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If you’re going to ride the whole Dunes Trail, be sure to stick a muesli bar in your pocket. The trail is only 10km long (20km return) and, being coastal, it never climbs above about 15 metres in altitude. But you’re up-and-down pretty much the whole way. If you ride (or run) all the way out and back, you’ll do about 200m total climbing. Enough to need a bit of an energy boost, in other words.If muesli bars aren’t your thing, there’s an easy alternative: do a slight detour off the track at halfway and get an icecream.
Whatever your choice of refresher, the Dunes Trail is one to pause on and enjoy, not to rush through. The Pacific Ocean coastline is spectacular. There are many sweeping views of the eastern Bay of Plenty and out towards East Cape. Most of the way you can see Whale Island (Moutohora) and White Island (Whakaari), an active volcano. It's a neat ride, run or walk.
From the intersection of State Highway 2 and State Highway 35 in Opotiki, head north to the roundabout by the Ootiki Council buildings. Go straight ahead (SH 35 heads off east). Just after the roundabout, Motu Trails Limited is handily placed 800m from the start of the trail. They offer hire bikes, shuttles, secure parking, accommodation and more.
On the trail
0km. The Dunes Trail section of the Motu Trails starts in Opotiki’s Memorial Park, crossing the impressive Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge. You’ll find parking, a drinking fountain, and toilets in the centre of the park. There’s also a small pump track for the kids.
0.5km. Years ago, this area used to be Opotiki’s rubbish dump! How times have changed. Now it’s a valued environmental area where many flaxes, shrubs and trees have been planted.
1km. The Dunes Trail reaches the coast, with the first ocean views.
2km. Bench seats offer a great excuse to pause, with a magnificent ocean panorama.
3km. The trail goes onto a short section of sealed access road. This is Hikuwai Beach. If you need tolets, they’re here. Hikuwai Beach is a good destination for an easy family ride/picnic. You can drive to the same point.
4km. More bench seats and beach access trails.
5.5km. Tirohanga. The trail goes onto two sections of wooden deck, right across the upper beach. At Tirohanga road (gravel road), you can cut out to a roadside garage store, for icecreams. If you want a short walk or run, this is a good place to start. Park at the end of Tirohanga road.
6km. The trail passes Tirohanga Beach Motor Camp, a superb place to stay, with a range of camping and cabins and a really friendly vibe.
7km-9km. The trail wiggles over the dunes, so it’s always interesting — no straight lines. Keep your eyes open for North Island Weka, flightless brown birds that until recently were extremely rare. They have made a resurgance in the last few years. The weka’s call is a loud wheee-wheee.
9km. The trail goes roadside, alongside State Highway 2 (which often has little traffic). The 9km point is a good point to turn around, as from 9-10km is less scenic.
10km. Turn over the highway and onto the sealed Jackson’s road for 400m.
10.5km. The trail crosses the Waiaua River, there’s a shelter, and the start of the Motu Road.
You can ride e-bikes on the Dunes Trail, though courtesy to other users is essential. There are squeeze gates at regular points along the trail, which may be tricky for some children's bikes, and bikes with carriers. The squeeze gates are to stop non-cycle/pedestrian users getting on the trail.