The weather gods could have been kinder, but a day of drizzle last weekend didn’t spoil our pleasure in the Motu Trail. I think it’s up there with the best of the North Island trails, so recommend you do it soon!
We left Auckland 2pm on Saturday, arriving at our motel in Opotiki about 6.30pm.
I grew up in Whakatane, spending my childhood on the area’s surf beaches and in a clinker dinghy on Ohiwa Harbour. This means I’m biased, but my mates also loved the coastal drive along the Matata Straight to Whakatane and past the lush bush- clad islands of Ohiwa Harbour and white sand beaches to Opotiki.
The best move we made for the trip was to book with Toatoa Farmstay for Sunday night, because Maxine and Bob went the extra mile to made everything so easy and comfortable. They deserve 5 stars. It started when we left our car at their Opotiki home base, just out of Opotiki, along with our bags to be carried up to the homestay at Toatoa. This meant we set off just with day packs, which was lucky, as it drizzled all the day.
The trail starts at a superb new suspension bridge crossing the the river at Opotiki to connect with the easy track above the beach. We had fun regaling members of the local iwi kapa haka group who were on the bridge, just finishing a fitness course to prepare for the national champs.
The route passes for 10km through the sandhills, with good distance markers and sections of boardwalk. On a clear day it’s absolutely magic – we enjoyed it even in the rain!
After the beach we turned inland to ride the next 23km on a historic old coach road that connected Motu with Opotiki. It is still mostly a metal road, past farms on river flats, and over a serious 6km hill. We marvelled at the road building skills of the pioneers. The road surface and gradient were good and the landscape of superb virgin bush, with just the sound of the rushing river and weka bird calls, made it a treat.
The whiz downhill into Toatoa left us a bit wind- chilled, so we ready for Maxine and Bob’s homestay and delighted to find the aga stove and the woodburner pouring out the heat, and the kettle boiling for a cup of tea.
Toatoa was a small centre where we imagine the coaches would have changed or rested their horses. It is now just a roadside shelter built for the Cycle Trail and a couple of houses.
Bob and Maxine’s house is one of the original settler homes, furnished in bright retro style. Bob is a miracle worker with his flower garden, decorated with old lichen farm fences and old work implement momentos.
After tea and showers we joined Bob to feed his pig, ducks, horses and give his loyal stock dogs some exercise bringing down the cows and their calves. The dogs were so keen to round up anything they even nudged the ducks into their night time shelter. Next was a big tasty dinner that left us incapable of movement, and fit only for cosy bed.
We set off next morning with packed lunches and warm farewells. I’m sure if we’d stayed much longer I’d have joined the pig, a good ‘doer’ after only a year on the farm.
After passing the original community hall, now used as Bob’s woolshed we continued on the metal road for 13km to the Pakahi Track turnoff. There a couple of hills, but they are short compared with the ‘ 6km, big daddy’ we’d mounted going to Toatoa. Once again the gradient was easy, and road surface, smooth and pleasant to ride.
We planned to ride the Pakahi Track to reach the river flats behind Opotiki, but we were all a bit apprehensive, as we’d heard it was ‘a bit technical’. 3 of our group of 4 had hybrid bikes, and we’re not into mountain biking. The track is an historic cattle track which follows the Pakahi River as a path that is only 1m – 1.5m wide, benched into the rock cliff above the river. The good news is that once again, the track has an easy gradient and very good surface, so it proved to be one of the highlights of the whole Trail. It is set in beautiful virgin bush, with dense punga, nikau and other big tree species. I’ve since spoken to people who have been intimidated by and avoided the Pakahi – I’d say ‘give it a go’ . It’s a wonderful cycling experience that you’ll savour for months to come.
The fun doesn’t stop at the track. Its lower reaches run right beside the river, which is full of alluring swimming holes. We stopped for lunch and raved about the ride we’d just finished.
We had a quick stop in Opotiki for coffee at the 2 Fish Cafe (which is a local highlight), before driving back to Auckland. It was great to notice the heritage buildings in the town are well painted, with a strong leadership and investment evident of the local iwi, via the Whakatohea Maori Trust Board.
We arrived back in Auckland before dark, feeling we’d discovered a national cycling gem that deserves a lot more publicity and visitors. Where else do you find a Cycle Trail that offers surf beach riding, quiet farmland and virgin bush touring, exhilarating riverside track riding, fascinating pioneer history and the best of country hospitality?