08 March 2021

Oldies on the Old Ghost Road (From Covid to Contorta)

Our first oldies project for 2021 was to walk the Old Ghost Road from Lyell on the Buller River on the West Coast of NZ to Seddonville about 50 km NE of Westport. Mike White, who'd done the walk years ago when some of it was just a marked trail, offered to walk in with us to the first hut and then return and drive around to the other end and walk in to meet Jim Wilson and me. The plan was then to go up the Kowai Valley near Porters Pass and spend some time murdering wildling Pinus contorta which are starting to establish themselves there - probably having been blown there from the Castle Hill Basin. We'd just bedded down ready to start next morning when the mobile phones blasted off, alerting us to the Covid lockdown to level three in Auckland. Next morning we headed off hoping that Covid wouldn't follow south.

Carol and Steve - even my neighbours were there.

Halfway up to the Lyell Saddle Hut I was surprised to find my Hamilton next door neighbours, Steve and Carol on their bikes heading for the second hut on the track.  They were just a few of the many who overtook us along the way over the next few days - I don't recall us overtaking anyone!! As expected we were last to arrive at the hut. The huts were full and the friendly occupants, once they discovered (from our wobbly gaits and drooping flesh) that we were somewhat aged, ensured that we always had bottom bunks. Respect for the aged is still alive and well  in NZ I'm pleased to say! Next morning Mike returned to the car and Jim and I plodded on northwards. 

Jim plodding up Old Ghost Road

We now left the old original horse and dray road and continued along the newer-formed track linking the south with the northern tracks of the pioneers. We were astounded at the efforts of both the early pioneers and the recent coasters who'd constructed the track - in places so steep that explosives had to be used to get about the granite bluffs. At lunchtime we emerged from the bush and had lunch. Here a weka emerged too, this time to peck Jim on his resting head and to try and steal my hat.

Three Old Codgers

At Lyell Saddle Hut

Most of the afternoon was spent above the bush line in glorious weather - which stayed fine for the whole trip. At Ghost Lake Hut we saw our track for the next day in the distance and a glorious view to the east. We cooked well and were reminded of our youth when a new arrival wolfed down the leftovers of our meal.

Upper South Branch - Mokihinui River

Nice Spot For Lunch

The Wicked Weka

Next morning we thought how wise we'd been to walk the track when, on foot, we descended a quite 'technical  bike' track and then the 300 odd stairs down from the 'skyline ridge'. The hut warden from the Ghost Hut had taken these two old codgers under his wing and saw us down to the bottom of the steps - and safely off his territory!! Back in the bush there was lots of zig zagging in the bush and a good slog down to the 'already fed' trampers and bikers. Another night on bottom bunks provided by our now friends. We girded our loins for the 25k long day to follow.

View East from Ghost Lake Hut

Looking Back Up at Ghost Lake Hut

We were first to leave but one by one they all overtook us. The 'grave yard' turned out to be a huge earthquake slip but thankfully the track only traversed a little of it and we were warned not to stop on the last part of it. On over the Solemn Saddle we descended down into the final catchment. We stopped at Goat Creek to ease my feet in the cold water. The last several kilometres were hell on the soles of my feet and I had to stop every couple of km to take the weight off them. Jim had taken on our Prime Minister's advice and was very kind and patient. But it all came to an end when we staggered into the hut where most of the others had already fed and they burst into applause. "Noisy bastards aren't they", I said and Jim said he felt a little insulted by their deference to our age. Nor very gracious of us we thought in retrospect.

Track in the lower Mokihinui

And so we struggled on into the last day and past the amazing slips into the Mokihinui River where we could see huge trout lolling about amid the rocks - where no fisherman could reach them. By now all our passing fellow trampers were aware that the 86-year-old Mike was coming in to meet us. And sure enough when we met up with him he said he'd been regaled with stories about his 'young friends' who would 'soon' be arriving.

Water Along the Way

Lower Mokihinui River and Slips

Mid afternoon we arrived at the track end and continued to Westport where we had a good Indian nosh-up and then on to RCS at Arthurs Pass and a well earned sleep.

Next morning, not too early, we packed again and headed for the Kowai Valley armed with two saws and two loppers to do battle with the dreaded 'contorta'.  Getting up to the John Hayward Memorial Hut was at out usual slow place and the next day, after killing off a few contorta visible from the hut, we wandered up the valley towards Red Peak to the scene of our previous engagement with the enemy. We now had the hut to ourselves as two fathers and their delightful daughters had returned to the lowland swamps. On the last day we engaged with more contorta but discovered more than we could cope with. We slaughtered a few before heading down valley to inform the farm manager of his problem. He concurred and admitted that plans were in place for their ultimate annihilation. We'd managed to get about 50 of them.

Kowai Valley and Red Peak

When I got back to Christchurch my brother, John, invited me on his weekly walk - this one about the South Brighton beach and estuary. More sore feet - but with a coffee. And so back to Hamilton for a rest.


  1. Fabulous account - well done! Sally and I have it on our bucket list. Doubt that we'll be much faster.

  2. You most definitely will be faster! ! !

  3. Well done big brother - and Jim and Mike.
    I too have it on my bucket list to tick off, hopefully in the not too distant future.
    Cheers. Little brother.