The Old Ghost Road– named in memory of the 1880’s gold rush era  – is a newly opened mountain bike and hiking trail in the north west corner of the South Island. Several of our members spent four days recently hiking this great walk, enjoying two days meandering from the Buller Gorge carpark over the 85km trail to the other side on the west coast. Day one, 25kms uphill to the forest edge and open tops, a long and vista-filled climb through switchbacks and earthquake scarred mountains, scree slides  tumbling down into tannin-colored streams and deep valleys.

Some of our team members

Some of our team members

We were the only ones there, and true to its name we came across the remnant billies, pans, old boots and moss covered mining debris, ghostly relics of those who had labored here over 130 years earlier.

Tannin-colored wide river after rain

Tannin-colored wide river after rain

Two of our party, both great trail runners, came in from the opposite side and ran the trail in two days, a mountain marathon each day! We travelled light, oatmeal breakfasts, quinoa and lentils for dinner, power snacks to nibble on for energy. Water is everywhere, crystal clear, mineralized by the earth, filtered by mosses and soil, prana-rich, pure and life-giving – we drank greedily from every mountain stream and rockface.

More mountains, dark valleys, deep silences

More mountains, dark valleys, deep silences

Wekas, kiwi, bellbirds, blue duck, robins were quite plentiful, but as everywhere now in NZ the birdlife in the great forests has been devastated by predators –the  great cathedrals of red beech and podocarps that were once filled with daylong birdsong are now largely silent. Yet mountains and solitude always lend themselves to meditation, so quite often up on the granite peaks and lookouts we stopped for a while to enjoy the deep silences, looking out over landscapes that all around showed no sign of the impact of man. Far-off, the snow capped silhouette of the Southern Alps ran across the horizon like a jagged pencil sketch against a pale sky.

Alpine hut up on granite promontory

Alpine hut up on granite promontory

It’s refreshing and humbling to spend time away from our cities and urban lives, to leave behind our cellphones and gadgets and usual preoccupations – a week on the trail and the mind’s chatter slows, dormant senses begin to stir, silence becomes something to relish rather than avoid. Nature’s great distances and silences bring us back to a deeper understanding of ourselves, help us to glimpse into other realms and reconnect us with the haven places of the spirit.