A tropical cyclone had brushed the top of the North Island causing slips and track closures across Auckland's Regional Parks and the Coromandel, and a missing chain link in our carefully crafted ride plan. We pumped up the tyres, lubed the chains and headed down the shallow arc of the Bay of Plenty through kiwifruit and avocado orchards to Whakatane and then up to the magic kingdom of Opotiki.
We camped at Ohiwa Lagoon and headed along the sandy beach to see what we could see. If it had been a clear day in October 1769 we may have spotted James Cook sending his cabin boy up the rigging, who knows. It was fine and sunny and the tracks would be drying out (as they do have a rep for draining like the proverbial sieve in these parts).
The 95km Pakihi Loop beckoned, it's made up of three distinctive tracks. The first a dedicated 10km Dunes Cycle Trail that follows the stunning Pacific coast line from Opotiki to Jacksons Road. Early morning light was casting long shadows as the sea massaged the sandy beach in mooted tones. From Jacksons Road we headed onto the old Motu Road. This was once part of a route used by Maori to access the Gisborne area. It was upgraded to a pack track in the 1800s and then, in the 1900s, a rough sort of back country road to give access to the Toatoa and Opiti farming regions and a link through to Motu and Matawai.
The road climbed gradually through the densely forested Meremere Scenic Reserve to a saddle overlooking the farmed Petipeti Valley, and downhill into it. A second climb from the settlement of Toatoa goes past the old school house and a couple of derelict old trucks, their glass headlights still shining. Just one more hill and we reached the fabled Pakihi singletrack at the very edge of the Urutawa Conservation Area. This is where the fun descent starts (as the track side sign informs us), but only after lunch. The track was in stunning condition, unlike the once bright and new road side loo, vandalized within an inch of its life, broken and twisted by the broken and twisted.
We blasted down to the Pakihi Hut, which arrived way too soon and marks the end of the major downhill bit. From there we followed the Pakihi Stream out on a very narrow balcony trail. The track roams high above the stream and requires you to smarten up your pedal work. We both made it out in one piece to the Pakihi Road and a spin back to Opotiki with a smile on the dial. We closed the loop, grabbed an ice cream cone then headed back to camp fittingly exhausted.
Southeast from Opotiki at the very end of Otara Road and across a wide ford resides a 4WD track that trundles up the Te Waiti Stream Valley to the Te Waiti pack track. This beautiful piece of singletrack initially crosses open country and difficult stiles before tunneling into the native reserve. A canopy of tawa and celery pine compete with the numerically dominant nikau palm. The track has been cut into the steep hillside which fair plummets to the Te Waiti Stream below. There were loads of small side streams and waterfalls making the most of the recent deluge.
After about 10km, we crossed the Te Waiti stream and headed along its true right bank to the Te Waiti Hut, out standing in it's open field. The area looked like it had once been cleared and grazed many moons ago. This proved a nice sunny spot for lunch, before we explored further up the valley. We didn't find much riding past the hut, but a couple of large brown unemployed horses and many fish in a deep swimming hole. The hut was clean and tidy and the ride back out was pure bliss through a forest of the worlds southern most occurring palm tree.
Otipi Road was built in anticipation. We had found it once before and rode its full length. It was long enough ago that we had forgotten the important bits, like its length and the amount of climbing involved. It was built for hydro damming, but luckily they forgot the dam bit. So off we peddled up the Mou Road and down to Toetoe, east on Takaputahi Road, until we finally met the Whitikau Stream Valley at a bridge and a small DOC campsite. Funny, where was the Otipi Road sign? We continued up this valley munching wild blackberries on the way to the one white horse settlement of Takaputahi.
Well beyond the settlement the track turned 4WD and finished like a full stop at private land, no entry. We did a u turn and back tracked to the DOC camp, had lunch and discovered much to our embarrassment Otipi Road, signless. The road climbed steeply up to the 956-metre Otipi Peak, then undulated along the ridge in the thick bush of the Rukumaru Conservation Park. A bloke on a quad bike with a gun and silencer slung over his shoulder, came to a grinding halt to inform us of a major slip where the track heads down to the Motu River. “Are you staying the night he enquired” looking at our meager kit sideways. We carried on to about the half way point, fully aware of the long ride back and the sunset syndrome. Heading back proved mainly downhill. After a long day in the saddle there was only just enough energy and time left for the award winning Opotiki fish and chips, two scoops of chips Ms.
Beside state highway two, a mere 26kms south of Opotiki resides the restored and one of only two harp suspension bridges in NZ. It's stunning and better still a looped section of single track trundles out and back beside the Tauranga Stream. This was abandoned balloted farm blocks, cleared and felled marginal land that sadly was doomed to fail. We did a bit of water control on our way through and lunched in the sun with dry feet just before the stream ford that sends you back down on the opposite bank. A couple of blue ducks kayaked down the adjacent rapids took to the air whistling after spotting us eating our cheese and marmite sandwiches. With wet feet in tow, and no more ducks spotted, we exited just below the bridge and headed to the cosy cafe at Motu where homemade delights, delight.
The old Opotiki Military Road had deluded us, saved for our next overseas trip. Yet we had visited an amazing reserve full of ancient Pirpiro trees saved from the loggers and surrounded by bright green farmland amongst the rolling hills beyond Opotiki. We had also sampled the many flavors of ice-cream and MTB trails on offer. It was time to move on and make for the Waikato, with another dastardly tropical storm bearing down on us from the north. The trees were showing the first colours of autumn and no matter how much gravity bends time and space, we would only be here once, battening down the hatches with a good book in tow.