- Time 3-6 hrs
- Distance 20kms
The Pakihi Track was first opened around 1906 as part of a rough track connecting Motu to Opotiki via the Otara Valley. From the early-1990s, it slowly gained a reputation as an epic mountain bike ride. After a massive restoration, the Pakihi Track reopened in 2012 as part of the Motu Trails. Today it's a beautiful journey through lush forest.
The track starts from high on the Motu Road, 17 kilometres from Motu and 38 kilometres from the Ōpōtiki coast. On the Pakihi you have no significant uphills to tackle and the surface is generally well-formed. However, in places, the track is narrow with near-vertical drop-offs to the side. Especially on the lower section, in places, there is almost always rock debris on the track (on the lower track, we clear it off weekly). This is a back-country track in challenging terrain.
You need sound bike skills and to take care. If in doubt, get off and walk any bits where you are unsure. E-bikers and those with panniers, be aware that in several places, you must lift or push your bike. If you are a nervous rider, you may wish to consider riding the Motu Road Trail instead or do the Pakihi as a walk.
If you get a shuttle you will probably be getting a drop-off to the Onukuroa hilltop above Motu, or, to the Meremere hilltop in from the Ōpōtiki coast. From the Meremere dropoff, there’s 14km of Motu Road to ride first, including a 250m, 3.5km long climb. The Onukuroa hill dropoff is significantly easier, with 9km of mostly downhill on Motu Road, before the Pakihi. Confirm the dropoff with with the shuttle provider when you book.
From the Motu Road, the top half (11 kilometres) of the Pakihi Track is a steady downhill, dropping about 400 metres altitude to the Pakihi Hut, where a short side track to the hut cuts off to the hut. The hut is a great lunch spot and you can stay the night for a true bush experience. There's a basic toilet and access to the gorgeous stream.
After leaving the hut, you reach a suspension bridge over the Pakihi stream. Look for the adjacent remains of the original Pakihi bridge, built in 1913/14 and destroyed in 1918.
The scenery is stunning. Take the time to stop. You may see wild trout in the river pools, and native birds such as kererū, tūī and kārearea, the New Zealand falcon.
At the end of the Pakihi Track, there is a shelter, car parking and basic toilet. If you are arranging someone to pick you up, or you are leaving a car here, it is a 30-minute drive from/to Ōpōtiki. Alternatively, from the end of the track, you can ride back to Ōpōtiki via 9 kilometres of the gravel Pakihi Road, then 10 kilometres on the sealed Otara Road. Otara Road has very long straights and can be hard work in a headwind!
If you want a nice alternative route, which is a bit longer and with some gravel and small hills, take Otara East Road and onto Gault road (see map).
Whether you ride back on Otara Road or Otara East Road, when you reach the outskirts of Ōpōtiki, turn onto Te Rere Pa road, and follow the Otara Stopbank Trail for 4 kilometres back to the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge and the start of the Dunes Trail.
If you have shuttled with Motu Trails Hire & Shuttle, you may be finishing your ride at Bushaven in the Te Waiti Valley, in which case you ride up the beautiful Te Waiti Road.
If cycling an advanced-grade track is not your thing, you can still experience the Pakihi Track on foot. It makes a great up-and-back walk or run from the Pakihi Road end. Go just a few kilometres and you will see fantastic riverside scenery. Alternatively, get a drop-off at the top, and walk the 20km in one or two days, staying overnight at the Pakihi Hut.
The Pakihi Track was first proposed in 1901, because the settlers at Motu needed a route to Ōpōtiki. There was yet no connected Motu Road or Waioeka Gorge Road. The only route at the time was a ‘terrible’ horse track cut in the 1870s by the armed constabulary and other works teams: known as the Ōpōtiki and Ormond Road (or Ormond and Ōpōtiki Road) and later the Military Track, it was neglected, twisting and dangerous. Before then, there had been only Te Kowhai Track, which was the original Māori trail that crossed the ranges.
To the settlers in 1901, a route down the Pakihi and Otara Valleys seemed the best bet – and after years of discussion and surveying, in about 1906 they finally began the incredibly hard work of cutting and benching by spade, explosive, and horse to create a track through the steep valleys.
In 1914 the Pakihi Track was completed, after the installation of the suspension bridge over the Pakihi stream (in this year the Motu Road became fully operational too). The track was used for stock movement and horse journeys. But in 1918 disaster fell: a terrible storm wrecked the bridge and track. Because by now vehicles could use the Motu Road, repair of the Pakihi Track was neglected, and this was the end of the track for many years – despite local Otara Valley farmers lobbying for it to be reopened so that they could send their stock to Gisborne.
In the 1960s, the Pakihi Track gained a conservation/recreation focus. In 1969 the New Zealand Forest Service (now Department of Conservation) built a hut halfway down the valley for hunters and walkers. Then in the 1990s, intrepid cyclists started using the track as the ultimate adventure ride, heaving their bikes over fallen trees and gingerly along cliffs. Pakihi Track had a listing in a mid-1990s edition of Great New Zealand Mountain Bike rides – the Bible of mountain bike trails in New Zealand. Unfortunately, after a 2007 storm, the track got even more rugged!
But with the advent of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, in 2010-2012, DOC restored the Pakihi Track to become part of the Motu Trails Cycleway, officially opened in 2012. Restoration included installing a 32-metre suspension bridge over the Pakihi Stream. The track, with its steep valleys and loose rock, is constantly in need of maintenance to retain the track surface. However, the experience of single track riding through the remote country like this is unforgettable, and makes all the hard work worth it!
For riding, Pakihi Track is one-way only, from Motu Road. You can walk or run both directions.
If you're an experienced rider with sound skills, the Pakihi Track is a gem. It's a ride into magnificent back-country, the whole way in pure forest.
Please be clear, however, on the Pakihi, you are 20km or more from the nearest sealed road, with no mobile phone coverage. The track gets continual gravel and rockfall. There are regular slips and windfalls. We clear the track regularly (generally weekly for the lower half) but you WILL get places with debris on the track, and you may need to carry your bike. This is the nature of the terrain, which is steep, rocky, and prone to heavy rainfall.
Treat Pakihi Track with respect. Do not ride fast. If you are unsure of your abilities, walk it instead.
We strongly recommend you are fully prepared when riding Pakihi:
- Spare tubes (if you run tubeless still take a tube) and basic tool kit
- Emergency foil sleeping bag.
- Rain jacket and warm spare clothing
- Basic first aid
- Personal locator beacon (PLB). These can be hired from Ōpōtiki i-SITE and Cycle Gisborne.