A Bay of Playful Plenty
Our Trail Story
I think the Bay of Plenty could have well been called the Bay of Playful Plenty. When explorer Captain James Cook arrived by sea centuries ago he was impressed by the abundance of produce in the bay and gave its name. When I rocked in several centuries later, I am excited about the abundance of possibilities offered by this coast.
Whether you are into water activities, shoreline trips or inland adventures,
the Bay of Plenty … has plenty.
So it was with much anticipation my wife and I set a course for the region. Unlike Cook’s voyage navigating by sea, we reach Opotiki by land and are ready to ride the next Great Ride. I looked at the charts and decide to plot a course around the loop track. I see there are three stages to explore and decide set sail on the Dunes Trail that lies just behind town.
The Dunes Trail starts with an epic crossing over the Otara River via the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge. This is one ornately dressed bridge. It has colourful pouwhenua poles signifying the importance of this cultural landing site where the Pakowhai canoe landed in the 1400’s. It is incredible to note that the time between Maori people and Cook arriving here is the same time span as Cook and the present day. There is a huge gap between all of our exploring!
My wife and I cross the waterway and enter the trail taking our time to record photos and GPS data for the app. We soon see this is an easy and enjoyable trail. The surface is sandy which is not unremarkable given we are riding along the tops of the Dunes Trail. The path is also beautifully windy which explores every vantage point of the bay and in doing so seems to give us the feeling of cresting swells like a ship at sea.
Soon we reach a prominent bluff where a former Maori village once sat. The sand dunes here near the stream were once used as an urupa or cemetery for the former pa site. The trail trust and iwi have done an impressive job erecting pou posts here too. These pou represent Tamaariki the taniwha and chief Ngatorohaka who together guard these sacred grounds. Here respectfully we cross these low dunes on long sections of boardwalk. Another few kilometres has us at the end of trail section as we reach the Motu Road and we back track to Opotiki. We will overnight in town before tomorrow’s adventure.
The morning is clear as we head up Motu Road - this road like yesterday’s trail also is steeped in history. Once a dray track for horses and later a rough vehicle route, it was the first properly formed vehicle crossing to Eastland.
Today you are more likely to see cycle riders than horse or vehicles
on this challenging gravel backroad.
There are certainly some decent hill climbs to scale such as the Meremere summit (460m) and the Papamoa summit (630m). Just beyond the final summit we reach the trailhead of the singletrack, hop off our bike and take a break before we enter. I am looking forward to starting the Pakihi Track. I had heard it predates the Motu Road as a pack track for pioneers heading out east. Once the road was built the track had minimal maintenance and deteriorated to a point that made it only appealing to extreme cycle adventurers. More recently funds from the national cycleway project have helped clear and bridge the track which makes it suitable for backcountry comfort riders.
We are one of these backcountry comfort seekers and finish our snacks to enter the forest canopy. The trail here is beautifully benched as if the trail builders over 100 years ago had just finished their works and downed their picks and shovels. The bench is at least a metre or more wide in most places, the banks covered in ferns and at times and are dripping with water. The Pakihi is all downhill (riding is not permitted going up) and we soon pick up pace navigating the twisting turns of the trail as it winds around the topography of the spurs. The forest here is tall, dense and mature and is a joy to pass.
Next we reach a trail junction and elect to take a break at Pakihi Hut. The remote hut is ideally located beside the river in a small open clearing. This seems like a perfect refuge for an overnight stay however we elect to just have lunch here outside at the picnic table. Given the dog boxes lined up along the edge of the clearing it looks like this is a popular place for hunting parties too. After lunch we go back to the junction and return to the main trail that drops deeper into the gorge. Soon the valley walls close in and we creep around a bend before taking care to cross a suspension bridge over the main river. As we cross you can see the rotting timbers of an earlier bridge, one likely to have supported the droves of cattle.
Now we are on the valley floor and this is where the trails scenery goes from beautiful to stunning. The trail is etched into the bank and seems to wriggle along the river edge like one of the eels in its waters. The green waters look so inviting for a swim and the forest canopy hanging over the waterway is like nature’s finishing touch to postcard perfection. Here we slowly ride along often stopping to take photos for the app but also to appreciate the detail. For the next few kilometres we are in cross-country heaven, together alone we enjoy all of its glory. It is incredible how the pioneers slogged for years to make this stock route, yet today we live in a times to enjoy their hard work simply for pleasure.
As the valley widens and the forest ceases we reach a carpark on the edge of farmland – this marks the end of the Pakihi Track. From here it is a gentle road ride along the flat out of the ranges and back to the sea. The loop is nearly complete upon entering Opotiki township once we reach the ornate carvings at the bridge and save our GPS data … our discoveries now charted. We have enjoyed the great ride here and love the diversity of scenery. Our Motu Trails experience included some easy parts, some not so, some coastland and some inland – every aspect a treasure. If the Dunes Track is head of the network, and the Motu Road a glorious crown, then the highlight is the Pakihi Track - the sparkling jewel that sits on top overlooking a land of discovery in a bay of playful plenty.