Be Set Free
- Part of the Motu Trails Great Ride
- Grade: advanced/4
- Shared use cycling, running, walking — please show courtesy
- Distance: 20km single-track, followed by 24km of gravel road, sealed road, and gravel trail back into Opotiki
- Time to ride: 3-6 hours
- Start: for safety, the Pakihi Track is ONE-WAY for cyclists, starting from the Motu Road; for walkers and runners the track is two-way
- The riding is not especially technical but there are steep drop-offs to the side
- There is no mobile coverage, you are advised to take basic tools and safety gear, including a PLB, available for hire from Opotiki i-SITE (07 315 3031) or Gisborne i-SITE (06 868 6139)
- There are no shops between Motu and Opotiki
- Shuttle transport is available.
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 gained a reputation as an epic mountain bike ride. This ride is mapped on the Great Rides App.
After a massive track restoration project, with construction of 25 bridges, the Pakihi reopened as part of the Motu Trails in 2012. Today it's a stunning, beautiful journey through magnificent forest.
The Pakihi Track starts 17km from Motu (or 38km from the Opotiki coast). You have no significant uphills to tackle and the surface is generally well formed. However, in places the track is narrow with big drop-offs to the side. Often, especially on the lower section, there are rockfalls and rock debris — this is a back-country track in challenging terrain.
You must have reasonable skills and take care. If in doubt, get off and walk any bits where you are unsure. If you are a nervous rider, you may wish to consider riding the Motu Road Trail, or, doing the Pakihi as a walk.
The top half (11km) of the track is a steady downhill, dropping 400 metres altitude to the Pakihi Hut, where a side track cuts off to the left. The hut is a great lunch spot and you can stay the night for a true bush experience. There's a basic toilet and easy access to the pretty river.
After 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 terrific. Take the time to stop. You may see wild trout in the river pools, and native birds such as kereru, tui and the New Zealand falcon.
At the end of the track, there is a shelter, car parking and toilet. If you're arranging someone to pick you up, or leaving a car here, it's a 30-minute drive from/to Opotiki.
From the end of the track, you can ride back to Opotiki via 9km of the gravel Pakihi Road, then the quiet Otara Road. If you want a nice alternative route, with some gravel, take Otara East Road (see map).
Whether you go that way or stay on the fully-sealed Otara Road, when you reach the outskirts of Opotiki, turn right onto Te Rere Pa road, and follow the Otara Stopbank Trail for 4km 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 at Bushaven in the Te Waiti valley, in which case you finish up the beautiful Te Waiti road.
The Pakihi 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.
Shuttles and bike hire
A popular way to ride the Pakihi is to get a shuttle from Opotiki up to Motu or Matawai or, most commonly, to the 800m high hilltop above Motu.
Unless you want to ride to the trail, it is a good idea to take a shuttle. The drive from Opotiki to the hilltop drop-off point is 100km each way, with close to 10km of gravel road. The road can get rough at times and may have forestry traffic. If you take your own vehicle a 4WD is strongly advised.
Two Opotiki companies offer shuttle and bike hire:
Shuttles can be booked anytime, minimum group numbers apply. To join an existing shuttle booking, contact Motu Trails Ltd, and Motu Trails Hire & Shuttle.
You can do supported rides that include the Pakihi with:
Accommodation close to the trail
Weka Wilds is at the track's Pakihi Road end.
Bushaven is at Te Waiti, 12km from the track's Pakihi Road end.
DOC's Pakihi hut is approximately half-way down the track.
Food close to the trail
Weka Wilds (on arrangement)
In the early 1900s, the Pakihi Track formed part of a route between Motu and Opotiki. There was a lot of debate whether to develop the first road via the Pakihi track or via what’s now the Motu Road.
The settlers in the Pakihi and Otara valleys campaigned for the Pakihi. Francis Jorton Foster, 'FJF', farmed in the Pakihi valley from 1908-1918. Each year, FJF wrote an annual Christmas diary. His 1908 entry records, “We, the Opotikites, are agitating for the road past this place to Motu”. In 1910, he wrote “Went to Gisborne and fetched back 500 ewes and 12 rams … we still have to struggle with a [rough] pack track”.
By 1911, FJF wrote, “the track has made some progress, two contracts for formation being nearly completed”. In 1913, “a stock bridge is being built" and at last in 1914, “I sent my first lot of sheep to freezing works at Gisborne through Pakihi Track.”
By 1916, Mr Foster could use what’s now the gravel Pakihi road in a horse gig. But 1918 saw an enormous flood. Much of the Pakihi Track, the bridge, and his farm were destroyed. He walked off the land.
You can still see remnants of the old Pakihi bridge structure on both banks, right by where the new Pakihi suspension bridge now stands. This includes timber framing, bolts into the rock, and a clearly visible footing hole, where the cables were attached.
The first car had travelled the Motu Road in 1915 so there was no real need to restore the Pakihi Track. It fell into disrepair, used only by hunters and trampers. From the early-1990s there were efforts to restore it, and it began to be ridden by hardy bikers (with as much bike-carrying as riding.)
The Pakihi hut was built in 1969 for hunters/cullers by the New Zealand Forest Service (forerunner to DOC). The hut was originally big enough to sleep six, but in 2013 an enclosed veranda was added.
In 2011-12, as part of the NZCT project, The Department of Conservation brought the Pakihi Track back to life. There were two work teams, one from each end. The official Motu Trails opening was mid-2012.