Goldmine on the West Coast

Old Ghost Road – Lyell – Seddonville (Day 131-137) – 85km

Our first tramp completely off the TA. It felt very brave. But, we had been trying to do this trail for a year or two, and bookings and timings just never worked out. So, when we managed to get 3 of the 4 nights booked, (and there is an 8 bunk DoC option for the 4 night), we had to take it. Track transport was a little bit of a bind – we had wanted to get our car relocated, but the asking price of $180+ for the service left us a little breathless (we had just paid $300 for this tramp – so it was starting to all be a bit expensive!). We dug Google a little deeper, and found an Intercity option to get from Westport ($30 for both of us) and then a Golden Bay bus back from Seddonville to Westport ($70). Bargain. We were on!

This tramp is epic! Awesome! awe-inspiring! All of those superlatives – without any exaggeration. Do it if you can.

We expected wet, and we got it. But thankfully at acceptable times. We set up our tent in the dry (tick), and took it down in the vaguely dry (tick). Pete reminded me that it weighed an extra 1kg though – and our packs were full for the 5 day tramp. We had misty, light rain for the first day as we climbed under the canopy to Lyell Saddle – 800m high. Along an old mining road from mid 1800s, when there were mines, schools, houses and hotels up here. Eerie and beautiful, and very green. After a very convivial night in the wonderful hut with a cracker bunch of friends from Rotorua/Whakatane, the next day dawned a little clearer, and the mountains around us were revealed piece by piece as the cloud parted and then lifted.

The climb up to Ghost Lake reached over 1300m, and then back down to the hut at 1200m. It was edgy at times, and we were glad we were on our feet, rather than a mountain bike. There is a shelter called Top Shelter, which you reach, and your breath is taken away (by the view, not just the preceding climb you understand). Then around Rocky Tor, passed Heavens Door, and then down to the hut. It was perched on a ledge overlooking Lyell Range, Murchison Plains, and a fragile alpine lake and bowl. We even had a visit from a kea to add to the feeling of ‘special’ that wrapped itself around you – simply by having walked the trail to this magic point. And the walk across the tops and down the skyline ridge and steps the next day – if anything was even more spectacular (and I didn’t think that would be possible). There was morning cloud in the valleys below, and we were walked on this amazing path along the ridge above it. There was an American cycling ahead of us – and he just couldn’t believe both the scenery and the path (Grade 5 at this stage!!). We spent the night in the hut with a Finnish tourist, who was similarly impressed.

We returned to some beech forest to start the next day, then up to Solemn Saddle via the rocky Bone Yard, remnants of rock tumbles down from Bald Mountain above us. It was still staggering, large-scale scenery, even at a lower altitude. Down some more, along the valley, and then the heavens opened. We had 3hrs of pretty torrential rain, with no shelter for 9 km. Just had to suck it up, sing songs, and do what you need to do to make it through to the hut. Thankfully, Robin the Irish-Kiwi hunter was there, and had the fire going. Cosy!

To add to our experience, there was an Ultramarathon the next day! We decided to delay our start so that there could come through before us. Yes – the top guy ran in 7hrs, what we took 5 days to complete. Humbling in some ways, but complete madness in other ways. I hope he walks or bikes it one day, to take in all the scenery he missed. We had a full river in all its might as our companion for our walk out. And little rivulets on the path became waterfalls. It was magnificent! Admittedly, we were thankful to reach the end, and collapsed at the lodge at the trail head. A night at Seddonville Hotel completed the journey – linking us to modern West Coast reality. The trail is important – it will never bring the prosperity of the mining days – but it is bringing them back pride in their amazing backyard. I feel privileged to have walked this epic track – and thankful to the West Coast weather-gods for letting us see it at its finest.

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