July 24 cannot come soon enough for the pupils of Motu School.
Each weekday, all the school's 15 pupils don helmets, jump on their bikes and head out to train for the Motu Special Mountain Bike races.
Motu was once a bustling settlement with mills, banks, shops and a 100-room hotel that catered for people travelling from Opotiki to Gisborne. When the existing state highway opened through the Waioeka Gorge in the 1920s, Motu was all but forgotten. About 50 farming families live in the rural enclave that functions as the starting point for visitors to the Motu Trails network, a popular mountain-biking destination and one of the NZ Cycle Trail's Great Rides.
In collaboration with the Department of Conservation, TMS Sport Promotions will host the Motu Special on July 24 - a day of mountain-bike racing with distances from 5km to 50km to suit riders of every age and ability. Funds raised go towards maintaining the Motu Community House, which serves as a community centre, school hall and bookable accommodation for cyclists, trampers and fishermen visiting the area.
On race day, riders will test themselves over private farmland, 4WD tracks, stream crossings, stunning native bush and plenty of hills which local principal Paul Cornwall describes as just a taster.
"If people come to the event, see the photos and think, 'wow, this is a really nice area', then we hope they will come back to ride in other places, maybe stay in the Motu Community House or with one of our other accommodation providers" he says.
"There are limited small-business opportunities in a rural community and we work hard to stay in the loop of consciousness for people using the Motu Trails. The event benefits our community so everyone pitches in to help on race day."
Returning racer Steferl Gordon from Gisborne is a regular visitor.
"[Eastland] is such a beautiful and exciting place and is well worth the trip. Stay the weekend and explore - maybe ride the Pakihi the day before, visit Motu Falls and the Kiwi Enclosure or go on to Gisborne and do some riding around there," he says.
Gordon is coming back to tackle the 25km distance and has a performance goal for herself.
"There was one really steep section with gnarly rocks that I didn't ride down last year. I would really like to ride it this year."
Gordon was not the only person surprised by the ferocity of the descents. Elite adventure racer Daniel Jones won the 50km distance, despite a cautious ride by both him and the women's 50km winner, Corrinne Smit, as they prepared for an international event.
"I didn't expect the downhill to be that steep - it was one of the most fun races I've done," Jones laughs. "I think we can all agree on the course - you definitely feel it afterwards."
Rising multisport star and 25km champion Hayden Wilde agrees: "Definitely a come-back-and-do."
Arguably the fiercest battle was in the 5km children's events, as second-place getter Erueti King recalls.
"I couldn't wait to cane the girls. My chain came off but I fixed the problem. Backing myself, I pedalled as fast as I could. I had a good comeback and cut two minutes off my best time but Asia came out just a quarter of a metre in front as we crossed the tape."
Cornwall is adamant the Motu Special will become a regular diary fixture for keen riders.
"There is so much opportunity for riding in the area that we have the scope to continually grow and tweak the event, keeping it fresh."
Motu Special Cycle
What: Five mountain-bike races
When: Sunday July 24
Where: Motu, Gisborne, Eastland
For more information: http://www.gisbornespecials.co.nz/motu-special-5-mountain-bike-races