesome pics, looks like a top spot, guess some aussies might need to get over to en zed for a sweet trip like that

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