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Motu Trails

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Motu Trails provides a trilogy of contrasting trails that can be ridden in a loop totalling 93km or as three sections – each offering a range of all-terrain riding, which includes stunning beaches, spectacular native forest and family friendly rest stops.

The Motu Trail is a jewel in the Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trails crown. It can be ridden all year as a full loop, or can be split into three shorter sections, each with its own distinct character. As a popular 1-3 day ride, it offers options for all ages, abilities, fitness levels and preferences.

The detour to the Motu Falls is a spectacle that is certainly worth the effort. It’s absolutely stunning.

Jim Robinson, Motu Charitable Trust executive officer Share

The Dunes Trail (10km)

The Dunes Trail offers Grade 2 family friendly riding for 10km along the eastern Bay of Plenty coastline. This beautiful trail starts at the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge (Memorial Park) in Opotiki. The trail meanders along a spectacular stretch of coast to Jackson Road and the start of the Motu Road Trail. Riders get brilliant views of the Pacific Ocean and hills of the East Cape. For an easy ride beside the coast, locals suggest riding this trail there and back. It is worth taking the time to stop at the Tirohanga Beach Motor Camp shop for a refreshing ice cream, drink or picnic.

Motu Trails Charitable Trust executive officer, Jim Robinson adds, “at the northern end, the Dunes Trail twists and turns 10km along the sparkling Pacific coast from Opotiki. This is family friendly riding, but with constant small ups and downs, there’s fun for faster riders, too.”

The Motu Road Trail (67km)

The Grade 3 historic Motu Road Trail stretches 67km from the end of the Dunes Trail in the north, to the settlement of Matawai in the south. This tranquil section travels on unsealed roads through New Zealand farmland and undulating forested conservation reserves as it climbs from sea-level to an altitude of 800m. The road includes a 6km-long climb that will test your fitness. Starting from Matawai, there is a flat 14km ride to the settlement of Motu. From here, you may choose to take a 5km detour to the impressive Motu Falls.

“The side trip to the Motu Falls is a spectacle that is certainly worth the effort. It’s absolutely stunning, and well worth heading off the main trail to go and visit,” said the executive officer of the Motu Trails Charitable Trust. 

Jim told us that the magnificent Motu Road Trail stretches between the Pacific coast and Matawai, inland from Gisborne. “The full length of the Motu Road is 67km, an ideal two-day tour. Many ride just one end, though, or link in a ride down the Pakihi Track. Don’t let the word road put you off! This one is spectacular, remote, historic and seldom travelled by car.”

From Motu settlement, there is 3km of solid climbing before you are presented with a pleasant range of undulating terrain before reaching the coast. At the coast, the Motu Road Trail connects with the Dunes Trail again. After riding 14km from Motu, confident riders can continue on the Pakihi Track and less competent riders can continue riding the Motu Road, past Toatoa Farmstay. 

Pakihi Track (21km)

This sensational Grade 4 track was originally created over a century ago. The top half winds down singletrack through mature forest, while the lower part follows the Pakihi River. The track is well established, with 25 bridges joining the well draining, all year round trail. This trail is rated advanced – mainly due to the exposed cliffs on the side of the trail. Pakihi Hut offers a true backcountry place to stay — a traditional Doc tramping and hunting hut in a sublime bush setting.

Jim knows the area well, having first ridden the Pakihi over 20 years ago. He's cycled and run the track dozens of times – usually with some track maintenance along the way – and he loves the area's rich history. A quarter century ago, the Pakihi was one of New Zealand’s original backcountry adventure rides.

“Today, it is a well-formed, year-round track with 25 bridges, though the audacious route below near-vertical rock banks means there’s likely to be some debris or small slips on the track. You need to be a capable rider and even more, you need to take care. The 21km Pakihi Track is one-way from the Motu Road (unless you’re walking) so take a shuttle van or ride from Opotiki or Motu.”

From here, we suggest riding the 23km of gravel and sealed road back to Opotiki. It is advisable that riders turn onto Te Rere Pa Road, and follow the pretty Otara River stopbank trail back to Memorial Park.

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Riders cross a swingbridge on the stunning Pakihi Track, on the Motu Trail. Photo: Camilla Stoddart

Insider Tips

  • Make sure you stop and take the time to look 50km north over the Pacific Ocean where you can see Whakaari, White Island, New Zealand’s only active volcanic island. 
  • The Dunes Trail crosses land of great cultural significance, so ensure you stick to the marked tracks. 
  • There are several extra sections of track for riders looking for more. Try Gaskell Road-Block Access Road and the historic Whakaumu Track if you are looking for a technical there-and-back ride adventure.

Getting There 

The Motu Trails are best accessed from Opotiki in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, or Matawai, which is 70km from Gisborne. Opotiki is a one-hour-a-forty-minute drive from Rotorua (132km), and one-hour-fifty-minute drive from Tauranga (135km). The trailhead start point begins on the Dunes Trail, on the beach side of the township, starting at the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge at Memorial Park Reserve.

Tell Me More

The Motu Trails form part of the Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail, for information on the trails we recommend visiting NZCycleTrail or the official Motu Trails website.

Explore the region's other attractions with Tourism Eastland and Tourism Bay of Plenty.

Featured in the Lonely Planet, a great café in Gisborne is The PBC Café on the corner of Customhouse Street and Childers Road. There is free parking available just outside the café and it is also very close to the river walk and cycle trail that connects to the Waikanae walkway and cycleway along Waikanae and Midway beach.

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