Motu Trails provides a trilogy of contrasting trails that can be ridden in a 91km loop or as three sections - offering a diverse range of riding from stunning beaches to spectacular forest and historic farmlands.
Motu Trails are a jewel in Nga Haerenga, New Zealand Cycle Trails crown. Ride the trails all year as a full loop, or split them into three shorter sections, each with its own distinct character. As a popular 1-3 day ride, Motu Trails offer options for all ages, abilities, fitness levels and preferences.
The Pakihi Track is one of New Zealand’s iconic forest rides. The landscape throughout this part of the country is both beautiful and untamed.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 ride this trail out-and-back. Tirohanga Beach Motor Camp is right by the trail and a great place to stay.
Motu Trails Charitable Trust executive officer, Jim Robinson adds, “While this is family friendly riding, it has constant small ups and downs. It’s also a good flowing ride for faster riders.”
Motu Road Trails (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 backcountry section features 48km of unsealed roads through New Zealand farmland and undulating forested conservation reserves as it climbs from sea-level on the Opotiki coast to an altitude of 800m. The road includes several long climbs 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 Jim. “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, with Toatoa Farmstay along the way. At the coast, the Motu Road Trail connects with the Dunes Trail. After riding 14km from Motu, confident riders can turn onto the Pakihi Track.
Pakihi Track (21km)
This sensational Grade 4 track was originally created over a century ago. It’s all singletrck, with the top half winding down through mature forest, and the lower part following the Pakihi River. The track well-draining and has 25 bridges. It’s all-year-round but especially in winter can be impacted by slips and windfalls. 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 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, though the audacious route below near-vertical rock banks means there’s likely to be some debris or slips on the track. You need to be a capable rider and even more, you need to take care. For cycling track is one-way from the Motu Road, for walking or running it’s two-way. You can get a shuttle dropoff, or you can ride from Opotiki or Motu.”
From the end of the Pakihi Track, many people bike the 23km of gravel and sealed road back to Opotiki. On the outskirts of town, turn onto Te Rere Pa Road, and follow the pretty Otara River stopbank trail back to Memorial Park.
- Make sure you stop and take the time to look 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.
- A personal locator beacon is advised for the Pakihi, as with any backcountry track - hire from Opotiki or Gisborne i-Sites.
The Motu Trails are best accessed from Opotiki in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, or Matawai, which is 70km from Gisborne. Opotiki is a 1 hr 45 minute drive from Rotorua (132km), and Tauranga (135km). The Opotiki trailhead is the Dunes Trail, from Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge at Memorial Park Reserve.
Tell Me More
The Motu Trails form part of Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail. For information on the trails including accommodation, food, shuttles and more we we recommend visiting NZCycleTrail or the official Motu Trails website.
If you're looking for a cafe along the way, you can find the Matawai Camp & Store at the southern end of Motu Road. It's a perfect stop if you're riding coast-to-coast between Motu Trails and Rere Falls Road. It's also a great base before you set off on the Pakihi Track or Motu Road, or even if you're walking to Whinray Reserve beyond the Motu Falls.