New Zealand isn't as big on ghost towns as somewhere like the U.S. but that's not to say the country is without its eerie areas. If you're hoping to discover a spooky setting, you could do a lot worse than taking on Old Ghost Road, New Zealand's longest cycle trail. While you can't take a motorhome along Old Ghost Road itself, it will prove invaluable for road tripping to the road itself. In fact, the head of the road is at a campground so you could always park up and get an early start the next morning on this uncanny trail.
With the potential to become a world-class advanced cycle trail, Old Ghost Road is far from ordinary. Tracing its way along an old dray road used by miners in the 19th century, trampers and mountain bikers will see industrial relics of a bygone era, pass through native podocarp forest and break out onto alpine tops boasting incredible views. With the track planned for completion in just a few months, it’s time to start planning how to tick this one-of-a-kind trail off your bucket list.
Fair warning: if you plan to cycle the Old Ghost Road, be aware that it’s not for the faint of heart. There’s some serious elevation involved, and completing the 85 kilometre stretch will require both a decent level of fitness and some mountain biking experience. Using the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s gradings of Easy, Moderate and Hard, this is a solid Hard. It is worth it though - the Old Ghost Road is like a living museum. Long discarded mining equipment, structures and paraphernalia lie where they were left for the intrepid traveller to discover, and no less than five ghost towns are scattered along the route.
It’s not all about the remnants of human industry either. The podocarp forests that envelop much of Old Ghost Road hark back to a time long before humanity arrived, offering a glimpse straight into the majesty of the distant past. If you’d like to take your time wandering among the ancient trees instead of racing past them on a mountain bike, the trail is open to hikers as well. Taking the route at a reasonable pace, it will take you about 5 days to complete the journey. There are plenty of huts along the way with basic facilities like a rain-fed limited water supply, wood fires and composting toilets. Things you’ll have to bring yourself include stoves, cutlery and crockery, and toilet paper. These huts need to be prebooked. Be sure to check out the Hut FAQ if you’re planning to traverse Old Ghost Road by foot or mountain bike.
Most hikers and cyclists will start from the Lyell camping ground, about two hours southwest of Nelson. Lyell was the site of an historic gold rush mining town back in the mid 19th century - these days it’s a Department of Conservation campground that almost exclusively serves those planning to trek the Old Ghost Road. It’s an easy drive down State Highway 6 to get to Lyell, but the key issue will be how to continue on your journey once you’ve made the four or five day trip to the other side. Some private shuttle services are available, but if you’re keen to tie your Old Ghost Road experience into a bigger adventure, there’s a better way.
The rigors of this trail aren’t for everyone, so if you know someone who would love to experience the beauty of New Zealand’s West Coast without the mud and sweat of a lengthy trek, why not go in together to grab a Nelson motorhome rental and head southwest. They can drop you off at Lyell before continuing on to Westport, a mini-adventure capital offering a huge range of activities from the serene (easy walking tracks) to the adventurous (caving and underground rafting) to the thrilling (jet boating). From there it’s just a short jaunt up to Seddonville where you’ll emerge exhilarated (and quite possibly exhausted) at the end of your hike.
From there, all the wonders of New Zealand’s West Coast await - your friend can drive the next leg of the trip while you recover in comfort!