Right from breakfast, there was an air of anticipation that we were going to be the lucky ones that finally got to complete the climb up to the Raukumara Forest Park on the 2009 Mata School Fundraiser.
Organiser Grant Brew, from Gisborne’s East Coast 4WD Club, and trip leader Andrew Meehan, who had worked on Puketura Station, the land we would be making the climb over, had been promising something special since the inception of the Mata trip four years ago. Promises broken every year because of the weather.
From the station, it was a simple convoy up Mata Link and Ihungia roads before entering the station and heading towards an entertaining crossing of the Waitahaia River just before it joins the Mata itself.
Any Excuse for a River Crossing
From the river crossing it was a continual climb up the side of the Raukumara Ranges right to the edge of the Forest Park and Wilderness Area, with views alternating between the magnificent Mt Hikurangi, back down to the Waitahaia River crossing, and eventually right back over to the Pacific beyond Mangatu, the Tahu Dome and Tokomaru.
Hikurangi is, in fact, the tallest non-volcanic mountain in the North Island, and is held as sacred to all the local inhabitants. It is also the least geologically explored as well and has a much more complex makeup than all the others, which just adds to its mystique.
We were lucky enough to be in the company of Grant during this morning climb, and it was great to see just how much Grant was enjoying showing off this huge slice of New Zealand to his little troupe of 4-wheelers. We certainly felt very privileged to be there.
It was an amazing time, every time we rounded a corner or topped a climb, there was another uphill section of track ahead of us, sometimes six or seven zigzags could be seen ahead or above, with the train of vehicles heading in all directions at once. By this time the seriousness of the trek had started to become obvious, and the banter over the radios had died away as drivers started to really concentrate on what they were doing.
And Still, We Kept Climbing
By this time we had left the grassy farm tracks behind, and were on a rough bulldozed track that was more rock than anything else, with some sections needing a bit of special care because of the steepness of the climb, and the upwards of 2,000 ft drop offs about a meter away from the left-hand wheels. By this stage, I had been very seriously told off for looking at the views and not the track!
Just before we reached the boundary with the Forest Park, we started to traverse pockets of native bush that had escaped the massive burnoffs that had cleared the area for farming. All around the Cape there are reminders of what the area must have been like before the arrival of the first European settlers, with huge burnt skeletons still standing amidst the rough grass country that makes up these isolated stations.
But of course there is always the other side to every discussion, and without that land clearing then we wouldn’t have been there to admire the view.
Still, it is difficult to take in the scale of the desolation without feeling just a little nostalgic for what it must have been like less than 150 years ago.
And still we kept climbing.
By now, we were right alongside the Park boundary. The park itself is still almost entirely in Forest, with Rimu, Tawa and Rata dominant; it is the remains of these hardwoods that litter the landscape in all directions.
Then We Were There
Lunch was taken virtually at the highest point of the trail, and to say the views were breathtaking is to understate them. We had been scrambling up these tracks for almost 3 hours, and at almost 4,500 feet were higher than the summit of the Desert Road.
Despite the threats from the weather office, it was a stunning day, not a cloud in a brilliant blue sky, and there was a real reluctance to leave for home, and lunch was a very leisurely affair.
Then we went back down, and down, and down, in a loop that took us further to the West, before coming out onto the Ihungia Road again, and back to the Station.
The 2009 Mata School Fundraiser certainly made up for all those years of broken promises.
In the original coverage of the event, we made the claim that day two of the 2009 Mata School Fundraiser was probably the best Safari trip most of us had ever done. Eight years later I see no reason to change that.
With the apparent demise of the Mata School Safari, the Bi-annual Motu School East Cape Safari now seems to be on its own in the East Cape region. A pity, the tougher Mata trip was a great adventure deeper into the heartland of wild New Zealand.