8 December 2014
I headed to Opotiki last Christmas with the aim of heading out to sea and catching fish. It didn't take long to learn, however, that there's much more to Opotiki than action out on the ocean.
On windy days when the sea was up and fishing was off, we headed to the Two Fish Cafe for our coffee fix, ate at the Bay's best sushi shop and trawled for gems in the retro shops. There are also plenty of walks around the town's hinterland to explore; but why walk if you can ride? Thanks to the development of the Motu Trails (an extension of the NZ cycling trail) more people are visiting Opotiki than ever, and visitors on bikes is the new normal for the pretty township.
Due to our great experience at Christmas, Opotiki has become my favourite small town and we went back recently to try out one of the Motu cycle trails. Our sights were set on the Dunes Trail: graded easy, it suits people with kids and is an 11km ride (one way) along the dunes of pristine coastline.
You can start the ride at Memorial Park at the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge. We weren't going to let overcast, windy weather spoil the ride - once your legs get pumping, things start to warm up and top layers were ripped off.
There are lots of small bumps and downhill grades over the dunes, but nothing too hard. If your kids are fit and confident on their bikes, it's an excellent ride and the views out on to the ocean, over to White Island, and further down to the East Cape ranges are beaut.
If the weather and wind were on our side, we would have stopped for a swim and a picnic on the beach. We eventually stopped for an ice cream at the 5km mark at the Tirohanga Dairy. This stop is essential on hot days, as is the purchase of pies and cold drinks from the bakery. Not many cyclists know a dairy is located here as it's hidden behind scrub. Make a note of it before you start the trail because if you're in need of a rest and refuel - this is where to do it.
All sorts were out on the trail the day we rode. Lycra-clad lads going lightning fast, university graduates from Europe who wanted to see the world before starting real jobs and, of course, Bay locals, like us, grabbing the chance to see what's in their own backyard.
The Dunes Trail meanders on for a further 6km, eventually ending at the beginning of the Motu Road Trail. We didn't get to the end, though, as my 6-year-old was beginning to tire and we had no show of getting her home in one piece if we didn't turn around and start facing the wind back.
She nearly made it all the way, except for the last few kilometres, where she flat out refused to ride another uphill grade. Her dad had the job of bringing two bikes up every hill so she could cruise down the other side.
I had the opposite problem - trying to keep my 8-year old son in sight. He left me eating his dust and the most I saw of him on the bike ride home was the occasional view of his head bouncing over distant dunes.
If you are fitter than I am and want to explore inland there are some magic trails to ride. From the Dunes Trail, you can continue inland along the Motu trail to the Pakihi Track. It's mostly uphill riding heading inland for about 40k and is graded advanced. This is a wilderness ride, taking cyclists over a swing bridge and along the Pakahi Stream and will take two days to ride the loop, one day if you are extra fit.
The Dunes Trial is either the beginning or the end of someone's cycle journey.
We came across many people doing the different trails and one that I would like to do in the future (without kids) is the Motu Trail. This isolated area of the country was opened up to horse and cart early last century and the bike trail starts inland at Matawai (where you are dropped off by shuttle). Cyclists take in remote bush, farmland and hills on their way to the coast tracing the historic steps of settlers and Maori. The ride is graded intermediate and can include side trips to the Motu Falls and a walk in the Kahikatea forest of Whinray Scenic Reserve. The scenery out to the coast is brilliant and these longer trails are becoming very popular as word gets out.
Large riding groups from as far afield as Auckland and Taupo have recently come to experience the rich history and scenery in the eastern Bay of Plenty by bike and the momentum is set to continue.
Bay of Plenty Times