At the end of the 2019 Motu School East Cape Safari, school principal Paul Cornwall hinted at a major change in the style of the Safari, in response to changing participant demands, and increasing difficulty in maintaining the traditional format of touring the East Cape,  moving campsite every night, which has been part of the event since its inception in 1997.

So, for 2021, the ‘East Cape’ was deleted from the title, and the event became the Motu School 4×4 Safari, based at the tiny school, with three days of offroading on mostly new tracks around Motu itself.

Land Rover on Old Motu Hydro Road. Image by Kevin

The format, however, remained the same. Instead of a group of participants following a leader as in the more common “tag-along” event, participants set off to follow signs and instructions (“please shut the gate” being the most common) set out by a lead crew a couple of hours earlier, and then collected after the final team has passed through.

A small colour booklet is enclosed in every entrant’s info pack, which gives facts and figures, and a few historical details on the properties traversed, as well as a bit of history on the Safari itself, and some of the uses funds raised in the past have been put to.

A quote from the booklet sums it up well, “We are so lucky! We are not limited by where we are, or how much it costs [to get somewhere] because we have the Motu Safari”.

Heading out Day 1. Image by Dena

Some of the tracks were well known, the Mangatu Blocks, in particular, having been used on all the Safaris, except the first when torrential rainfall meant the first day of the first Motu had to be bypassed.

The track was also the site of the infamous “night stage” in 2003 when rain and a steep muddy climb created a “Traffic Jam” that saw most entrants needing a tow/ winch up the section, some not reaching camp till well after midnight, and several others, including the trail crew, spending the night camped on the trail.

Others were entirely new, like the spectacularly steep and narrow Waiwhero on the last day. NZ hill country driving at its very best.

High country driving – Tawa Hills Angus Station. Image by Myles

As always, vehicles were checked out by Geyserland 4WD Club members before heading out on the first morning. Groups were sent off according to their registration order, and most arrived the night before to get registered, to be ready for scrutineering first thing in the morning.

In fact, one group was so keen to get started, and to make the most of their time in the area, they were camped up by Thursday night! Missing from the campsite was the much loved and admired Kahikatea tree that has stood on the campsite since long before the Safari was ever envisaged, and been part of the event logo since day 1. It fell just before the Covid lockdown last year.

Motu is a significant habitat for the NZ Weka, and their presence is obvious around the area, the campsite was no exception.  If you couldn’t see them, you could certainly hear them!

Historic St Pauls. Image by Kevin

Following the arrows from the start of day 1 took us on a quick loop around the town, past the Historic St Pauls Church, (our young passengers were seriously impressed School Headmaster Paul Cornwall had a church named after him), and headed off down Motu Falls Road, to the turnoff into Waitangarua Station, the first of the Integrated Foods properties.

We were in a brand new BT-50 supplied by Mazda NZ as part of their support for the School, and the event, which we had fitted with a set of mud tyres, and one of the clubs PRS radios to act as a media vehicle, and, as we dropped back through the group, an additional support vehicle, and, as we joined the trail crew towards the end of the day, additional arrow recovery.

The track runs down to the edge of the Raukumara Forest Park, and the rough, rocky, and slightly notorious Waitangirua Stream crossing, offering huge views of the Motu Valley, Waitangirua, and some of its massive slips and rockfalls.

Waitangirua Stream crossing. Image by Kevin

Into Okaihau, where the drought has created such dry conditions marshals were in place to ensure no-one pulled off into the long grass and risked starting a fire from hot exhausts. For the first time ever the organisers had insisted on spark arrestors being fitted.

A tradition for many is a visit to the abandoned and slowly deteriorating Okaihu Homestead, situated just under 700m above sea level, in winter it well justifies its local name – Siberia.

Siberia. Image by Myles

As always, the day ends with a wet and wild fun run down the Mangatu River, exiting just before the village of Whatatutu, the site of the traditional first night camp.

This year, we pass through the village, heading back to Motu via SH2 and an optional loop through Whakarau Road. Originally known as the Te Kowhai Trail, the track was upgraded into a military road during the Te Kooti uprising, and was the original route into the Motu Valley.

It was also the detour used on that very first East Coast Safari when the rain closed access onto the Mangatu blocks.

Entering Rockwood Station. Image by Dena

Day 2 was when the new stuff started, returning back down Whakarau Road, and into a very damp and misty Rockwood Station, where the views suggested by the terrain could only be imagined. In fact, the mist was so thick in places, even the next section of track could only be imagined!

In true Motu fashion, though, as we descended down into the neighbouring Rimu Hills Dairy unit, it all started to slowly clear, and by the time a bit of road driving had taken us to the Rere Rockslide – where a few Safari Families enjoyed the blast down the natural waterslide, and the graceful Rere Falls, with its horseshoe-shaped cascade down to not much more than a trickle, things were starting to look summery again.

Rere Rock Slide. Image by Dena

From the falls, we were directed back towards Motu and onto the impressive Te Kohanga Stn, owned by longtime Safari supporters and Motu residents, Dan and Jane Griffin The 1300 hectare carries 12,000 head of stock, over 7,000 of them beef cattle!

Trekking back across Rimu Hills and Para Station, this time the views are revealed, and the groups get really spread out as photo stops are extended.

Again, we drop back onto Whakarau Road and the few Km back to Motu and Dinner.

Meals by Barbarich Whanau Catering. Image by Kevin

A few die-hards took the opportunity to dive into the wet and muddy play area at the back of the playground.

An ARB fridge donated by Tauranga Diesel Specialists, a pair of OzTent Sidekick camping Chairs, and a Recovery kit and other goodies from Ironman 4×4, were presented to winners of raffles and competitions held to raise the total fundraising pool.

Force 4 and Total Oils had also joined the party with goodies to share around.

The start of day three saw us back into familiar territory, over the Motu River Bridge, and onto the Old Motu Road, as per the traditional Day 1 starts.

A couple of hundred meters down the road, it’s a quick left and right, and we are back onto Griffin property, the 2,300ha Rakanui Station for a short up and over a small ridge, before emerging back onto the road.

The arrows lead us down the Motu Road, then left up into Tawa Hills Angus Station. These days there is a pretty decent crossing and a proper gate into the property, when the school first obtained access for the safari to access the track, we dropped thru a big roadside ditch, and a gap cut into the fence a couple of days earlier. An indication of just how much the Safari means to the community.

Wrangler on Marumoko Station. Image by Dena

The notorious “mudslide” steep down-hill section is pretty dry this year, and we manage a slow, controlled descent. Mind you we were among the first groups at that stage, it may have become more interesting as the day went on!

As we cross into Marumoko Station we join the Old Hydro Road which was developed in the 1960s as part of the hydro exploration on the Motu River. The fact that there was even discussion on damming the river shows the difference in Environmental Values 50 years later.

Just before we cross the Motu again, onto the Falls Road, we pass through Paparangi Ventures, a privately owned station that offers access into about 800ha of native forest for wilderness holidays, and hunting.

Crossing the Motu. Image by Dena

The route planned for day 3 included options to take shortcuts back to the camp, check out, and head for home early. The first of these was after the Motu crossing, when those who wanted to could opt to head straight back to camp up past the falls.

The rest of us headed into Te Rimu, more of the Griffin land we traversed, and into Waiwhero and the Whakatohea Dairy Support unit. The value of the support the owners and managers of these amazing blocks of land give the Safari just cannot be overstated.

The high country offroading these tracks provided was just sensational, more than one passenger was seen outside the vehicle, guiding the drivers through some pretty tight and tricky areas, to make the last sections of the Safari some of the best.

To date, it appears the reaction to the changes has been a bit mixed, according to Shelley Cornwall, with some missing the “point–to–point” nature of the old format, and some loving the “Back to home” ease of the new.

What-ever format they choose to run under, one thing is sure. Paul tells us Motu 2023 is on the horizon. However they choose to run it, we say “bring it on”.

Campsite image by Kevin
To see the full list of Safari Supporters, please click the image below

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