The Motu Trails
Old Motu Coach Road – Motu Trails
“The Motu Road (sometimes called Old Motu Coach Road) was the first vehicle crossing of Eastland, and from 1914 was the only direct way to drive between Ōpōtiki and Gisborne for 15 years.
The first driver to take a motorcar the length of the Motu Road was in 1914, when there were a dozen river crossings and many slips: the driver told the Poverty Bay Herald that “it is the most dangerous trip in New Zealand, and he would not take it on again, except in case of urgent business.” Still, the road was lauded for its amazing natural beauty with lush forest views from the tops, high country farms, and remote settlements.
Toatoa is midway on the Motu Road. During the land wars of the 1860s, Ngati Rua iwi took refuge in this area. Settlers moved to Toatoa from 1895, with much of the forest cleared by burning.
After the present-day Motu Road was connected, tearooms at Toatoa briefly offered a resting point for travellers. People would take the train from Gisborne to Moutohorā, near Matawai, and spend the night at the Motu Hotel, before catching the next day’s service car to Ōpōtiki. Toatoa also had a dairy factory, and a settlers’ hall that is still standing.
Once the Waioeka Gorge road opened up in 1929/1930, offering an easier route, the Motu Road was instead mainly used for mustering, funnelling hundreds of thousands of sheep between the regions. Roll on the 1980s and 1990s, when the Rally of New Zealand was part of the world championship series, the Motu Road became one of the world’s great rally stages, challenging even the greatest drivers.
The 1990s also brought the Motu Challenge, one of New Zealand’s toughest multisport races, involving biking, running, and kayaking, an event that continues to this day.” Source – Motu Trails