It’s the last of the day’s light. Time stands still. Real life slides away - happily outta’ reach - and all that’s left is pure and tranquil. There’s nothing in this world but a flowing river, lush native forest and high mountains, shrouded by mist. We’ve ridden into this part of the world completely self-supported and its where we will camp for the night. It’s a place where my anxieties and everyday worries drift away. I wonder if (and hope) they’ve been banished forever; I daydream about what goes on in between the bush and river when the sun goes down. I find myself in a little mental sanctuary - happy and free - this is really the place I want to be.
We’re nestled somewhere in the Ruakumara Ranges, on the East Coast of New Zealand. This is one of the most remote, untouched and least visited forests in the North Island. We started out with a loose plan; to ride into this part of the forest - well, not this actual part (more on that later) - self-supported, to camp overnight and then ride out. It’s early summer and the days are long, so we’d planned to cram in as much riding as we possibly could. This place piqued my interest last time we explored the Motu region and Jim Robinson, from Motu Trails Trust, kept telling me stories about this incredible road off an already remote road. Well, there was that, and it’s a stunning part of the country; for scenery, epic roads and trails. It’s got a far-flung feeling offering a real sense of escape - so it was super appealing!
The plan - or at least, the initial plan - will often change before and during the journey, after all that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? To take on an adventure is to go into the unknown, where you create the rules.
After spending the previous night packing up the bikes, we travelled in the early doors from the big smoke (Auckland) to Opotiki. We parked up at Motu Trails and thanked them for the use of their yard before moving the car, as the kids were throwing stones from the embankment. Yep, we were in the East Coast now cuz.
After a quick hustle to get all of our gear packed and onto our bikes, we set off. The start of the trail rolls over the epic Dunes Trail, linking the Motu Road, and before we knew it we had climbed and then descended into the back of beyond. The Toatoa Valley gives a real sense of escapism, as the hills that surround it offer the only way in and out – in other words, this is deep. As we approached Toatoa, we detoured off the Motu Road and pedalled into Whitikau Fork. I was starting to feel flat, and Marcus Enno, the photographer and mate I’d roped in for the adventure, was too. We knew there was a DOC campsite at the end if the road, so decided we’d pitch there for the night. Our original plan was to ride to the end of Otipi Road and camp there, but there wasn’t enough time - or energy left in the tank! And, as I’ve said plans change every minute on these adventures!
Whitikau Fork campsite is based in lovely bush surrounds - the river flows around the site and it’s well maintained - heck, even the fire wood was chopped. Marcus, who’s really quick to get onto the jobs, lit a fire while I tried to pitch the tent. I hadn’t used the tent in a while so forgot how it went up, plus I was a little jaded from the ride. We eventually got it up the correct way, but it would have taken no time at all if we’d had it dialled initially. I can only emphasise the benefit of setting up before you head away on a mission, as a few tries is better than none. Having eaten some not-so-good freeze-dried meals before, it was good to be able to take in some ‘real’ food. We carried in some sausages, coleslaw and wraps to make a hearty dinner in the bush. When bikepacking with your camp equipment, I recommend taking only lightweight essentials: a small stove, gas canister, collapsible pot, spork and stainless-steel mug should be more than sufficient for an overnight adventure. As dinner was served, the rain started to fall. We sheltered under a tree - this was not the night I was intending on! Eventually the rain got lighter, until it was only drizzle, so we sipped on whiskey, ate some dark chocolate then headed to the sack - well, into our sleeping bags. An asymmetrical small tent meant we had to top and tail, as Marcus is a tall lad.
It was early summer, so we did get rather warm in the night and at one point my feet were in Marcus’ face - probably not what he signed up for?! Light rain continued to drizzle onto the tent which always makes me sleep well - it always feels so cosy in a tent. With these types of adventures, I like the fact that we leave the big smoke in the morning and, after a bit of a car trip and a ride, we end up deep in the bush and way off the grid. It just shows what can be achieved in a day.
Read Otipi Project Pt. 2.
Trail: Motu Trails
Ride Time: 3:00
Ride Length: 48km
Start/Finish Location: Opotiki – Whitikau Fork Campsite
Words: Liam Friary
Images: Marcus Enno