Made up of three wildly different rides, the Motu Trails have something for everyone – from easy rides along the stunning Pacific coast to classic singletrack following a historic byway through bushy backcountry.
This trio of trails is a wonderful to way to get to know this special corner of the North Island, centered on the town of Ōpōtiki. The leisurely Dunes Trail takes in coastal scenery with opportunities for seaside picnics and swimming. It leads to the Motu Road, a historic byway venturing inland to the remote settlements of Motu and Matawai. Halfway along the Motu Road is the start of the legendary Pākihi Track, which winds back towards Ōpōtiki on singletrack through fabulous forest and a hidden valley – an absolute New Zealand MTB classic.
The three trails can be linked together for an unforgettable 91km loop or split and spliced to make rides suitable for most ages and abilities. The Motu Trails also provide an important link for road tourers heading through Tairāwhiti Gisborne via the tranquil Rere Falls Trail.
- ocean, forest & mountain panoramas
- challenging backcountry singletrack
- fascinating Māori & early settler history
- swimming & picnics on stunning beaches
- fun, family riding the Dunes Trail
- virgin forest & unique coastal habitats
- authentic heartland hospitality
- photogenic Māori carved poles (markers)
The trail is split into three separate rides that can be completed individually or as a 91km loop. The whole trail can be completed in 2–3 days or broken up easily into shorter adventures, with local shuttles available for one-way rides.
The Dunes Trail can be ridden as an easy there and back up to 20km long, depending on where you turn back. Unless completing the whole loop or overnighting on the trails, the Motu Road and Pākihi Track are best tackled with transport for drop-offs or pick-ups.
A great, two-day option for reasonably fit riders is to cycle from Ōpōtiki to Motu (61km) on the first day where you can stay overnight, and then head back up the Motu Road before riding down the Pakhihi Track back to Ōpōtiki (61km).
The 91km loop can also be ridden over two days by staying at the Toatoa Farm accommodation. Fit riders have been known to knock off the whole loop in one day, although it’s a pretty big undertaking!
20km return, Grade 2/easy, 1.5–3 hours
This easy trail is great for riders of all ages and abilities with a wide, smooth surface and a total elevation change of only 100m along its entire length (200m when ridden both ways).
It starts at the graceful Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku suspension bridge in Ōpōtiki’s Memorial Park Reserve. From here it undulates gently along for 10km along the sand dunes east of town, with epic ocean and East Cape views and plenty of opportunities for picknicking on empty beaches or going for a dip.
Jacksons Road, at the eastern end of the trail, marks the start of Motu Road Trail, although riders may wish to turn back at the 9km mark as the final roadside kilometre is largely unremarkable.
Motu Road Trail
67km, Grade 3/intermediate, 4–7 hours
The Motu Road is best suited to fit riders who aren’t afraid of hills. Riding in the direction from Jacksons Road (near the coast) to the settlement Motu, this route dishes up 1600m of climbing. It can be ridden in the other direction, of course, with the end-point of Matawai already 500m ASL so there’s more downhill than up. Either way, it’s a pretty big effort that shouldn’t be underestimated!
From Jackson Road, the trail follows a quiet country road, mostly surfaced in gravel, up and over a highpoint of 750m above sea level. Traffic is generally very light but riders should always be on the lookout for cars and the occasional logging truck, especially around corners.
From Jackson’s Road, the trail heads towards Matawai along the old coach road that formed part of the first through-road between the Eastern Bay of Plenty and Tairāwhiti Gisborne. It’s mostly gravel-road riding through lush farmland and the remote bush country of the Raukumara Ranges.
It’s 24km – including a solid 6km climb up Meremere Hill – to the pint-sized settlement of Toatoa where there’s bike-friendly farm stay accommodation.
Winding up through magnificent forest for another 14km riders reach the Pākihi Track junction, where the 91km-loop riders leave the Motu Road.
From there the road climbs steadily, with some well-earned views across ridges way back to the coast and Moutohora (Whale Island), before a satisfyingly long downhill into the pretty Motu Valley. There’s welcoming accommodation here at the Community House and the scenic Motu Falls are a worthy detour 5km away.
A further 14km away on a quiet, slightly uphill, sealed road is Matawai, the inland end of this ride, and a popular spot for shuttle drop-offs and pick-ups.
44km, Grade 4/advanced, 3–6 hours
Originally a pack track cut in the early 1900s, the Pākihi Track is now a wonderful 20km-long wilderness trail shared by bikers, runners and walkers.
The advanced track is strictly mountain bike territory and should only be attempted by experienced riders. Although not particularly technical, caution is advised – there are many drop-offs beside the track, while gravel, rocks and tree debris on the track can escalate the level of difficulty. The upper track also gets slippery after wet weather.
For the safety of other users, it’s a one-way track for cyclists — do not ride up the track from the Pākihi Road.
The first 11km section twists and turns through magical forest dominated by tawa, tōtara, rimu and rewarewa, before reaching the Pākihi Hut around the half-way point. This is a great place to stop for lunch before heading onward.
The stunning lower section starts by crossing Pākihi Stream via an impressive 35m suspension bridge, and then follows it all the way to the road end. Along the way keep an eye out for native birds including the kererū (wood pigeon), tui and fantails. If you are lucky, you may even see a kārearea (NZ falcon) or North Island robin. The cheeky North Island weka may also be heard calling out.
At the car park, riders can rest a while at the massive picnic table built by trail volunteers from an old bridge.
The last leg back to Ōpōtiki involves 9km on gravel road beside the river, followed by 10km on a quiet country road and 4km along the Otara stopbank trail back into town.
Note that the Rere Falls Trail (a 103km Heartland Ride) links Matawai with Tairāwhiti Gisborne via quiet, country roads and highway.
If you’re not sure what Motu Trails ride is right for you, ask at Ōpōtiki or Gisborne i-SITE, or the bike hire and shuttle operators in Ōpōtiki – they’re the ones in the know. Here are a couple of easy-to-arrange options taking in the top highlights.
Dunes Trail—Tirohanga (return)
12km, easy, 2–3 hours
Riding the Dunes Trail to Tirohanga and back is a great coastal ‘highlights’ package, complete with fabulous ocean panoramas, Hukutaia Beach picnic area, wetlands, and Tirohanga Beach itself. There are several places to access the beach, which is typically empty of people and strewn with interesting driftwood. Swimming may be enjoyed with due caution; note that the beach is unpatrolled. Bike hire close the trail’s start in Ōpōtiki makes this an easy option for visitors; guided rides are also available.
Motu Road (uphill assist)
67–75km, intermediate, 4–7 hours
Get a shuttle from Ōpōtiki up to Motu, or Matawai, or most commonly, the hill above Motu. You’re now set up for a pretty awesome roll along the gravel but not particularly technical Motu Road, followed by the cruisy Dunes Trail back to Opotiki – with way more downhill than up. Note that there two shelters along the way, but no shops until you reach the coast.
Pākihi Track (uphill assist)
44km, advanced, 3–6 hours
The most popular way to ride the Pākihi as a day-trip is to dodge the uphills by getting a shuttle from Ōpōtiki up to Motu, or Matawai, or most commonly, the hill above the track start. Make an early start so you can take time to enjoy the track, stopping at the hut for lunch and at the many other interesting spots along the way. The river can be fantastic for swimming.
Need to Know
TRAIL STATUS & ALERTS
FITNESS & SKILLS
The Motu Trails are made up of a variety of grades and track surfaces suitable for a range of riding abilities – that’s part of their charm! Young, old and novice riders will particularly love the gravel surfaced, undulating Dunes Trail, while fitter riders and fans of singletrack will relish the Motu Road and Pākihi.
TYPE OF BIKE
While the Dunes Trail can be ridden on a hybrid or touring bike with knobbly tyres, a ship-shape mountain bike is recommended on the rougher and more remote Motu and Pākihi. (An increasing number of people are riding the Motu on wide-tyred gravel bikes.) Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit on these two trails.
E-bikes are welcome on all the trails, although note that the New Zealand Cycle Trail advises particular caution for e-biking riding on trails graded 4 and above, including the Pākihi: the bike’s weight may be an issue if you need to ride, lift or carry your bike over obstacles, but previous e-bike riders have advised that their e-bike has performed well on this trail. Note also that battery capacity may be an issue on the long and arduous Motu Road.
The Dunes Trail has squeeze bars so those with drop bars, panniers or small bikes may need to dismount. The Pākihi is narrow in places, so if you have panniers you need to take extra care.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
Although the Motu Trails are well signposted, carrying the official Motu trail map will enhance the experience by pinpointing landmarks and assist with timings for shuttle pick-ups, etc. The map can be downloaded from the trail website.
WEATHER & RIDING SEASON
Both the Motu Road and Pākihi Track pass through remote, elevated terrain and it can be cold and wet even in summer. In the winter months, the inland sections can be cold and misty with occasional snow, but there are also plenty of spectacular riding days, too.
Regardless of the season and forecast, riders should always carry warm clothing and wet-weather gear, and consider taking a personal locator beacon (PLB), inexpensive to hire from Ōpōtiki and Gisborne i-SITEs.
FOOD & WATER
Dunes Trail riders will readily find refreshments in Ōpōtiki and a shop midway along the trail. Inland, there’s a shop in Matawai. Motu Road and Pākihi riders should, therefore, be self-sufficient and carry plenty of water and more than enough to eat.
Cellphone coverage is limited outside of Ōpōtiki, very patchy on the Motu Road and non-existent on the Pākihi Track.
As indicated on the trail map, there are toilets at each end of the Motu Road; midway and at the end of the Pākihi (basic; BYO toilet paper); and at the start and 3km mark of the Dunes Trail.
Plan Your Trip
Accommodation and other essential services are readily available in Ōpōtiki, Gisborne and Whakatāne. The Motu Trails, however, reach remote parts of the region with limited services. Advance planning and booking are therefore essential.
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The main gateway town to the Motu Trails is Ōpōtiki in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. The closest regional airports are Whakatāne (which is not served by Air New Zealand) and Gisborne, Tauranga and Rotorua (which are). Auckland International Airport is around four hours' drive away.
Ōpōtiki also lies in various scenic driving routes including SH35 (Pacific Coast Highway) around East Cape to Gisborne. Rotorua’s thermal wonders and legendary Redwood Forest trails are also just 90 minutes away.
Nationwide Intercity buses link Bay of Plenty towns with destinations further afield, while smaller shuttle operators provide local services.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
Bike hire, shuttles and luggage transfers are available from Ōpōtiki, with guided rides also possible for groups. Some bike hire and tour packages are also available from Gisborne. Fluctuating seasonal demand and remoteless of pick-up/drop-off points makes it essential to book these services well in advance.
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Ōpōtiki has a wide range of accommodation both in town and around, all close to cafes, a supermarket and other visitor services.
Accommodation thins out considerably beyond Ōpōtiki. There are highly atmospheric options in Toatoa and Motu on the inland sections; their limited capacity makes it essential to book space in advance, the earlier the better if you plan to ride in peak season (December–March).