Meandering Through the Motu Road Trail


You can cycle the Motu Road Trail in a day, all 70 or so kilometres of it, plus the extra 10 along the dunes to Opotiki, but why would you when there are interesting places to stay and explore on the way.

 Images Raewyne Cathie and Lynanne Stanaway

As we five women were all over the age of 65 we wanted the journey to be as important as the destination. Completing the mountain bike ride through the Motu Road would be achievement enough without making it a race.

The Motu Road Trail is part of the Motu Trails which are yet another increasingly popular part of the highly successful New Zealand Cycle Trail. The Motu Trails also encompass the Dunes Trail, an undulating easy ride along the coast from Opotiki, and the Pakihi Track, deemed one of the best single-track back country downhill rides in the country; and one of the most scenic.

The Motu Road itself was the original road through from Opotiki to Gisborne, outdated in 1929 by the state highway and only used by locals and the occasional logging truck until its renaissance as a cycle trail. We chose to cycle it the most obvious way, from south to north, which has less, but still several, big climbs. Our trip started from Opotiki where the very helpful Motu Trails Ltd provided a shuttle to our start point at Matawai Village on the way to Gisborne; and put our cars in secure storage.

The shuttle took over an hour, including a stop for coffee at the coolest little cart by the river right in the middle of the Waioeka Gorge. There was no rush. This was our easiest day. All we had to do was ride the tar sealed road from Matawai to Motu village, admire the farmland and note the old railway bridge which is all that remains of a planned railway line from Gisborne to Opotiki, thwarted by rugged terrain.

Our first night’s home was the Motu Community House, a former post office where mail still gets delivered to boxes in the foyer. Clean, comfortable and cheap, its perfection was enhanced by afternoon sun pouring in big windows. We settled in then rode the five kilometres up to the Motu Falls where we walked part of the bush track beyond the swing bridge before biking back for a wine in the sunshine.

Dinner was delivered by the girls from the Motu-vation Café around the corner. We had decided to travel light with a change of clothes and a toothbrush in our backpacks and take advantage of the meals on offer from Motu Trail providers. After breakfast in the café (and equipped with the packed lunches we’d ordered) we tootled off on what would be roughly 35 kms to our second night’s accommodation.

The first thing we struck was a logging truck trundling over the village bridge; timely warning that these lorries do need to be watched out for, and that a bright vest is a good idea. However, we never encountered another one.

The second thing we struck was our first huge uphill; long and steady rather than too steep. No problem when stopping occasionally to regroup and take photos of swathes of farmland in the valley below and of bush clad hills as we wound our way up and into the wilderness.

After a stop at the shelter at the start of the Pakihi there was only the Toatoa Hill, above a beautiful valley, between us and Toatoa Farm Stay; a few kilometres past a ford which marks the end of a swooping downhill.

Bob and Maxine Crowley are fantastic hosts. The slight feeling of disconcertion to find you are sleeping in their front bedrooms and sharing their lounge is quickly dispelled by their relaxed humour. Bob is about 80, still rides regularly and farms part of his larger acreage. We met the newly broken-in horse on which he’d just participated in a trek, the tame deer and his devoted dog.

A huge dinner of good comfort food and a cooked breakfast set us up for the next day’s ride to the coast. There was only one solid slog, up the Meremere Hill. After that it was a case of cruising downhill as fast as we dared while watching for the odd vehicle and taking in the spectacular bush scenery. Soon we joined the tar sealed road for an easy ride to link with the Dunes Trail. We were on the home run; the coast was glorious and we took a team photo on the impressive Pakowai ki Otutaopuku Bridge at the Opotiki end.

We celebrated civilisation with coffee at Two Fish café before the return drive to Tauranga. The Motu Road Trail had done us proud. Not a drop of rain, not a single puncture (despite last minute lessons on how to change a tube when away from cell phone reception and useful blokes).

It’s no doubt an exhilarating day ride but there’s magic in meandering the Motu.

Motu Trails: