Motu Trails

How we decided to test the limits of our cyclocross bikes (or perhaps the limits of our own cycling skills) on a 2-day, grade 4 mountain bike trail in horrible weather and how the van ended up at the Opotiki police station.

One of the things on our NZ wishlist was to ride the Motu Trails, starting and ending at Opotiki, as this is one of the few New Zealand Great Ride cycle trails which is a loop. So as soon as we thought we had a two-day weather window where the weather wasn’t so good that Thomas wanted to climb, but not bad enough to not be able to cycle, we drove East and parked up on the beach in Opotiki.

The trail has three parts, the first one being a nice, easy trail through the dunes, followed by a long slog of uphill gravel roads and finally a downhill mountainbike trail through the bush. There is a DOC hut along the way, where we would stay the night. All very straight-forward, apart from one main question: where could we safely leave the van for two days?

We had driven into town, looking for a quiet side road, which ideally would still be within sight of one of the town’s cameras. But the fact that it was before 9am made it very hard to guess which street would still be quiet in the evening. I decided to get some advice from the experts, and wandered over to the police station to ask for the safest place to park. Their answer? “Right here at the police station, where we have cameras all around and someone on-site all throughout the night”. So that’s what we did 🙂

After finishing the first and easy part of the trail, we had a good look at the map and discovered that the hut wasn’t quite in the middle of the overall 93km, but more towards the 60km mark, which would make our first day longer than we thought. Also, the weather wasn’t quite what we had in mind. It had been fine as long as we’d been hugging the coast, but as soon as we headed up into the hills, we literally rode into the clouds and therefore mist and rain, without any views.

Look at that view! I’m so glad we cycled up this hill for this!

We had a very cold and wet lunch break, huddled in one of the trail’s shelters without walls, and therefore not at all sheltered from the horizontal rain and wind. After lunch we had one more big hill to tackle, before we ended up at the start of the mountain bike trail. We were slightly nervous for this part, as we were riding our cyclocross bikes instead of proper mountain bikes, but we ended up loving it! Such a nice, flowing trail and before we knew it, we reached the hut where we could change into dry clothes, get the woodburner going and rest our sore bums.

Because we had now only a third of the trail left, we assumed the next day would be a breeze, all downhill until we would wheel back into town. Boy, were we wrong.. The remaining part of the mountain bike trail was a narrow path along the Motu River, with some steep drop offs. The trail had what felt like hundreds of little landslides, each one resulting in a pile of wet, slippery rocks blocking the trail, so we had to walk a lot of short sections and whenever we were on the bikes, we were slipping and sliding all over the place, trying hard not to end up in the river. So yeah, we were pretty stoked when we eventually popped out of the bush and onto the road. But our joy was short-lived when we realised that the road was A) gravel for the next 9km, B) one of the worst gravel roads we’d ever seen and C) was going uphill! To make things worse, we had run out of food by now and energy levels were low, so this stretch felt like it took forever. Once we finally reached proper, straight roads, we still had to battle a strong headwind all the way back into town. All in all, this day had been so much harder, even though it was only half the distance we did yesterday. Needless to say the first thing we did was buy all the food items we’d been dreaming about all morning!

Only smiling in this pic cause Thomas told me to, as it was horrible!

We drove out of town, parked up near the beach and lazed around in the van for a good chunk of the day, just sitting, reading and eating heaps of food. When we felt a little bit more revived, we drove back over the hill to Kawerau where we jumped in the free hot pools again, which we had been dreaming off non-stop for the past two days and which felt like the best thing ever. Our Motu Trails experience had been a real adventure!

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