Be Set Free
- Part of the Motu Trails
- Grade: easy/2
- Shared use cycling, running, walking — please show courtesy
- Distance: 9km (18km return) on wide, purpose-built trail; options to go further
- Time to ride: 2-3 hours
- Start: Memorial Park, Opotiki
- Mobile coverage is patchy.
Opotiki's Dunes Trail starts at Memorial Park Reserve. You cruise along a spectacular stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline, then ride back, or head on to the Motu Road Trail.
This ride is mapped on the Great Rides App.
The Dunes Trail 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 picnic.
You get many places to access the stunning, empty beach. The gravel trail has easy gradients, though being as it's in sand dunes, it's up and down the whole time. If you go the full distance you'll have a total of about 100 metres of elevation gain and descent, each way.
Along the Dunes Trail, you get numerous views of the ocean and out to Moutohora (Whale island), Whakaari (White island) and the Raukumara ranges of Eastland.
Your Dunes Trail journey starts at Pakowai ki Otutaopuku bridge, Memorial Park in Opotiki.
To get to the start, drive onto St John Street, which is also State Highway 35. At the northern end of Opotiki, exit SH35 by going straight through the roundabout and staying on St John Street. From here, you can soon see the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku bridge straight ahead.
At the start, you'll find ample car parking, a drinking fountain, and toilets in the centre of the park.
After crossing the bridge, for the first 800 metres of the Dunes Trail you ride on river stopbank, before heading into the coastal sand dunes. You then have two kilometres of spectacular coastal riding before reaching Hukukai Beach, with gravel trail all the way.
Hukuwai Beach comes at the 3km mark of the trail. You'll find toilets, parking and a picnic area, with tables. This is a popular spot with fantastic views.
If you are wanting a short Dunes Trail walk, Hukuwai Beach is a good place to start. So is Tirohanga Beach, another 3km up the road (both can be accessed by making a short drive on SH35 east of Opotiki).
Just beyond Hukuwai Beach, there's a very popular picnic table, built by volunteers in respectful memory of a local who loved this spot.
Motu Trails Limited is handily placed 800m from the start of the Dunes Trail. They offer hire bikes, shuttles, secure parking, accommodation and more.
You are welcome to ride e-bikes on the Dunes Trail. 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.
The trail has squeeze bars to block motorbikes. On most mountain bikes, you can ride through these 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 talk to Opotiki i-SITE 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 downriver, past Opotiki wharf and most of the way to the Waioeka road bridge. Mostly the surface is grass and is often grazed by horses.
You can also add distance to a Dunes Trail ride by adding on Taheke road on the way to Whakaumu Track.
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 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.