Old Ghost Road. October 2014
Monday arrived, and it wasn’t raining. Back on to the track and past a workers camp, then an explosion rocked the valley. The track builders were at work and the new track stopped suddenly. We were then directed over to a goat track which took us over Solemn Saddle, steep and slippery, and then after 3 hours we found a new bit of track much to our relief. Stern Hut appeared a further hour on, and we were soon our drying out wet gear. Stern Hut to Ghost Lake Hut was our longest day, lots of un constructed track on this section and floundering about in the bush, but we are supposed to be trampers? An hour before Ghost Lake we were re-united with the bike track and it took us very gradually up to another classic hut site. A notice beside the lake: “Please respect the privilege of being in such a place by not swimming in the lake.”
Northern party; Jim Pearce, Robert Birks, Stephen Keach, Leo Garmonsway
Southern party; Wally Guise, Russell Grant
On Wednesday 1st the northern party set out from Timaru, arriving at Punakaiki at lunchtime. From here a drive up to the Buller Gorge Road and we parked the vehicle at the Buckland Peak car park. From here it was a 5 hour climb up a steep track through the bush to the treeline, arriving to a beautiful sunset. We still had to grope our way in failing light to find the hut which was situated in a gully 1/2 hour away. Basically we spent the next day confined here whilst the wild weather buffeted the hut about. On Friday the conditions eased a bit, so it was down to the car park in sleety conditions, and off to Westport for lunch. Then a drive up to Seddonville and the motor camp, which in fact was the old schoolhouse.
The next day, to fill in the time, we walked down the Charming Creek Walkway, which true to its name was very attractive and followed the old railway line down to the coast. This line carted timber and coal, but was closed in 1958, but there are plenty of relics still present. Refreshment at the Ngakawau pub concluded the day most satisfactorily. Meanwhile, Wally and Russell had arrived at the Lyell end of the track the day before, stayed the night at the new Lyell Hut, but had been foiled in their attempt to cross over the top of the range because of recent snow. So it was back downhill for them, and in order to fulfil their obligations of doing a key swap they came looking for us, finding us, the Northern party, safely situated in the Seddonville pub eating tea.
On Sunday Wally and Russell drove home, but set up the rest of us at the Mokihinui end of the track. The Mokihinui is a big river, and a track has followed up the south side since 1880 when gold was discovered. This track has recently been up-graded to the extent that mountain- bikes can pass through, so all major creeks and slips have been bridged. Specimen Creek Hut was reached in 5 hours, and what a situation for this nice new hut looking down to a bend in the main river several hundred feet below. Sunday night give us a taste of a West Coast shower, and next morning the main river was a real angry torrent. We waited till lunch and moderating conditions before we set off again on this well-formed track which now headed south. All major creeks are now bridged which was just as well for us, and we reached Goat Creek Hut in 4 hours. Crossing over to the hut provided some drama, the stream was now a fast moving river and we got wetter than expected. This hut is an old Forest Service 4-bunker with an open fireplace, and this was put to good use in drying out gear.
From here our last two days were on fully formed bike track with easy gradients, firstly over the range tops and then into the bush. Stephen remarked favourably on the low environmental impact of the track building process on the tops, but observed then changed his mind when we reached the bushline that the impact in that section of forest was high. He also did a disappearing act when he missed the Lyell Hut turn off, to the extent that we had to send a search party out. At the Lyell Hut we met our first trampers, then further on down we passed our first mountain bikers of the trip.
A wonderful straight-forward trip with the full West Coast experience. We tramped it over 5 nights/6 days, when construction is fully completed 4 nights/5 days would be certainly feasible. I would suggest that its going to get hugely popular. Highly recommended.