- Time 2-3 hrs
- Distance 9kms
You’ll ride through native plantings protecting the fragile dune ecosystem. You’ll have access points along the way to hit the stunning, empty beach – for a rest, a picnic or a quick dip in the surf. You’ll ride boardwalks, cross bridges and see pou whenua (carved posts). You’ll soak up the feeling of peace, wide open space and freedom that is the eastern Bay of Plenty.
At the trail’s end, take a rest in the shelter then turn around and ride back. Or continue your adventure on the Motu Road Trail. The Dunes Trail can also be walked or run – and it’s an excellent family ride with its many, short, up-and-downs to offer challenge, and the ability to turn around at whatever distance you choose.
The ride is mapped on the Great Rides App (download the map before you begin as mobile coverage is patchy on the Dunes Trail). The undulating trail begins at Ōpōtiki’s Pakowai ki Otutaopuku Bridge, Memorial Park, at the end of St John’s Street. This area has ample parking, a drinking fountain to fill up your water bottles, and toilets in the centre of the park.
Once you’ve crossed the soaring bridge (pause and take in the views of the ranges behind you), you’ll be riding the Otara River stop bank for 800 metres, before entering the coastal sand dunes. Another 2 kilometres of spectacular coastal riding gets you to Hukuwai Beach. See the regenerative planting taking hold around you, and pause at the bench seats to soak up the panoramic views and sense of peace. At Hukuwai Beach there are toilets, picnic tables, and a parking area (perfect for someone to drive out and meet you with snacks).
Riding on, you’ll cross Tirohanga Stream bridge at the 5.5-kilometre mark, then ride along two sections of wooden decking over the beach. Two six-metre-high pou whenua, carved ‘poles of the land’, face the rising and setting sun, and there's a shelter here too.
At 6 kilometres, you'll pass the lovely Tirohanga Beach Holiday Park. The trail continues to a final panoramic highpoint at the 9 kilometre mark, where there's a shelter to rest up in. The trail then drops down alongside State Highway 35. Many people turn around here, but if you’re riding on to the Motu Road trail-head, pedal a kilometre alongside the highway, down Jackson Road, onto a 4WD track over the Waiaua Stream, and you’ll reach the first shelter of Motu Road.
The Dunes Trail is also popular for a short walk – good places to begin are from Hukuwai Beach and Tirohanga Beach. Both have space to park and can be accessed from State Highway 35 east of Ōpōtiki.
The first waka (canoe) arrived in the Ōpōtiki area about 800 years ago and the Dunes Trail traverses culturally important land. For many generations, and indeed today, the pristine coastal waters and steep hills have been a prized food cupboard for the many hapu of the Whakatōhea Iwi.
The area around what’s now the start of the Dunes Trail is the site of a large village, Pakowhai. The Pakihikura canoe landed here in the early 1400’s, their descendants later moving upstream to the confluence of the Te Waiti and Pākihi Rivers. Later still, the Pakihikura people journeyed over Te Kowhai Track, and settled at Moutohorā, overlooking the Motu Valley.
Hukuwai Beach, at 3km, translates directly as ‘Tail Water’. Oral stories of the Whakatōhea Iwi recall how the splashing of the waters here would signal the arrival of a large school of fish. The tribe would rush to the sea to set a net stretching up to a kilometre from end-to-end. Their catch would feed everyone, often with large Tāmure, the snapper that is still prized today.
The Dunes Trail was officially opened mid-2012. The Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku walk/cycle bridge was a long-held goal, connecting Ōpōtiki to the beach by crossing the Otara River. It was built in 2011, helped by government funding under New Zealand Cycle Trail (NZCT) investment.
- You are welcome to ride e-bikes on the Dunes Trail.
- Dogs are welcome but please keep them on a leash.
- A few places on the trail can get wind-blown sand, so be prepared to walk a few metres in these places.
- You don’t need any special gear, but take adequate clothing and refreshments, and use sunblock in summer.
- The trail has squeeze bars to block motorbikes, quad bikes etc. On most mountain bikes, you can ride through these with one hand on the top of the squeeze bar, or, you can walk through pushing your bike. Each squeeze bar is accompanied by a 'croquet hoop' which may be easier for children's bikes, bikes with drop bars, adaptive bikes and push chairs. If you use a wheel chair, trike or other machine, this brochure has further detail about the squeeze bars.
- If you wish to add distance to your Dunes Trail ride, from Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge, you ride the Waioweka Trail then Waiotahe Trail.
- Alternatively, from Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge, turn upriver (east) on the Otara Stopbank Trail. This is signposted. This flat trail goes up the Otara River to Te Rere Pa Road.