I got into biking a few years ago, writes Malcom Dawson, more as a fitness thing than anything else. Friends were riding a bit and I thought, hell, let’s give it a go.

I am not really the gym sort of person: I don’t like running and finding the time for team sports can be an issue with all the travel I do for work, so riding it was.

Like most sports, cycling has evolved. Whether your gig is skiing, fishing, golf or motorsports, it always seems to start close to home with one bit of equipment and then you catch the bug and the journey begins. My evolution grew into mountain biking and exploring wilderness trails.

One of the great things about mountain biking is that there are so many good rides to discover – every district seems to have a booklet, Information Centre, or just visit Doctor Google. We are spoiled for choice.

I had some business in Gisborne, so what could be better than to leave early, grab a mate and go on an adventure. After a bit of research and some phone calls to accommodation and information centres, we were off to Opotiki to ride the Pahiki track, one of the Motu Trails network of mountain bike tracks.

Saturday night at the Irish pub in Opotiki on St Patrick’s Day was not what I expected, but it was entertaining to say the least. We had a quick, wellpriced and good quality meal before trying to find our accommodation about 20km out of town up a hidden valley called the Bushaven on the edge of the Te Waiti Stream.

Next time I'll bring my fly rod and try a bit of trout fishing.
Next time I’ll bring my fly rod and try a bit of trout fishing.

Transport for the ride was provided by a shuttle ride through Waioeka Gorge to Matawai, then a short drive to Motu. We chose to get out there and let the other group continue by shuttle to the start of the track.

A quick coffee in the coolest little café at Motu, a conversation with the café’s host about shooting pests and some local history was just part of the great hospitality. The cafe even has its own certified Kiwi enclosure out the back. We could have spent hours at this location, as I think we were the only customers for the day, but we had to head off.

Some mountain bikers want to do the big downhills, some are hill climbers and some are trail riders. I haven’t decided what I am yet. The Pahiki Track is 25km of solid downhill, but we wanted to get a bit more out if it, so we elected to ride 8km mainly uphill on an easy gravel road up to where the track started.

The Pahiki Track starts at the top of the Onukuroa Hill. The ride starts in dense bush with a gentle descent around the edges of some awesome rugged North Island rain forest.

DOC maintains the track well: it is about two metres wide and provides an all-weather, all-year ride. There are a few steep drop-offs to the side of the track, so caution is required, but that just adds to the adventure.

We built the pace up and started to smash out some kays, forgetting that the track might be used as a two-way track. Hell, we thought, who would be walking up this hill anyway? Common sense kicked in after a while and we reduced our descent to a reasonable pace while taking in the breath-taking scenery and marvelling at the fact that early settlers walked this track over 100 years ago.

After a about two hours we stopped for a bite to eat at a Pahiki Doc hut about halfway along the track. There we met other riders who had been riding at a more moderate pace and were having a more civilised lunch break. A couple of pictures were taken and then we were off again.

The ride starts in the bush where the track is well maintained.
The ride starts in the bush where the track is well maintained.

In the weeks prior to our ride heavy rains had scoured out sections of the track and created some sizable slips. The track maintenance crews had done an excellent job cutting new tracks, although for safety these were best walked across, not ridden. The ruts and wash-outs just made the trip even better, as we looked down 100-metre rock slips to the river below.

The latter part of the ride was a gentle doddle along the Pakihi Stream, where I missed having my polarised glasses, as I am sure the river was loaded with trout. I will bring my fly rod with me next time for sure.The trail ends as you ride past some cool swing-bridges and Barry Crump’s old house. After that it is an easy ride back to Bushaven through rolling farmlands where we had the opportunity to shower and change.

I wish I could have spent another night and explored some of the trout fishing, but we had to head to Gisborne for work and then prepare for another ride in the Whirinaki Forest in a couple of days’ time.

There are many North Island trail rides available, but this is one of the best. It is easy to organise via www.motutrails.co.nz or Opotiki Information Centre. The track is a graded ‘advanced,’ but I would suggest that the rating is over cautious. In my opinion it is a grade 2 or 3, mainly downhill, making it a good ride for all ages and abilities. Just a moderate degree of fitness is required.

In places we had to contend with washouts and slips, but maintenance crews had done an excellent job of cutting new tracks.
In places we had to contend with washouts and slips, but maintenance crews had done an excellent job of cutting new tracks.

Our Motu Trails Pahiki Track adventure took a full day door to door, of which only three hours 45 minutes was riding time, for a total trail distance of 58km. The shuttle, café and the views took the rest of the time.

If you ride this trail, I hope you have as good an experience as we did. We loved it. Hell, we live in a beautiful country, blessed with so much to do and so little time. There are plenty more great rides I have yet to do, but I will get to them one by one.

A day in the saddle in the wilderness – it doesn’t get much better!
Enjoy the ride.

Some mountain bikers want to so the big downhills, some are hill climbers and some are trail riders. I haven’t decided what I am yet.

Contact: www.motutrails.co.nz or Opotiki Information Centre.