Be Set Free
- Part of the Motu Trails Great Ride
- Grade: easy/2
- Shared use cycling, running, walking — please show courtesy
- Distance: 10km (20km return) on wide, purpose-built trail; option to add 4km on Otara Stopbank Trail
- Time to ride: 2-3 hours
- Start: Memorial Park, Opotiki
- Mobile coverage is patchy.
The Dunes Trail starts at the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge at Memorial Park Reserve. You cruise along a spectacular stretch of Pacific Ocean coast to Jackson Road, where you get to the start of the Motu Road Trail. Many turn at the 9km point, where the trail goes roadside. This ride is mapped on the Great Rides App.
This is an easy (grade 2) trail for cyclists, walkers and runners. The return journey can be comfortably ridden in 2-3hrs, with plenty of time to stop for a swim and a picnic.
There are many places to access the beach. The trail is undulating with easy gradients, though if you go the full 10km you'll still have a total of about 100m elevation gain and descent, each way.
All along the Dunes Trail, you get numerous panoramic views of the sparkling sea and out to White Island (Whakaari) and the East Cape ranges.
There is parking at the start of the Dunes Trail, at Hukuwai Beach at 3km, and at Tirohanga at 6km. There are toilets at the start in the pavilion in the middle of the park; and at Hukuwai Beach. There's a petrol station store at Tirohanga, 6km after the start.
You’ll find a number of shelters and bench tables along the trail from the 0km-5km point. There’s also a shelter at 10.5km, right by the Waiaua stream, at the start of the Motu Road.
To get to the start of the Dunes Trail, in Opotiki, get onto St John Street, which is also the start of SH35. At the northern end of town, leave SH35 by going straight through the roundabout and staying on St John Street. From here, you can see the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge straight ahead.
Motu Trails Limited is handily placed 800m from the start of the trail. They offer hire bikes, shuttles, secure parking, accommodation and more.
You are welcome to ride e-bikes on the Dunes Trail, courtesy to other users is essential please. Dogs are welcome but keep them on a leash please. A few places can get sand on the trail, 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 sun block in summer.
There are squeeze bars along the trail, to block motorbikes. On most mountain bikes, you can ride through with one hand on a squeeze bar. With some children's bikes, bikes with drop bars, and bikes with carriers, you may have to dismount and lift the bike over. If you are riding a hand bike, please get in touch to arrange a key to the adjoining gates.
If you wish to add distance to your Dunes Trail ride, when you get back to the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge, turn upriver (east) on the 4km Otara Stopbank Trail. This is signed. This flat trail goes up the Otara River to Te Rere Pa Road.
From Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge, you can also ride the Otara Stopbank Trail the other direction, most of the way to the Waioeka road bridge, mostly the surface is grass and is often grazed by horses.
Shuttles, bike hire, tours
Motu Trails Limited is 800m from the start of the trail. They offer bike hire, with a wide range of bikes.
Motu Trails Hire & Shuttle also offer bike hire.
Mighty Motu Bike Tours offer guided rides of the Dunes Trail and beyond.
Accommodation close to the trail
Because the Dunes Trail is handy to Whakatane, Ohope and Ohiwa, as well as Opotiki, you have many accommodation choices.
Food close to the trail
The Dunes Trail was officially opened mid-2012. The Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku walk/cycle bridge was a long-held goal, connecting Opotiki to the beach by crossing the Otara river. It was built in 2011, helped by government funding under the $50 million New Zealand Cycle Trail (NZCT) investment.
The first waka (canoe) arrived in the Opotiki area about 800 years ago. The coast was widely settled: 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.
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 moved upstream to the confluence of the Te Waiti and Pakihi rivers. Later still, the Pakihikura people journeyed over Te Kowhai Track, and settled at Moutohora, overlooking the Motu valley.
Hukuwai beach, at 3km, translates directly as ‘Tail Water’. Oral stories of the Whakatohea 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 Tamure, the snapper that is still prized today.