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 to Opotiki
- Time to ride: 3-6 hours
- Start: for safety, cycling the Pakihi Track is one way, starting from the Motu Road; for walking and running the track is two-way
- The riding is not especially technical but there are steep drop-offs to the side
- E-bikers and those with panniers — be aware you must lift/push your bike
- 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 restoration, the Pakihi Track reopened in 2012 as part of the Motu Trails. Today it's a stunning, beautiful journey through magnificent forest.
The track starts from high on the Motu Road, 17km from Motu and 38km from the Opotiki 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 big drop-offs to the side.
Often, especially on the lower section, there is usually rock debris on the track. This is a back-country track in challenging terrain.
You need reasonable skills and to ride with 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, doing the Pakihi as a walk.
From the Motu Road, the top half (11km) 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 easy access to the pretty 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 terrific. Take the time to stop. You may see wild trout in the river pools, and native birds such as kereru, tui and Karearea, the New Zealand falcon.
If you want a nice alternative route, a bit longer and with some gravel and small hills, take Otara East Road then Gault road (see map).
Whether you ride back on Otara road or Otara East road, when you reach the outskirts of Opotiki, turn 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 your ride at Bushaven in the Te Waiti valley, in which case you ride up the beautiful Te Waiti road (see Te Waiti track page).
If cycling an advanced-grade track is not your thing, you can still experience the Pakihi Track! The track makes a superb 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.
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 Motu Road to get to the Pakihi Track, it is a good idea to take a shuttle. The drive from Opotiki to the hilltop drop-off point is over 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.
Te Waiti Boulders campsite is 10km from the track's Pakihi Road end.
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 Jortin Foster farmed in the Pakihi valley from 1908-1918. Each year, Jortin Foster wrote a birthday diary. His 1908 entry records, “We, the Opotikites, are agitating for the road past this place to Motu”.
In 1910, Mr Foster wrote, “Went to Gisborne and fetched back 500 ewes and 12 rams … we still have to struggle with a [rough] pack track”.
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 1914 so there was no real need to restore the Pakihi Track. It fell into disrepair. A mid-1930s news report refers to it as an "abandoned stock track".
New Zealand Forest Service (forerunner to DOC) workers did a lot of track work in the late-1970s-1980s. From the early-1990s there were further efforts, and the track began to be ridden by hard-core bikers (with as much bike-carrying as riding.)
The Pakihi hut was built in 1969 by the New Zealand Forest Service for hunters/cullers. The hut was originally only big enough to sleep six, but in 2013 an enclosed veranda was added.
In 2011-12, as part of The New Zealand Cycle Trail project, DOC brought the Pakihi Track back to life. There were two work teams, one from each end. The official opening was mid-2012.