Over a sinuous 20km, the Pakihi Track twists from high on the Motu Road to a road-end south of Opotiki, in the eastern Bay of Plenty.

The track was reopened after a mammoth effort in 2012. It’s part of the Motu Trails, one of 23 Great Rides on the New Zealand Cycle Trail. While the surrounding hills are pitched steep – sometimes near vertical – the track itself is well formed and has a very even gradient. There are 25 bridges, the highlight a 32-metre suspension bridge over the Pakihi stream.

Riding through one of the original track cuttings. Photo: New Roads Home

Each year, over 3000 cyclists, walkers, and runners thrill to the Pakihi’s adventure. With steep drop-offs on the downhill side, cyclists require good skills and plenty of pluck but on foot it’s within the capabilities of anyone who is sure footed and reasonably fit.

It’s a remarkable forest journey. In the lower valley, many small waterfalls cascade down and the mossy rock drips. Especially after rain, the music of water rings everywhere. On a lucky day, you may spot birds such as North Island robin and kārearea (NZ falcon). You’re in the realm of (mostly unseen) tiny native Hochstetter’s frogs.

The remains of the old suspension bridge over the Pakihi stream

Adding depth to the Pakihi experience, you’re following in the tracks of history.

The track was first properly cut around 1908. According to a newspaper report from a few years later, this initial benching was only “about two feet wide”. Even so, it provided for basic travel between Opotiki and Motu.

At that time, there were no linked roads across Eastland, just horse tracks. The railway line had pushed from Gisborne to Matawai by 1914 and was just 4km from Motu by 1917. Settlers south of Opotiki wanted the Pakihi route to be developed into a road so they could muster their stock to Matawai to be taken by train to the freezing works in Gisborne. But settlers around Motu and nearby Marumoko Road wanted the Motu Road advanced instead.

The steepness of the hills and the loose rock means slips are commonplace.
This massive slide happened at the time of the Kaikoura earthquake, but whether it was caused by that, or the 400mm of rain in the same week, is unclear. Note figure on the re-cut track. Photo: Sophie Robinson.

Considerable effort went into developing both options. Newspapers of the time record a good deal of debate on the routes’ relative merits. One report has 60 men working on the Motu Road. Another, “A party of men is now employed opening out and widening the [Pakihi] track, which will entail some heavy rock work at the lower end.”

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