Motu / Motu Falls to SH35


30-150 cumecs

measured at take out. NIWA Rotorua 07 346 1950

2-4 days
Put in: 
2km past Motu Falls
Take out: 
SH35 bridge
X15, X16
single channel, stunning scenery, alternating bedrock gorges and deep bush valley
Hot tip: 
practise your firelighting skills if rain is forecast

Jump at any opportunity to get on a trip down the Motu. Bush and gorge scenery, good camping and enjoyable whitewater all feature on one of the North Island’s rare multi-day trips. The shuttle is difficult to organise, but once on the river any hassles are quickly forgotten. Unless, of course, you realise after four hours on the water you left the shuttle car keys at the top — yes, it happened.

The trip is usually done in three comfortable days, but during very high flows has been paddled in a day. A hut at Otipi is used by rafting groups as a put in spot and/or overnight location. The upper gorge to Otipi is 34.5km. Otipi to the SH35 bridge is 54km.

The whitewater action is in the gorge sections. Each gorge has a different style of rapid. Upper gorge rapids have short and tight drops among sharp, angled, greywacke bedrock. The two of note are Bullivant’s Cascade and Motu Slot. The upper section, with its narrow single channels, tends to trap logs and wood so watch out.

Steeper, harder rapids flowing through large rounded boulders are the flavour of the lower gorge. Of note are The Hump, less than a kilometre into the gorge, Double Staircase just over halfway through, and Helicopter Rapid just above the confluence with the Te Kahika Stream. There is an excellent camping spot at this junction. Portaging is no problem unless the river is flowing higher than 150 cumecs and the river’s banks are covered.

When organising a trip on the Motu, don’t enter either of the gorges late in the afternoon or early evening. Once in the gorges campsites are almost non-existent and you could end up sitting the night out on an uncomfortable rock ledge. Campsites on other sections of the river are plentiful and require either some knowledge of the established sites or an eye for a sheltered, comfy little haven to spend the night. A tent fly is the usual form of shelter and you can either build fires or take a small stove to cook on. I recommend the small stove option in case rain dampens your campsite and the firewood supply. To date there are no reports of giardia, nevertheless boiling drinking water is a healthy precaution.

The country around the Raukumara Range, through which the river flows, is remote and rugged. It is easy to see why this was the last area in the country to be mapped. Keep this in mind if you choose to leave your split paddles behind or fail to screen the skills of the people in your team!

The history of the Motu is almost as spectacular as the scenery. The first European exploration of the Motu river area was in December 1879 when surveyor Alfred Teasdale and two Maori helpers surveyed the western boundary of the Mangatu block. By February 1880 they had reached Te Paku near Mangakirikiri and continued on to Ratatahi.

On February 10, 1919 four locals from Matawai made what is believed to be the first descent of the Motu. They set off in two wooden boats and emerged ten harrowing days later with only one. In 1935 the second known descent was made by a party of three in a 5m flat-bottomed punt with a sheet of flatiron nailed underneath for protection against rocks. For 10 days they battled the river before reaching the coast.

A party of three under the leadership of Kahu Bullivant made the third descent in 1953. Bullivant’s Cascade was named on this trip after Kahu was stranded on the rocks without his craft and had to jump in and swim to catch up. Their rubber dinghy was caught in a flood and they rode the river to the coast in only three days. From 1957 there has been constant activity on the Motu. Until the early 1970s descents were feasible only to those with access to war surplus inflatable dinghies.

To get to the put in: from Opotiki drive south on SH2 through the Waioeka Gorge to Matawai, a distance of 77km. If coming via Gisborne just follow SH2 to Matawai. Turn left onto Motu Rd and follow it for 23km to Motu Falls. It is possible to put in here though most continue to Waitangirua Station (check with the farmer first), and get a few kilometres down the farm road. Put in anywhere with river access.

To get to the take out: from Opotiki head east on SH35 approx 44km to the Motu road bridge. The usual take out is on river right under the bridge.

There are a range of shuttle options: the campground in Opotiki may be able to organise a driver. Motu Jet (07 325 2735) can organise a shuttle and a jet boat ride out if you like or the Ranui Bus Company often have someone who will drive your car back and pick you up at the end.

Graham Charles
NZ Whitewater 4th Edition 2006: 


Motu Trails Hire and Shuttle's picture

We, MOTU TRAILS HIRE & SHUTTLE offer transport to the in and collection from the out. 0800 66 887

Dan K's picture

You need to start at this page:

Then go to the neon network.

Dan K's picture

Check the box for the 30 days veiw. The neon.niwa site works well. Best of luck.

sreutebuch's picture

I'm going to be in NZ for 5 weeks 27 Jan - 4 Mar and hope to run several rivers in the North Island. I can't find any online river flow sites for the Motu. Do you know of a site? In the post above from miriam.odlin on Tuesday, 19 October 2010, they say the info is at the site, but I've searched all over it and can't figure out how to get the latest river level data. Any help would be appreciated. We're also hoping to do the Whatakane from near Ruatahuna down and the Whanganui river journey sections. So, we're looking for water level data on those rivers too.

Dan K's picture

A group of nine of us from Wellington and Palmerston North had a great 3 day Motu trip over Easter 2014. We camped out the first night and stayed in the hut on the second night. We stayed at the Bushaven accommodation owned by John and Virginia the night before heading off. John also provided an excellent drop off and pick up service for us using a shuttle van and a horse float to carry the boats.

keeweechris's picture

New link to old-skool NZForestryService map:

jonathan's picture

1980's map from Opotiki Info Centre includes rapids, features c/- keeweechris

Martin Peat's picture

Martin Peat's picture

We've used Mel Park twice and found him very helpful and great service. He's got a 7 seater van plus trailer and can arrange other drivers for vehicles if needed. Contact details are 021734736 or m.park[at] Highly recommended

miriam.odlin's picture

Flow info is available online:
Go to Bay of Plenty and then Motu at Waitangirua.
20+ cumecs is fine.

Shuttle info:
Apparently the campsite at Opotiki has changed hands and no longer helps with shuttles (heresay). We phoned the rafting companies and they were largely useless but one of them gave us the number for Bing Dain who does shuttles on the Motu on a fairly regular basis. His number is 0274475248. He charged us $150 per vehicle for drop off and pick up.