Donna McIntyre cycles, horse rides and roams around scenic Opotiki - and finds there's more there than meets the eye.
We had driven through this gateway to the East Cape before on our way to Gisborne, thinking the beachside town of Opotiki looked inviting — but we hadn't stopped. What a wasted opportunity, we realise during a long weekend in the district, experiencing just a taste of its bountiful offerings.
Our base is Ohiwa Holiday Park, 10 minutes west of Opotiki towards Ohope Beach.
It faces the estuary on one side; on the other there's only dunes between the park and the Pacific beachfront. Behind us are the Rakumarua ranges. It's possible to live off the land and sea here — locals hunt in the hills and enjoy kai moana.
First on our list of activities is a section of the new Motu cycle trails. We pick up bikes in Opotiki from Motu Trail Freedom Bike Hire and Shuttle who deliver us to our starting point in Motu Rd where, 6km on, we turn into the Pakihi Track — eliminating a steep climb from Opotiki.
The track sits high above the forest and requires concentration, fitness and decent mountain bikes, which we have thanks to the Motu bike shop. I find the ride challenging, not because of the gradient but because of the need to keep watch for small slips, stones and vegetation on the newly formed track. Ardent mountain bikers will appreciate the full 91km loop trail, while riders wanting an easy yet picturesque route will enjoy the Dunes Trail on Opotiki's outskirts. This is a great option if you have young children.
My sons take just over two hours for the 26km. Ma and Pa's times are closer to three. Waiting patiently in Pakihi Valley by the swing bridge — after 24 other bridges — is Christian Subritzky of Weka Wilds. He and partner Kelly Garvin have a bunkroom homestay here, worth pencilling in for the night after the Pakihi section. This back country experience is a welcome contrast to city life; the couple's children were brought up on possum-trapping, hunting, cooking outdoors and crossing a ford on their way to school. Christian's woodfire pizzas delight our teenagers who call out "keep 'em coming" as they devour the offerings, including venison salami sourced from these hills.
Well-fed, Christian returns us and the bikes to Opotiki and we retreat to Ohiwa, but the boys have enough appetite for a barbie in front of our unit. There's also time for bouncing and flips on the campground's large inflatable pillow (even Mum has a go), table tennis and sunset stroll.
The next activity is horse riding, and we meet Vivienne Maxwell of Ready Rock Horse Treks and 13-year-old helper Taane Boynton at Waiotahi Beach. Viv has our mounts (Moulon, Forrest, Maui and Littlegirl) saddled, checks our stirrup lengths and we're off for a beach ramble. We're four nervous customers at first but Viv gauges our competence, offers advice and soon we relax and enjoy the beachside scenery. By the end, the boys have managed a trot.
The last activity is kayaking and we tiki-tour the Kutarere arm of Ohiwa Harbour with Mike Jones of KG Kayaks. He offers kayaking tips as well as interesting info on the area. Using the tides and light wind conditions to our advantage, we paddle inland to the old Kutarere wharf where we glimpse a stingray, circumnavigate Hokianga Island and check out Uretara and Whangakopikopiko Islands before returning to the boat ramp.
Knowing we'll be on the road in the morning, we walk the bush track behind the campground to the Onekawa pa site where we can appreciate the lie of the land, the contrast of beach, tidal estuary and mountain ranges. Like its name indicates, this bay has plenty to offer its visitors.
Bike: Motu Trails Freedom Bike Hire and Shuttle, phone: (07) 315 5864.
Kayak: KG Kayaks, phone: 027 2724 073.
Horse ride: Ready Rock Horse Rides, phone: (07) 315 4942,
Starlight Horse Treks, phone: (07) 315 5116. Bring long pants and decent shoes.
Donna McIntyre was a guest of Opotiki District Council.