Multi-day hikes involve the kind of adventure that keep me coming back for more. More rewarding panoramic vistas from mountain summits I thought I would never reach; more breath-taking sunrises from cozy huts in the middle of nowhere; more meaningful conversations with complete strangers. Offering up many unknowns in terms of scenery, weather and company, their unpredictability is another draw. Two weeks into a solo road-trip through the South Island of New Zealand, with a healthy tramping addiction already well in place, the scene was set for another adventure, this time down a less-travelled path.
old ghost road
A joint trail and cycleway near the West Coast – the Old Ghost Road - was the setting. Being a solo traveller in the off-peak season, I was able to book 2 nights accomodation on the fairly new 85 kilometre trail the day before heading out (don’t try this at home!). There wasn’t much time to get excited, but my anticipation was definitely escalating. Fulfilling a passion of mine, I set off to explore a less-beaten path.
My hike began shortly after a group of 4 others. I soon learned that they were a group of Kiwis from the North Island and that we would be sharing space in the first hut, 18 kilometres into the trail. Though I have previously spent a night in a hut alone, I would later be thankful that I wouldn’t be doing so on this trip. The first day on the trail was predominantly spent walking in the bush, up a gradual, but far from technical, incline. Several picturesque waterfalls, flowing directly over the track, stopped me for minutes at a time. I was mesmerized by their delicate beauty and by the most vibrant moss I’d ever seen.
Arriving at a well-placed bench about 10 kilometre into the trail, I sat down for the first time. As I enjoyed my lunch, and the accompanying view, I had a few minutes to consider the next section of the track. To continue on, I would have to cross two gated rock-fall areas. I don’t know how other trampers feel when they cross such areas but my heart rate always jumps a few beats. Often, you’re forced to walk along a narrow path carefully watching your step to avoid slipping off a steep ridge. You’re warned not to stop despite being tempted by a magnificent view. As you feel rocks shift under your boots, you know the risk of one slipping and knocking you out or taking you with it down the mountainside is very real. With increased apprehension on this gloomy day, I crossed with caution and made it through safely, but secretly hoped that that was the last of the unstable ground.
I was the second party to arrive at the Lyell hut on day one. Getting to and staying in a hut in the New Zealand bush is, in my opinion, a must-do experience. Not only is it an unforgettable way to take in the country’s jaw-dropping scenery, there is also a good chance of being on the receiving end of the caring nature of Kiwis. A pair of lovely women from Wanaka welcomed me that afternoon and immediately showed a genuine interest in my story. Over the next couple days, I came to realize that they embodied Kiwi hospitality to its fullest. When on a solo multi-day hike, where you’re likely to spend several hours walking on your own each day, you yearn to feel confident that someone would be concerned about your safety if you failed to show up at the next hut. I knew I was in good hands.
On the morning of the second day, everyone was looking forward to a shorter walk despite a relatively easy first day. Day two offered an opening up of the trail and a walk along the saddle of the Lyell mountain range. The pleasantness of an open-top section of a trail is of course weather-dependent. Rain was minimal that day but unfortunately clouds were stubbornly hanging about, leaving the view up to the imagination. Nonetheless, the second hut wasn’t far from the saddle, so that if the sky did decide to open up, it would be but a short walk back to the admire the views.
The placement of the second hut (Ghost Lake) was a big draw for me in my decision to do this hike. The 12 bunk hut sits on the top of a large free-standing rock that rises from the surrounding ridge. The views are extensive, spanning two national parks and the small town of Murchison. Although the trail continued for another 55 kilometres, I chose this as my turnaround point due to time constraints. Since I wasn’t venturing further, I added on a couple of kilometres to day two to get a taste of what I would miss. Walking ahead gave me a chance to be delighted by an enchanting beech forest and provided an excellent perspective of how highly and interestingly placed Ghost Lake hut really was. It was but a tiny dwelling from a distance!
Don't miss the second part of this unexpected adventure:
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