Motu Road Trail
Be Set Free
- Part of the Motu Trails Great Ride
- Grade: intermediate/3
- Distance: 67km Matawai to the coast, including 48km of gravel, hills peak at almost 800m altitude
- Time to ride: four hours to two days
- Start: Matawai, Motu, or linking from Dunes Trail or Rere Falls Trail
- Matawai is one hour's drive from both Opotiki and Gisborne on SH2
- There is little mobile coverage and no shops between Motu and Opotiki
- If driving the Motu road, a 4WD is advised
- Shuttle transport is available.
The Motu Road was part of the first road between Gisborne and the Eastern Bay of Plenty, with the first car making the journey in 1915. Welcome to epic back-country!
This ride is mapped on the Great Rides App.
The Motu Road (sometimes called the Old Motu Coach Road) takes you through remote bush country and historic farmland, with hills that require a good level of fitness. It is great for e-bikes so long as you have battery capacity.
The trail can be ridden from either direction. You get more downhill riding by starting from Matawai (elevation 500m) or Motu (elevation 450m), or from the hill above Motu (almost 800m elevation).
The following ride description is starting from Matawai and heading north towards Opotiki.
At Matawai, you can stay or refuel at Matawai Cafe & Store. From Matawai to Motu settlement is 14km. This section is slightly downhill on quiet, sealed road. Just before Motu, stop at Moutohora railway bridge, a remnant of a railway that once stretched from Gisborne and was planned to connect on to Taneatua and Tauranga.
Motu has a shelter, toilets and cafe. Motu Community House is an ideal place to stay. There is also a park-over by the shelter, for self-contained vehicles only.
It's well worth making the 5km (10km return) side trip to the stunning Motu Falls, from where you can walk in the magnificent forest of Whinray Scenic Reserve. Also check out Motu Scenic Reserve, 800m from the Community House, where there's a pretty lake. If you have children, driving to Motu can be a fun overnight family adventure.
When you leave Motu, riding towards Opotiki, there's immediately over 5km of climbing, broken up by some short descents. While you climb a total of over 300 metres altitude, it is never too steep and the views over Motu valley are brilliant.
From the summit, it's a mostly downhill 9km to the Pakihi Track turnoff. Along the way, you pass some huge trees and get spectacular panoramas.
After passing the top of the Pakihi Track, you drop into the Whitikau valley, then promptly start the climb up Papamoa hill, where there is a shelter at the top (elevation 660 metres). This is a fairly large climb but never steep.
Continuing northwards, the descent of Papamoa hill is 3.5km long and twisting (it's a big climb if coming from Opotiki). You then reach Toatoa Valley, where there's another shelter and Toatoa Farm Stay.
At the Toatoa intersection, the side road heads out to Otipi road.
Riding on towards the coast, you have a short climb to the top of Meremere hill, then a 6km long descent, dropping 350 vertical metres. If you are riding from Opotiki towards the Pakihi Track, the Meremere climb is substantial, between 30-60 minutes of climbing for most people.
From the bottom of Meremere Hill, the final 14km to the Opotiki coast is mostly flat. The seal resumes 4km from the coast. At Waiaua shelter, just before SH35, cross the cyclist/ pedestrian bridge, ride northwards on Jackson road, cross the highway with care, and connect with the Dunes Trail to ride back to Opotiki.
The Motu Road makes a sensational three-day journey. On day one, get a shuttle drop off at Matawai, and cruise to Motu. Leave your gear at Motu Community House, ride 5km to Motu Falls and back, then stay the night at the Community House.
On day two, ride the Motu Road to Toatoa, and relax at Toatoa Farm Stay. If you want more riding, check out Takaputahi Road and even Otipi Road. On day three, ride to the sparkling Pacific Coast, and finish your journey along the Dunes Trail to Opotiki.
For details on linking the Motu Road with the Pakihi Track, check the Motu Trails loop.
If you ride an e-bike, the Motu Road Trail is suited to more robust models, so long as you have sufficient battery capacity for the distance.
There are no shops or cafes between Motu and the coast. The Motu Road has some traffic: vehicle numbers are low but always be alert and stay left on corners.
The toilet at Motu is the only one on the Motu Road.
This is remote country, so take a repair kit and warm clothing. A personal locator beacon (PLB) is sensible.
Shuttles and bike hire
The easiest way to ride Motu Road is to get a shuttle from Opotiki up to Motu or Matawai or, most commonly, to the 800m high hilltop above Motu.
If you're keen on a drop-off, it is a good idea to take a shuttle. The drive from Opotiki up SH2 to the hilltop drop-off point above Motu is 100km each way, with close to 10km of gravel road. The road can get rough at times. If you take your own vehicle a 4WD is strongly advised.
Two Opotiki companies offer shuttle and bike hire:
Shuttles can be booked anytime, with minimum group numbers. To join an existing shuttle booking, contact Motu Trails Ltd, and Motu Trails Hire & Shuttle. You can also do supported rides that include the Motu Road, with:
Guided rides of Motu Road
Minimum group numbers apply. Talk with:
Accommodation close to the trail
Matawai Camp & Store is in Matawai
Motu Community House is in Motu
Toatoa Farmstay is mid-way on Motu Road
Tirohanga Beach Motor Camp is mid-way along the Dunes Trail
Te Wera Homestead is 20km from Matawai on Rere Falls Trail.
You have a full range of accommodation options in Opotiki, Gisborne, Whakatane, Ohiwa and Ohope. Check the A-Z for your options.
The first link between what’s now Opotiki and Gisborne was Te Kowhai Track, a largely unformed route.
The first formed route was the Ormond-Opotiki Road (or Opotiki-Ormond Road), a track that was initially cut to an eight-foot (2.5 metres) width, linked in 1876/77 via Motu Falls and Motu settlement. A few parts of the present-day Motu Road used the course of the Ormond-Opotiki Road.
From about 1912 a push was made to connect Motu to Opotiki as a road. The first car went through the Motu Road in 1914. The official opening of the Motu Road was in 1918. The bridge at Motu settlement was built 1906 but washed away 1918. It was quickly rebuilt.
Toatoa is midway on the Motu Road. During the land wars of the 1860s, Ngati Rua iwi took refuge in this area. Settlers moved to Toatoa from 1895, with much of the forest cleared by burning.
After the present-day Motu Road was connected, tearooms at Toatoa briefly offered a popular resting point for travellers. People would take the train from Gisborne to Moutohora, near Matawai, and spend the night at the Motu Hotel, before catching the next day’s service car to Opotiki. Toatoa also had a dairy factory, and a settlers' hall that is still standing.
The Motu Road was the 'main road' until 1929/1930, when the Waioeka gorge route opened. The Waioeka gorge was turned into a highway in the early-1960s. With the Waioeka road open, the Motu Road’s relevance began to fade.
In the 1980s and 1990s the Motu Road was famed as an awesome rally driving stage — known as simply The Motu — on the Rally of New Zealand, which was part of the World Rally Series. In 1993, the late Colin McRae won this stage, and went on to win the world champs for Subaru.