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Kōpiko Aotearoa by eBike

24 January 2023

Words: Nick Ferrier
Photos: Nick and Jenny Ferrier

An epic e-bikepacking journey: 11.5 days, 1000 km 
31st Nov – 12th December 2022

Credit for getting us into this adventure goes to Brett Cotter and his ‘Big Bike Film Night’. Sitting in the Motueka movie theatre back in March, we watched inspirational footage of fit young people enjoying the Kōpiko multi-day ride and thought – could we (aged 62/63) manage a remote trip like that on our eBikes?

Jenny got the bit between her teeth and kicked off the planning. It was clear at the outset that we weren’t going to carry the food, tent or camping gear needed for a 12 day trip. Also that daily recovery from tenting wasn’t going to work for us. Recharging eBikes and bodies was the other major consideration. Farmstays were the go for us.

The Kennett Brothers' Kōpiko Aotearoa Guide was an excellent starting point. Although two years old, it had enough info to get us started. We did a few loaded-up test rides and determined that our Focus eBikes with caddy batteries (740 kW total) would let us ride up to 60-80 km each day. Our cargo would comprise the caddy batteries, chargers, 2-3 litres of water and 5-6 kgs of snacks, spare clothes and emergency gear.

The actual daily range would depend on the amount of climbing, the steepness, road surface (gravel, dirt, seal or single track) and any headwinds. A big factor with the Kōpiko is the hills – many large ones. On most days we had at least 1000 m of climbing and overall we climbed about 14,000 vertical metres. A lunchtime charge would be needed on days where 80-100 km was necessary between available accommodation stops.

Farmstay options were pretty scarce on the first few nights, so we settled on early December as the best compromise between shoulder season availability and pleasant - warm but not hot - weather. We had a plan...


Travelling up from Nelson in our campervan, we made an early call not to ride the first 180 km on SH35 from East Cape, but instead to start our trip on the beautiful Motu Trail – 10 km east of Ōpōtiki. SH35 is quite a busy highway with some pretty average local driving and few accommodation options. Also walking access to East Cape Lighthouse itself is blocked off. There were many local grumbles about this – hopefully that’s just a Covid hangover.

So we drove up through the Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and around East Cape - leaving our camper securely at the Tirohanga Beach Motorcamp (about 10 km east of Ōpōtiki). A friend from Nelson then flew up to Rotorua, got a lift over to Ōpōtiki and collected our camper. He met us in New Plymouth a few days later.


We worked out our probable daily distances and Jenny started ringing farmstays to check that they were open, had a room for us on the consecutive dates required... and could provide dinner, some breakfast and a packed lunch. Food supply was a major consideration for us on this trip as options along the way were limited.

Day 1 - 70 km to Mōtū

We started with a beautiful ride on the Motu Trails (70 km, 1200 m climbing, 4 km of dune trails, 48 km unsealed, lots of deer on the roads) and finished in the tiny Mōtū township with its small school (role of 7).

A worthwhile additional day for capable riders would be the Pahiki Trail as a loop or shuttle back to Ōpōtiki. But that was closed to us due to storm damage. Shuttling up there apparently gets you a 3 hour downhill ride – 70% single track.

This first day saw our only potentially serious river crossing. Fortunately it was only a little over knee deep and not very wide, but could rise rapidly after rain. As we normally would do on a hike we carried the bikes across one by one in our riding shoes – the lesson here is that they don’t really dry out as they do on a hike. Changing to sandals would have been smart.

Three early punctures on the gravel let us practise using the tyre repair ‘plugger needle’ (we didn’t carry any spare sealant so later on changed to using tubes).

Accommodation that first night was in the Motu Community Center - a village house that some local residents bought and set up as a community hub with three bedrooms for riders or hikers. A lovely big fireplace dried us and our gear after an inclement start to the day. Planning in advance got us a lovely home-cooked dinner and provisions for the next day.

Day 2 - 35 km to Te Wera Farmstay

The bodies seemed pretty good after a solid sleep and some great food. We had decided to only ride as far as Te Wera Farmstay (35 km) rather than 120 km to the next stop. So we warmed up with a short ride to Motu Falls and back before advancing to Matawai. Travel was thankfully flat and we scored a coffee at the café on SH2. It was a short 7 km further on SH2 before turning off and winding our way up the valleys to Te Wera Farmstay. At 45 km in total this was by far our shortest day and allowed good initial recovery for our bodies.

Te Wera is a lovely farmstay with a separate multi bedroomed house for riders. They served us a generous roast for dinner.

Day 3 - 85 km to Taaheke Farmstay

Well fed, we stopped early on at the Rere Rockslide and watched some young guys ride the slide on tubes. Good fun, but with 50 km still to go we left them to it. Later on we heard that several boys and gents have damaged their ‘bits’ on that slide.

There were a few turnoffs along the way but all well marked. Lots of lovely valleys and loads of wild goats kept us amused. Another few punctures saw us a bit concerned about only having two tubes. The farmstay accommodation is an old shearers' quarters. We rode past them initially (just a small blue sign on a fence) and I arrived on my last 1 km of battery power.

Day 4 - 64 km to Tuahu Farmstay

A relatively easy 64 km on seal was promised, but the SW headwinds made that a fair challenge and I arrived with only just enough battery. Tuahu Farmstay is a lovely large farmstead with equally lovely hosts.

Day 5 - 70 km to Waikaremoana Holiday Park

The guide showed three long and large hills here, two of them on gravel, totalling a bit over 70 km. We decided a midday charge was necessary for the third long gravel grind up to the lake campground. We prearranged charging at Ohuka Farmstay Lodge. The other option would have been somewhere at Tuai Village. The ½ charge made a big difference with the 15 km steep gravel climb up to Lake Waikaremoana.

Generally we found that earlier in the day it easy enough to ride without any assist on the flat or in Eco mode on the smaller inclines, but by the afternoon Trail or even Boost mode became necessary for climbing. Good planning was vital here – although sometimes we were ‘very tired’ we never actually arrived anywhere ‘shattered’ - so heading out again the next day was always still enjoyable. 

We took the quieter and more scenic option past the power stations and through Tuai township. All gravel and not a car in sight. Care certainly needs to be taken on the gravel roads up to and around the lake though - most cars are considerate but a few certainly were not.

We enjoyed our night in the cabins. The store has a few food items, but we elected to bring a dehydrated dinner. The obligatory swim in the lake was chilly but refreshing.

Day 6 - 80 km to the Jailhouse Farmstay

Scenic all-gravel riding led us around the eastern side of the lake, followed by a long 12 km downhill to Ruatāhuna (café closed Mondays) and another 30 km into Whirinaki Forest. We stayed in the ‘Jailhouse’ - about 2 km off the track. Halley and Tony have recently taken over the Jailhouse from Tony’s uncle and were lovely hosts. Whirinaki Forest has some great walking and MTB trails (40 km) so lots of folk come out from Rotorua to stay here. Had we researched this a little more we would definitely have made this a two night stop.

Day 7 - 66 km to the Waiotapu Tavern

Our day started with a quick 20 km to Murupara where we rewarded ourselves with a nice sandwich. After that we were stuck on SH38 with plenty of logging trucks - not much fun. So it was heads down and go as fast as possible to get to out of there. Major headwinds on the highway again chewed through the batteries.

A good finish though with 4 km of single track on the Te Ara Ahi Trail to Rainbow Mountain and Kerosene Creek - good for a restorative thermal bath - before continuing to Waiotapu. Just 20 km out of Rotorua, there are plenty of options to rest, refuel or ride the local trails. Possibly our only real planning error for the trip was that we hadn’t allowed any rest days. The SH38 section is quite ‘missable’ in our opinion so a pickup from Whirinaki Forest and drop off further past Waiotapu would be an option to consider.

Day 8 - 74 km to Whakamaru Dam

A gentle warm up along the Waikite Valley was followed by plenty of ups and downs through to Ātiamuri. There is quite a bit of gravel and single track here so we opted for a lunchtime recharge at the Tyburn Monastery, a lovely site about 2 km off the track.

Some big downhills saw the trip's top speed of 86 km/h reached – care required. Crossing the dam at Ohakuri, we pedalled on to Ātiamuri and 28 km on the Waikato River Trails to Whakamaru. The trails were a great surprise. We expected basic flat open track, but it was largely through bush with little ups and downs - very scenic. Accomodation was courtesy of ‘That Dam Lodge’ - two simple older houses set up for cyclists and dam site workers.

Day 9 - 95 km to the Timber Trail Lodge

After 7 km on the Waikato River Trails and some sealed road up to the Arataki Trail, a fun section of trail then took us to the Arataki Swing Bridge. This was quite the adventure. It's actually a very old narrow single person wire bridge and not so eBike friendly. First we carried our luggage across and then had to walk very slowly backwards with the bikes to squeeze handlebars and pedals past the side netting. If we had a spanner, removing the pedals would have made this crossing a bit easier.

There are cabins in Pureora that we had arranged access to with the caretakers so we could recharge our batteries in exchange for some koha. It's 43 km from Pureora to the Timber Trail Lodge with a 400 m climb in beautiful bush. A long, rewarding day.

Day 10 - 103 km to Ōhura

Well refreshed after a lovely night at the Timber Trail Lodge we headed off down to Ongarue, 50 km away. Then having another 52 km to Ōhura ahead of us, we arranged to recharge at the Flashpackers Ongarue. From Ongarue we rode 19 km of gravel with just one reasonable climb. Then it was mostly quiet sealed backroads to Matiere and on to Ōhura - stopping for a drink at the ‘Cosi Cubs’ in both towns. Accommodation in Ōhura was with an American lady who runs ‘Fiesta Fare’ - a Mexican food cart.

Day 11 - 62 km to the Republic of Whangamomona on the Forgotten Highway

The highlight of this section is certainly the amazing 20 km in the Tangarakau Gorge and the old Moki Tunnel. We consumed good food and a good night's rest at the hotel - having secured the 'Honeymoon Suite’. The downside was that it was Saturday night and the bar was very noisy through to the small hours.

Day 12 - 65 km to Lepperton, east of New Plymouth

The trail follows the Forgotten Highway for 17 km then turns into Junction Road and is gravel most of the way through to 'Pohokura Junction'. We called ahead and the local hall was kindly opened for us - an excellent lunch stop and it would be a useful charging option had we planned to ride the last 20 km from Lepperton to the 'finish'. Having previously ridden the New Plymouth trails and been out to the Cape we elected to stop at Lepperton to reunite with our friend and our campervan.

eBiking the Kōpiko Aotearoa was a brilliant trip in conception and execution - and one that Jenny and I would thoroughly recommend to others keen on some adventurous bikepacking. Unsurprisingly, we are enthusiastically tossing around ideas for other multi-day trips. Until then...