▨ Jamie McHale

The Old Ghost Road

Five day tramp in Buller, New Zealand · December 2019

I have wanted to hike the Old Ghost Road for a while, after driving past the trailhead several times on previous New Zealand road trips.

The trail runs from Lyell, between Inangahua and Murchison, over to Seddonville, south of Karamea on the West Coast. It’s a mixed-use hiking and biking trail, taking in Beech forests, an alpine section with ridgeline walks, and a long river-side walk down to the end.

The first day was an ascent to Lyell Saddle, mostly in the rain. The route follows an old road, constructed in the late 1800s, but never completed. Along the route you can see historic remenants of inhabitants of the area, who came for a local gold rush.

A misty view from Lyell Saddle Hut

The second day was also very rainy and misty. It was a short 12km from Lyell Saddle to Ghost Lake. I spent a lot of the day relaxing in the huts, reading and writing. The huts were well provisioned with woodburners, and cutlery (so you don’t have to carry your own).

On the third day the weather cleared, and I walked back up the track to “Heaven’s Door” to get a view out over the valley. It was stunning. Small flecks of snow floating on the wind. Peace and quiet.

A view from Heaven's Door, near Ghost Lake

As I left Ghost Lake the sun came out, providing spectacular views over and along the ridge. The descent from Ghost Lake Hut was particularly beautiful, with dappled sunlight shining through twisted trees, glinting on small creeks.

Panorama on the descent from Ghost Lake Hut

At the end of Skyline Ridge the train drops down a series of steps to the Stern Valley, where the third hut is located. Although it was a short walk, it was one of the most pleasant and beautiful day walks that I have done.

The fourth day was longer, walking from Stern Valley up through The Boneyard, over Solemn Saddle to Specimen Point Hut. The day started rainy and misty, with atmospheric views back up the trail, but turned out sunny as I crossed the saddle. Specimen Point Hut has a great aspect over the river below, which made for good views in the morning after heavy rain during the night.

The last day hugs the hillside along the river, with several suspension bridges to navigate. The last part of the walk had beautiful sections of ferns and Rimu trees.

I’d highly recommend the Old Ghost Road. If you are doing a hike or bike trip down the West Coast I’d suggest combining it with the Heaphy towards the north (come down from Golden Bay to Karamea), and the Paparoa to the South (head down the West Coast, and perhaps on to Wanaka and Queenstown).

The end of the trail