Small community of Opotiki gears up for a seriously big day.
The Bay of Plenty, with the world-renowned Whakarewarewa Trails in Rotorua, is regarded as a mecca of mountain-biking and that reputation will be boosted next weekend with the opening of Opotiki's Motu Trails.
The seventh Great Ride to be completed under Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand cycle trail programme, will be opened with a public cycling and walking event on May 20.
It is a day mad-keen Bay of Plenty riders and walkers have been looking forward to for some time.
"For a small community it is a seriously big day," said Jim Robinson, a member of the voluntary community trust that manages Motu Trail's promotion.
"It is early days but the experts have forecast that there will be around 5000 people over the trails in the next three to four years.
"You only have to look at the other trails of this quality around New Zealand and overseas and they have proven to be big attractions for people coming into the area so there is huge potential there for Opotiki."
Robinson cited several reasons the Motu Trails were highly regarded.
"They boast stunning scenery of both the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful native bush," he said.
The beauty of this environment has long been recognised, as the Poverty Bay Herald reported in 1913: "For over 20 miles the new [Motu-Opotiki] coach road passes almost entirely through virgin country, and some splendid scenic attractions exist amongst the high bush-clad ranges."
Said Robinson: "The trails take in some really important Maori and settler history. The Motu Coach Rd is an historic access between Bay of Plenty and Gisborne. The Pakihi was an adventure mountain-bike ride until the trail got storm damaged about 10 years ago. Now it is back and it is a great place to ride."
The 44-year-old local has been a keen mountain-biker since the mid-1990s. He now races multisport and is a regular on the trails.
There is huge variety in the trails on offer to satisfy the weekend warrior to the adventure MTB elite.
There are four options: Dunes Trail (easy terrain, 19km), Motu Road Trail - intermediate, 78km, Pakihi Track (advanced and technical, 44km) and the Loop Trail - advanced (for the endurance junkie, 91km).
The Pakihi Track has been quoted as one of the best downhill recreational mountain-biking trails in New Zealand, so the Motu Trails Trust is excited at the potential its "backyard' has to offer visitors in the future.
The official opening of the trails has been the product of co-ordinated effort from the local iwi Whakatohea.
"The Whakatohea Maori Trust Board has worked closely with Opotiki District Council, DoC and other partners. The project has really seen some great working together and delivered a great result."
And rightfully so. The Motu Trails are steeped in history. The Whakatohea people have lived in this area since the first arrival of Maori to Aotearoa New Zealand, and tangata whenua will play a major role in signifying history and culture in the track's construction and completion.
Whakatohea trust board chief executive Dickie Farrar said the trails crossed much of the iwi's historical land, right back to about 1200 AD.
"This area has significant cultural and historical significance to Whakatohea and other surrounding iwi that occupied this land as the food cupboard. Today, many continue to hunt and gather food within the bush, and fish in traditional areas within the rivers and ocean."
The board vision is "Ko te kai hoki ki Waiaua" - to be the food bowl that feeds the world. "Our purpose is to uplift the community to ensure they can thrive once again."
The Motu Trails will capture some of Whakatohea's history displayed on interpretation boards.
As people journey along the trail they will have the opportunity to learn more about historical events, people and the place that Whakatohea people call home.
"What is unique and authentic about Whakatohea is our history and culture and the Motu Trails gives us an opportunity to share some of that history and culture" said Farrar.
Another great addition to the area is the Pakowhai ki Otutaopuku Bridge. This bridge, which crosses the Otara River, was opened this year and has been dubbed the "Golden Gate Bridge of Opotiki". It connects riders and walkers to the Motu Trails and the mighty Pacific Ocean.
Robinson said the best thing about the Motu Trails was that it catered for all levels of rider.
"If you are really fit you could ride all of the trails in about six hours, which would be a gruelling but a really rewarding day," he said.
"Most people split it up and that is the beauty of the trails, they are really flexible and there are options for everyone from the hard core right down to the family who want to go out for a Sunday ride together.
"The Motu Trails is a real asset to a small town like Opotiki and we are looking forward to word getting about how good the riding is here. It's a special part of New Zealand and we're pretty proud of it."