Some bike trails have an aura that stays with you for weeks after riding them. You linger over photos of the trip and take every opportunity to tell your friends about the biking bliss. That’s exactly how my gang felt after riding Opotiki’s Motu Dunes and Road Trails and Pakihi Track late in 2014.
I’ve ridden most of the NZ Cycle Trails, so am happy to claim that the Motu is right up there with the very best. Imagine riding past white-sand surf beaches on dune and boardwalk tracks, exploring quiet historic bullock tracks hewn from rock by farming pioneers, a few exciting downhill runs on old stock tracks through nikau forests alongside fast-flowing mountain streams… and warm generous country hospitality everywhere.
The good news is that Opotiki is easier than ever to reach from Auckland, thanks to a smart weekend package created by Air Chatham and Motu Trails Hire and Shuttle. It includes a glamour flight in a DC3, complete with those classic air hostesses, and a choice of beach or bush accommodation while riding a selection of bike trails.
My love affair with Motu riding has been recharged by a recent trip to ride the Rere Falls Trail. This is 103km of classic backblocks cycling from Matawai to Gisborne on metalled and sealed roads – perfect if you love rural roads and scenery. There’s also a fantastic arboretum, and bounteous Poverty Bay Flats landscapes, finishing up with a touch of city pampering in Gisbourne. You’ll find a great account of the ride in Jonathan Kennett’s Classic NZ Cycle Trails.
My trails crew and I left Auckland mid-afternoon on a Friday, and by 6pm we were in the refurbished bar of Opotiki’s historic Masonic Hotel, where we ran into Motu Trails trustee, Jim Robinson. Jim’s part of the team of local volunteers working to upgrade the historic Whakaumu Track. The route began life 130 years ago as an ambitious project to connect Opotiki to Gisborne. An article in last Saturday’s Herald captures the romance of the history and the sweat, toil and satisfaction of the team working on the project with wheelbarrows, spades and pick axes. When it’s finished, the trail will add 10km of wonderful mountain biking through sensational forest with soaring nikau palms, beech and rimu, and waterfalls.
After a fairly rumpty night at the Masonic Hotel (where the refurbishment has yet to work its way upstairs) we woke to a gorgeous morning. Opotiki is a sleepy hollow, but allow time for a bike tour of the heritage buildings in the main street. On my first visit to Opotiki, I’d found a perfect eating place at The Two Fish in the main street. It does great coffee and yummy home-baked food for breakfasts and lunches. If you need an early breakfast, as we did this time, a new option is the Hot Bread Shop on the edge of town. Don’t be fooled by the name – this place also does good coffees, great breakfasts and even greater Vogel bread sandwiches to take for lunchtime stops on the trails.
If you’re not planning to do the Dunes Trail, take a short ride to the edge of town to the stunning Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge, connecting the town to the surf beach and the start of the Dunes Trail. The carvings at the town end of the bridge are not to be missed!
Our trip to the Rere Falls trail meant an early start from Opotiki to meet the shuttle operated by Trail partner Motu Trails Hire and Shuttle; they’re based at Bushaven near the end of the Pakahi Track, where they provide camping and chalet accommodation.
On the shuttle bound for various sections of the Motu Trail, we met a big gang from the Auckland Tramping Club and 3 Australians who charmed me by saying that NZ’s touring and city biking investment is up with the best happening in their home states of Queensland and Western Australia. They’re keen to spread the word back home to help boost our cycle tourism and stir up their own local investment.
The loaded shuttle headed into the wonderful scenery of the Waioeka Gorge to drop us at the metalled Rere Falls Rd near Matawai. We waved farewell to our new Aussie mates who were off to ride the Pakahi Track. As the noise of the van faded we soaked up the fresh morning air, with the sights, sounds and smells of sheep all around us. I was reminded of childhood holidays on isolated farms when we met a flock of newly-shorn sheep chased by barking dogs and a farmer with his daughter on a quad bike. Eat your heart out Auckland – this is real backblocks New Zealand.
Despite our heroic rural pretences, it was heaven to meet the sealed road after 40km of rough surface riding. The day had really heated up, so the famous Rere Rockslide was a spectacularly welcome sight. It’s the biggest natural waterslide I’ve ever seen. Locals had come from all around to combat the searing hot day and picnic beside the river.
Next stop for us was the Rere Falls, where the Rere River cascades over a high wide rock shelf to a wide swimming hole. Sections of the waterfall spill past a wide ledge, inviting you to have a high-pressure natural shower. It was fun to meet more local people with children squealing with delight in the waterfalls’s shower and leaping into the pool. We fell into the water as if our lives depended on it, escaping the afternoon heat (we learnt later it was over 32 degrees!).
As the day continued to heat up, we arrived gratefully at the magificent shady expanses of Eastwoodhill National Arboretum.
We don’t have many arboretums in NZ – the term applies to collections of trees and shrubs which are so noteworthy they are used for study and display. The first trees at Eastwoodhill were first planted in 1910, and include native and exotic species spread over 135 hectares. In fact, it’s the largest collection of Northern Hemisphere trees and shrubs found in the Southern Hemisphere.
Following Jonathan Kennett’s recommendation, we’d booked to stay the night in Eastwoodhill’s comfy, spacious visitor accommodation – what a smart call! Not only is it fabulously good value, but it provides the added luxury of wandering the vast parkland of spectacular gardens and trees in the evening and morning cool. We’d also been cheeky and asked the volunteers who have a huge role in maintaining the property to leave us dinner and breakfast What a treat! Superb generous country catering, with touches of city menu sophistication.
Our reluctance to leave Eastwoodhill the next day was overcome by the prospect of riding in the cool of the morning, so we set off feeling inspired and well-treated. The ride from the Arboretum into Gisborne is easy and relaxing, mostly downhill on sealed roads, passing citrus orchards and paddocks of maize, squash and vast vineyards set against the encircling backdrop of hills.
I thought longingly of Gisborne’s spectacular farmers’ market, lamenting our Sunday arrival. But I didn’t need to worry, as Gisborne had other surprises and treats in store. The city has been transformed since my last visit a decade ago. New cycleways and shared paths extend along the main city beaches and nearby parks, with barbeques and cleverly designed seating. I loved seeing the promenades packed with families in the early evening and morning.
We also explored the new cycleway in pursuit of a swim in Wainui Beach’s glorious surf. It was especially magic for me, as it brought back memories of a childhood holiday staying on the beach at Miss Lysnar’s Riding School. We all enjoyed the ride, although we were mystified as to why the shared path was isolated from the rest of the city’s network, leaving us to ride in 70km/hr traffic before reaching the on-road cycle lane. (From my Auckland experience, I suspect reluctance to remove street parking may sadly be an issue.)
Equally impressive are the parks, wide promenades, and avenues of shade trees that line the port area and riverside, with public artworks and historic panels dotted around the main street.
The old port industrial buildings are being replaced by new apartments, hotels and restaurant buildings. We stayed the night at one of these, the Portside Hotel. It’s a Trail partner, and perfectly located to enjoy the new foreshore and park cycleways. Even better, the manager of the hotel is a biking devotee, and made sure our bikes were safely housed inside overnight.
We spent the evening and early morning exploring the city, eating out and meeting the locals. It was inspiring to hear their praise for the cycling improvements to their city – and their pride in how the city is making the most of its wonderful coastal setting, panoramic views and outdoors climate.
I was so glad we’d allowed the extra night to check out the city. If you get the chance, I recommend you do the same – Gisborne’s cycling and city upgrades have a mojo and momentum that left us impressed and wanting more.
We’d arranged a special Motu Shuttle pick-up from Portside Hotel early on Monday morning to transport us back to Bushaven to retrieve our car, and 4 hours later we were back in Auckland. While this all worked well, on our next trip we’ll leave our car in safekeeping behind the town’s information centre, to make the return trip even easier.
So. Heavenly holiday? Memorable riding? Stunning scenery and fabulous new experiences? Motu Trails, the Rere Falls Trail, Eastwoodhill Arboretum and Gisborne tick all the boxes. Plus, the Bay of Plenty and East Coast are famous for their sunlight hours and benign climate – and are remarkably easy to reach in a 3-day weekend (and Anzac Weekend and Queen’s Birthday are coming up!). I promise, it’ll recharge the batteries as if you’d had a full week’s break from Auckland.
(Special mention and thanks to my best-ever biking mates, Cecily, Brian and Mike, who are always up for more adventures)