Pakihi Track, Opotiki
By Jim Robinson
Riding the Motu Road gets you into the groove. It’s narrow, winding, and overhung by forest canopy. Maybe you’ll see a car. Maybe a wild goat or pig. Or a deer. Even after hard rain it never gets very muddy; there's just the sound of water music everywhere.
"Single-track bush route rediscovered,” enthused a 1990s article in New Zealand Adventure magazine. The article title is Iron Steeds on the Pakihi Track, and it describes the Eastern Bay of Plenty ride as “a five-hour adventure … including a back-breaking two-hour hump down an incredibly rugged and beautiful river gorge … once we needed to push our bikes underneath a mammoth-sized fallen tree too big to climb over.”
Things have sure changed in 25 years. The Pakihi Track is now the wilderness star of the Motu Trails Great Ride. With 24 wooden bridges, a 32 metre swing bridge, and some incredible track work, it’s now all rideable (apart from periodic rockfalls) and most people take about two or three hours. One bit hasn’t changed though. “It’s a special place, the Pakihi,” the article finishes. And you’d be hard pressed to argue with that.
Keen to experience the Pakihi? Your options depend on how long you have and how fit you are. If you have one or two days, and you have a bit of oomph in your legs, it’s worth riding the 93km loop from Opotiki: out on the Dunes Trail, up the Motu Road Trail, down the Pakihi. If you wish, stop midway at Toatoa.
If you’re more of a downhill-only type, take a shuttle van to the top of the hill above the Pakihi (altitude 750m) and cruise on down. Motu Trails Limited offer a convenient drop-off service, as well as bike hire if needed. For a real buzz, Opotiki Helicopters offers a helicopter drop-off to the top of the track.
Riding the Motu Road gets you into the groove. It’s narrow, winding, and overhung by forest canopy. Maybe you’ll see a car. Maybe a wild goat or pig. Or a deer. The Pakihi Track cuts off from the Motu Road 17km north of Motu settlement, which is itself about 85km from both Opotiki and Gisborne. The bush canopy lowers. Punga fronds push in. From time to time you get a glimpse out to the bush-clad slopes of the remote Urutawa Conservation Area.
The Pakihi is a year-round track. Because much of the land is rocky, the surface is free draining. Even after hard rain it never gets very muddy; there’s just the sound of water music everywhere. In winter though, the top of the track can be cold.
You don’t realise it when riding, but especially the early kilometres wiggle like tangled string. That’s because the Pakihi was formed in the early 1900s as a stock route. In fact, only one flock of sheep was taken up the track, in 1914, but the intention dovetails perfectly into good biking. The twisting keeps the gradient to an even and gentle down, almost the whole way.
There are few obvious landmarks, so use the bridges as your guide to location. The top 11km above the hut has 12 bridges. By bridge six, you’re about half way to the hut (a great place for lunch, or to stay the night). The lower 10km below the hut takes you over bridges 13 to 25, with number 14 the spectacular swing bridge across the Pakihi Stream. When you reach bridge 19, you’re about three-quarters done.
Below the swing bridge, the track sidles the stream. Take your time — and do stop — as there are views to take your breath away. You hear the river burbling all the way. Little waterfalls crash, off to the side. The near-vertical bank above the track is decked in ferns and moss. Take your time!
Stay alert, too. The riding is relatively straightforward (I’ve been down with many non-serious bikers) but the Pakihi Track is still rated advanced due to steep drop-offs to the side of the track. Look ahead. If in doubt, walk sections that worry you.
At the bottom end of the track, there’s car parking, toilet and a shelter. If you’re riding on to Opotiki, it’s another 21km, on unsealed and sealed road. Or there’s accommodation near the end of the track, including Weka Wilds, where, if you’re in a group, they’ll light the pizza oven and serve up a treat.
This is an interesting video of riding the Pakihi Track in Opotoki, which also includes drone footage of the area that is being ridden through.