The walk commences at the left of a highway rest area and descends a set of steps to the tunnel entrance (walkers are not advised to enter the tunnel as the old concrete structure is now in an unsound condition). From this point, the walk follows the clearly visible railway formation across open farmland for 2 km before crossing the Waihuka river alongside the concrete piers of an old railway bridge.
The walk from here continues through the hill cuttings and benchings made with pick and shovel by the railway workers some 80 years ago. Wooden culverts, large concrete sumps, fish plates, and spikes can be seen along the walk.
After passing through the light bush on the edge of the Otoko Scenic Reserve, where spectacular yellow-flowering kowhai can be seen in the spring, the walkway leaves the railway formation. The tracks turn left down a farm vehicle track, follows the Waihuka river for a short distance, and finishes at the State Highway opposite the Otoko Hall. Before making the turn down the farm track a short walk along the railway line offers views of a small picturesque waterfall set among native bush.
The Otoko Walkway is located off SH2 (Matawai Road) about 50 km north-west of Gisborne.
There are two entry/exit points (it is not a loop track). The first is located at the Mahaki railway tunnel 9 km east of the Otoko School and the other is opposite the Otoko Hall.
Although the walk can be walked in either direction it is recommended that you commence from the Mahaki Tunnel entrance. The uphill climb from this direction is barely noticeable due to the very easy gradient designed for the railway.
A car park, picnic tables, and rubbish bins are located at the rest area at the entry adjacent to the old Mahaki Railway tunnel.
History and culture
The Moutohora line was Gisborne's first railroad. Its history goes back to June 1902 when the first train ran to Ormond and back. The new line was built in progressive stages. Te Karaka was reached in 1905 and the section to Moutohora, 78 km from Gisborne, was opened for traffic in 1917.
With each section of the line becoming available for railway operations, trains began running to and from Gisborne on regular schedules.
Much of the community life of Moutohora centered around the railroad and the arrival of the evening mixed train with passengers, store, and mail from Gisborne was the highlight of the day. With the passing of years and the completion of the East Coastline from Napier to Wairoa and Gisborne, the Moutohora section began to lose much of its individuality.
The line was taken over by the Railways Department in February 1943 but a serious shortage of locomotive fuel was then facing the department and the signs were ominous for the Gisborne/Moutohora line. Railway road Services buses took over the passenger side of the business and mixed trains were discontinued.
For some years after this, a daily freight train continued to run between Gisborne and Moutohora but dwindling tonnage and mounting costs had already cemented the fate of the line.
The last train ran on 14 March 1959 and demolition gangs began ripping up the tracks and sleepers a few weeks later. By 1960 nothing was left of the line except the three-mile section from Gisborne to Makaraka still used occasionally by shunting services.
Know before you go
Care needed crossing the Waihuka River as there is no bridge. After heavy periods of rain do not attempt to cross this river.
This track receives minimal maintenance so proceed with care.
The track crosses private farmland. Be aware of stock and leave gates as you find them.
Source: Department of Conservation