Each January (for the past few years) we swap the heat and rain of Far North Queensland for two glorious weeks of adventure across the ditch in NZ. Usually these brief escapes include a few days in Rotorua (be rude not to), followed by a side-trip to explore one of the many trail networks scattered throughout the Land of the Long White Cloud. For 2016, we decided to include the Motu Trails.
Upon arrival into Auckland we were advised that our connecting flight to Rotorua had been cancelled due to thunderstorms, thus providing an unscheduled overnight in Auckland. The following morning we boarded our flight to Rotorua, only to return to Auckland a few hours later because of heavy rain and cloud over Rotorua Airport creating poor visibility (two attempts to land proving unsuccessful). We eventually made it to Rotorua later that afternoon by bus ... third time lucky.
Rotorua is a mountain biking mecca. We could go on and on describing how amazing the trails are, and how geared-up the city is for cyclists, but it's easier to tell you to get on a plane and experience it for yourself. Besides, this write-up is supposed to be about the Motu Trails ...
Located between the coastal town of Opotiki (eastern Bay of Plenty) and the small inland settlement of Matawai, the Motu Trails offer a delightful three-course cycling feast comprising; Dunes Trail, Motu Road Trail and Pakihi Track.
Dunes Trail - an easy 11km (one-way) gravel path hugging the stunning coastline of the Bay of Plenty.
Motu Road Trail - Starting at Matawai, this 67km ride follows a quiet country road past farmlands and forest reserves. ***We elected not to undertake this option during our visit due to time constraints.
Pakihi Track - a 44km (predominantly) downhill track which completes the 91km Motu Trails Loop. Designated a Grade 4 (Advanced) trail due to its steep slopes, narrowness and remote location. Don't be put off by this grading as it's an easy and enjoyable roll for regular singletrack enthusiasts.
To make the most of our Motu Trails experience we contacted local experts John and Virginia at Bushaven.John and Virginia have been operating Bushaven since 2009, and are very passionate about sharing their backyard with cyclists, walkers, horse-riders, hunters, and anyone else who wishes to escape reality to their private paradise. To complement their accommodation at Bushaven, they also operate Motu Trails Hire and Shuttle (making accommodation and transfers very easy to package).
After a few outrageously amazing days of riding in Rotorua we were picked-up from our rental house by Motu Trails Hire and Shuttle driver Mel, who provided a thorough running commentary over our 150km scenic drive to Bushaven. The last 4km of the drive to Bushaven was via a very narrow gravel road, which clung desperately to the steep mountainside offering breathtaking views of the forest and river (just don't look down), and multiple creek crossings along the way. This transfer alone was an interesting adventure, and well worth undertaking as a tour in itself.
Hidden inside the Urutawa Forest, Bushaven offers a range of rustic cabins and riverside camping to suit all outdoor tastes. We opted for the comfortable "Love Shack", a cosy cottage built by hippies and overlooking the river and campgrounds. Being self-catering, we arrived loaded with tasty treats to see us through our two night (three day) stay in the area. Bushaven is the perfect place to getaway from it all.
Our two-day Motu Trails ride went as follows:
DAY 1 - Pakihi Track
Shuttle to the "top of Motu Hill drop-off" and ride down the Pakihi Track, then back up to Bushaven (approximately 44km). Time and energy permitting, there was also the option to ride the Te Waiti Track from Bushaven.
Originally built as a route to move stock, the construction of the Pakihi Track used more dynamite per square metre than any other track in New Zealand. The Pakihi Track boasts twenty-five bridges, including a 35m swing-bridge across Pakihi Stream (which it meanders alongside). The lower parts of the track offer several access points to the clear mountain waters of Pakihi Stream, should one feel the urge.
Contrary to the Grade 4 listing, the Pakihi Track is a ride suitable for those who regularly venture off-road on singletrack (as mentioned above). With approximately 21km of this 44km trail being downhill, it's easy to let the brakes go and speed through the lush forest ... just don't get distracted by the amazing views because it's a looooong way down should your tyres leave the trail.
Whilst on the Pakihi Track we encountered two groups of hunters (rifles slung and dogs in-tow), all walking up the trail in-search of wild deer, possums and other tasty critters to fill their campstoves with.
VERDICT: Fantastic ride!!! What's not to like about a trail enveloped by plant-life every shade of green. With pristine mountain water dripping from roots and vines above, tumbling down waterfalls beside, and flowing through the valley below, hydration is but a tongue-poke away. Being a downhill trail, the whole experience can pass one by very quickly - so stop often and savour the moments.
DAY 2 - Dunes Trail, Whakaumu Trail, Opotiki (township)
Ride from Bushaven down to Opotiki, around part of the Stop Bank Trail, then out across the Dunes Trail. From the end of the Dunes Trail we'd make our way East to the Whakaumu Trail entrance off Block Access Road (conveniently near the summit of a long and gradual climb). As the Whakaumu Trail is still under construction, we would only be able to ride a few kilometres, before turning around and re-tracing our path back to Opotiki. Approximately 66km in total.
As with all the trails we have ridden within New Zealand, the Motu Trails were superb; well-maintained, well-signposted, and well-loved by all who take on their challenges.
The 11km (one-way) Dunes Trail is a spectacular ride alongside the Pacific Ocean. This quiet stretch of coastline is home to deserted beaches and free camping spots - ideal for parking-up a motorhome and enjoying the sunrise over the ocean.
As an added bonus, we ventured further afield to glimpse the rugged Whakaumu Trail; still under construction, but one to keep an eye on for future ride options within the region.
VERDICT: These trails are out in the open, so be sure to lather on the sunscreen and keep well-hydrated. Feeling hot? Why not take a plunge in the ocean or one of the many streams and rivers along the way. After all, this is New Zealand; no animals or plants are out to get you!
All-in-all we were astounded at the natural beauty of this entire region, not to mention the friendly and helpful people we encountered all along the way. Given more time, we would happily pack the bikes away and enjoy the scenic coastline drive around to Gisborne and Napier (perhaps next time).