Bike Your Way From Sandy Shores to Deep in the Wilderness
Pick your preferred landscape: sand dunes, forest and farmland, or complete forested wilderness; or all three! Then hire a bike and be on your way on these renowned bike trails in Eastland in the North Island of New Zealand. The Motu Trails are your best chance of seeing the best scenery on the Eastland and Bay of Plenty boundary.
On the Dunes Trail, you have an easy-breezy ride ahead as you worm your way around and over sand dunes. The Motu Road Trail is a historic road nestled in native bush and farmland, with a few downhill sections to enjoy. Then finally there is the adventurous Pakihi Track which is a true backcountry experience.
Prepare for Your Ride on the Motu Trails
Whichever trail you decide to do, there is shuttle transport services and bike hire to accommodate. Where most people start the trails from Opotiki, where there is bike hire, shuttle and accommodation, there are some shuttle services that can do pickups from Whakatane, Rotorua and Gisborne.
If you are doing all the trails (91km/56.5 miles) and taking a couple of days to do them, remember to book accommodation or be prepared with a sleeping bag and food if staying the Pakhiri Hut overnight.
Time: 2-3 hours return
Distance: 22km (14 miles) return
Grade: 2 (easy)
As you probably guessed from the name, the Dunes Trail winds up and down the tussock-covered sand dunes between Opotiki and Omarumutu. Don’t worry, riding over sand is not as much of a nightmare as it may sound, as the track is well surfaced, especially with the “sand bridge” giving you a smooth ride surrounded on the beach section.
Be prepared to face some oncoming bikers along the trail in summer. Nevertheless, it’s a good atmosphere on the trail in this busy season. In the off-peak season, you are more likely to just share the trail with the occasional weka, a flightless brown bird.
Although you can access the Dunes Trail at many points along the way, the official start of this easy trail is from the Memorial Park at the northern end of Opotiki, where there’s a car park, drinking fountain and toilets to get ready before the ride!
Begin by crossing the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge over the Otara River. This is where some of New Zealand’s early settlers arrived in the early-1400s. The trail is wide and gravelled for the first 3km (1.9 miles) until you hit Hikuwai Beach. On a clear day, you will be able to see Whale Island and White Island. You may even see the steam coming from the active volcano.
The next point of interest on the Dunes Trail is the two 6m/20ft-high pou (poles) which face east and west to watch the rising and setting sun. The sand bridge comes next, then afterwards there is the Tirohanga service station if you need an emergency ice cream.
The final 4km (2.5 miles) of the journey is taking twists and turns through the sand dunes. If you are returning to Opotiki, return from the 9km point where you reach the squeeze gate, just so you see the pretty stuff. Otherwise, continue on the roadside where you’ll meet up with the Motu Road Trail, or onto Omarumutu.
Motu Road Trail
Time: 6 hours
Distance: 67km (42 miles) oneway
Grade: 3 (intermediate)
The Motu Road was a road first driven on in 1915 but was closed early on when it was outdated by the state highway. Today, the road is not left to waste, with cyclists making the most of it as the Motu Road Trail. The road has also been used for rally driving, especially as a key stage in the Rally of New Zealand. There are some awesome descents on the trail to at least make you feel a bit like a rally driver.
The easiest direction to go is from Matawai, which is at an altitude of 550 metres (1,804 feet) and go downhill towards the coast. The Motu Road Trail ends where the Dunes Trail begins. The bike trail mostly consists of beautiful bush surroundings and farmland.
The first section of the Motu Road Trail is 14km (8.7 miles) between Matawai and Motu a slight downhill ride on a sealed road. From Motu, it’s worth making the time for a 5km (3 miles) side trip to Motu Falls where you can watch the crashing water from a high swingbridge. Back on the Motu Road Trail, there is a gradual 3km (1.9 miles) climb to great views before getting back to more downhill riding. You can take a quick detour to the Pakihi Track to use the toilet facilities (or continue your ride onto the advanced level Pakihi Track).
Back on the trail, you then make your way to Toatoa, then a sharp 1km climb to the summit of Meremere Hill. You are rewarded with a fun descent dropping 350 metres (1,148 feet) through forest. The final leg of the journey is some small uphill and downhill sections before flattening out onto a sealed road at Waiaua. The track ends and connects with the Dunes Trail.
Time: 2-4 hours
Distance: 21km (13 miles) oneway
Grade: 4 (advanced)
True wilderness lies on the Pakihi Track. This is one for the adventurous! The track was first constructed more than a century ago as a proposed stock route but is now known as one of the top backcountry bike trails in New Zealand. The track is well-maintained with 24 wooden bridges and a 34-metre (111.5-foot) swingbridge to make the ride possible.
Although the ride is not too technical, it is classed as an advanced ride because there are steep dropoffs below the track. There could also be slip damage, so if anything seems sketchy, just get walk those sections.
You’ll need shuttle transportation to either take you to Motu Road or the Gisborne/Opotiki boundary line. The latter is almost at an altitude 800 metres (2,625 feet) which means a fun downhill ride for 9km (5.6 miles) before starting the Pakihi Track.
Once you hit the track you’ll be riding through the unspoiled forest with epic views all around. A good way to mark your progress on the track is by counting the bridges to and from the Pakihi Hut. The first 11km (6.8 miles) section before the hut has 12 bridges, and by bridge 6 you are halfway to the hut. Then the next 10km (6.2 miles) crosses of bridges 13 to 25, with bridge 19 being three quarters into the track.
The end of the Pakihi Track joins with an unsealed road for 9km (5.6 miles) then on a sealed road for 12km (7.5 miles) to Opotiki. An interesting route to take is to cross the Otara River bridge onto Otara East Road instead of continuing straight on the Otara Road.
Combine Them All!
Do a Loop by Combining All the Motu Trails
Why miss out on any trails, when you can do them all in a day if you are fast. The 91km journey can be done by starting and ending in Opotiki. The best way around to do it is by starting on the Dunes Trail then connecting with the Motu Road Trail. This involves some steady uphill riding for about 40km (25 miles) before you reach the junction for the Pakihi Track. The Pakihi Track and the final stretch of road will lead you back to Opotiki.
For those who prefer not to rush it, the Motu Trails can be done in two days, by staying inToatoa where there is a farmstay, at Motu in the Motu Community House, or in the Pakihi Hut, where you’ll need a sleeping bag. The hut beds are first-come-first-served.