Archives For Cycle Trail

Hewn through steep hill country 100 years ago as a stock route, the Pakihi Track on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, is now a magnificent wilderness ride. Jim Robinson, Executive Officer for Motu Trails Charitable Trust, writes:

The Pakihi Track is now a magnificent wilderness ride. Photo copyright Motu Trails Cycleway.

The Pakihi Track—a magnificent wilderness ride

My most recent Pakihi escapade came hot on the heels of Easter’s ex-tropical cyclone Ita, which slammed the Eastern Bay of Plenty with an all-night lightning storm, tree-downing gales and, in one terrific downpour, 100 mm of rain in less than two hours.

Two days after that, I was joined in Opotiki by Toni Keeling, who had already finished the GODZone expedition adventure race and the Coast to Coast Longest Day this year.

“I’ve only done one ride since GODZone,” Toni grinned. But, typically, she was dead keen to do the whole 93 km loop of the Motu Trails: out on the Dunes Trail, up the historic Motu Coach Road, down the Pakihi, and back on the tar seal to Opotiki.

Tirohanga section on the Dunes Trail in the Saturday sun. Photo: Mike / Motu Trails Cycleway.

Tirohanga section on the Dunes Trail

The Dunes Trail

The Dunes Trail is a cinch, purpose built to answer New Zealand Cycle Trail (NZCT) standards. But it’s still a great legwarmer, rolling east over tussock-dressed sand dunes, with panoramic views of the Pacific.

Surprisingly, there were no other riders. And the usually common weka must all have been sleeping in.

Dunes Trail. Photo: Project Crimson.

Dunes Trail

The Motu Road Trail

After an hour, the Motu Coach Road clicked up the challenge (a big yellow road sign pulls no punches: “NARROW WINDING ROAD NEXT 48 KM EXTREME CARE”).

Meremere to Toatoa on the Motu Road Trail. Photo courtesy Motu Trails.

Meremere to Toatoa on the Motu Road Trail

With tight corners and precipitous drop-offs, ‘The Motu’ used to be one of the famed stages on the World Rally Championship calendar. It’s still the highlight of the Motu Challenge multisport race — a fave of ex-Whakatane MTB rider and 2011 national XC champ Carl Jones.

Motu Road Trail. Photo copyright: Motu Trails Cycleway.

Motu Road Trail

A few times I could admittedly have done with the horsepower of a Jonesy or a Colin McRae, but we made steady going, and reached the start of the Pakihi by early afternoon.

The Pakihi Track

The day was awesome, though a long way off tropical. So, stopping at the mini trailhead shelter, it was fuel up and jackets on for what Jonathan Kennett rates as “one of the longest most scenic downhill cycle trails in the country. It is virtually impossible to ride the Pakihi without a grin from ear to ear.”

Riding the Pakihi. Photo copyright Motu Trails Cycleway.

“It is virtually impossible to ride the Pakihi without a grin from ear to ear.”

Bringing the Pakihi back to life

Jonathan first rode the Pakihi in about 1996, while researching for Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides.

One of my dog-eared early editions of the biker’s bible rates the track “50% semi-rideable jungle country, 50% sweet single track”. But by 2008, edition seven cautioned with an almost audible sigh: “in 2007, a big storm closed the Pakihi Track … it doesn’t sound like the Pakihi will ever be fully rideable again.”

Fortunately, in 2010 there was an unexpected saviour in the form of the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) had been aiming for some years to restore the Pakihi for trampers and hunters, and got behind the concept of reopening access to bikers as well.

Rugged! Photos of the Pakihi before restoration

With two work teams, one from each end, DOC brought the Pakihi back to life, better than ever.

Riders on the Pakihi. Photo copyright Motu Trails Cycleway.

The Pakihi—back to life

As soon as we dropped off the Motu Road, Toni and I were into magic riding, below a dense canopy of forest, with punga fronds pushing in.

It’s wide and evenly graded, but a glance down confirms that you’re sidling an extremely steep slope.

Biking the Pakihi

Biking the Pakihi

Time and again, you skirt into a tight gut, cross a short wooden bridge, and return to the bush-clad face of the hill, all without changing more than a few metres in height.

I pedalled the Pakihi a year ago with four keen Australians, and they kept commenting how the scale of track work is unreal.

The 11 km upper section, with a dozen bridges and a total descent of about 300 metres, ends with a short sidetrack to the Pakihi Hut, which was built in 1969 by the New Zealand Forest Service (forerunner to DOC), for hunters.

The hut was originally big enough for 6, but the 2013 addition of an enclosed verandah and benching stretches that capacity.

It’s backcountry basic. But, for a lunch stop, it’s the best place on the trail — and if it’s sunny, there’s a picnic table.

Toni and I rolled straight on down, into the spectacular 10 km lower section, which starts by taking a tight twist into a shady gully with a small crashing waterfall.

One of many trackside waterways on the Pakihi. Photo copyright Motu Trails Cycleway.

One of many trackside waterways on the Pakihi

A few minutes more and we’d reached a 35 metre long suspension bridge, crossing the Pakihi River just above the confluence with Papamoa Stream.

The Pakihi Swingbridge. Photo: Jamie Troughton.

The Pakihi Swingbridge

The bridges keep coming, all numbered: 18, 19, 20, 21…. We paused several times to look left to small waterfalls, the cold hanging in the still air. I love these spots most of all in summer: the lichens and ferns stay fresh, the nikau throw shade, and there’s still ample water to fill a bottle.

Then, around bridge 24, the valley stretches open. The track widens and straightens. The sun warms. Suddenly, you pop out on the road end, and it’s over.

“There’s stunning scenery all the way down, and a great variation,” said Toni, when I asked for her perception as a Pakihi first-timer.

“There aren’t many places that you can easily ride so close to a river without being in a riverbed, or way up high on a cliff. It was amazing to be so close, seeing the sunlight glistening off the river and hearing the water.”

The Pakihi River

The Pakihi River — glimpses of perfection

“From what I’d been told, I was expecting a far narrower track with steep cliffs,” Toni commented. “In reality it was much better than I expected. You need to be cautious at times. But really why would you want to rush!”

Several shuttle providers offer group drop-offs and pick-ups around the Motu Trails. There’s a range of accommodation, including in Opotiki, Ohiwa, Tirohanga, Toatoa, Motu, Pakihi Valley and Te Waiti.

If you’re not keen on riding, the Pakihi Track is also a superb walk. From the Pakihi road end you can walk to the hut and back in about 5-6 hours.

Find out more at or ask in the iSITE at Opotiki or Gisborne. Get news and track updates on the Motu Trails Facebook page.

Abridged from ‘Glorious Pioneering’ in the June/July issue of New Zealand Mountain Biker Magazine

By Beverly Bacon, DOC Web Team

With two full suns forecast for the central North Island over Wellington Anniversary Weekend, we decided to head north and ride the Timber Trail – an 85 km cycle trail that passes through Pureora Forest Park and is part of Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail.

Most people ride from Pureora to Ongarue to take advantage of the mostly downhill trend in this direction; we rode in the opposite direction as it fitted better with our other plans for the weekend. Either way you can’t go wrong – there are signposts at all intersections and every kilometre is numbered.

A cutting that was part of the tramway.

Looking through one of the cuttings that were once part of the tramway

The section from Ongarue follows an old tramway, so the trail is smooth and wide with a gentle gradient. It passes alternately through cuttings and clearings that were once camps for loggers.

An interesting feature is the Ongarue Spiral. It consists of a lower bridge, a curved tunnel, a circle of track and an over bridge, and is fun to ride after you’ve got your head around it from the interpretation panels on the way.

Riding the lower bridge of the Ongarue Spiral.

Riding on the lower bridge of the Ongarue Spiral with the over bridge above

Bridges are a major feature the whole length of the trail and the four huge swing bridges are nothing less than impressive – the biggest is 141 metres long and 53 metres high! They’re all wide and stable enough to ride across but it’s worth stopping half way to admire the forest views (and the engineering involved!)

Riding across Mangatukutuku Bridge.

Riding across Mangatukutuku Bridge

We ended day one at Piropiro campsite, halfway along the trail. It’s accessible by road and many people choose to have their overnight gear shuttled in, as well as being shuttled back to their cars at the end of the trail.

The section from Piropiro to Pureora would have been a little easier if we had ridden the other way, but our slower pace uphill gave us more time to look for the kereru whose loud flapping wings we often heard. The forest under dappled sunlight was just as beautiful.

Riding through stunning native forest.

Stunning native forest

Leaving our bikes on the trail, we walked the 30 minute side track to historic Bog Inn Hut to have our lunch. We also made the side trip up Mt Pureora (1165 metres) with 360 degrees of the Central Plateau, Lake Taupo and across Taranaki. There are two tracks – from the Pureora end, the first one signposted is a 40 minute walk one way, the second one, which we took, was just 20 minutes one way. Be prepared to get your feet a little muddy.

Day two ended at Ngaherenga campsite in Pureora. We pitched our tent alongside a row of flowering flax bushes and were treated to an evening with tui feeding right near us – a lingering reminder of a superb ride that for two days had allowed us to get close up to the nature and history that makes New Zealand special.