School headmaster Paul Cornwall has recently hinted major changes may be afoot. Murray Taylor has been on most of these events, and reports on what could be the last of the big “camp and pack” Motu adventures.

The Motu School has run its iconic East Cape Safari 11 times in 22 years, so one has to thank those who are still supporting and also looking to support the school in this excellent Safari.

Entry forms arrived in the mail 18th October, and the reply was sent the 18th October: it is really the case of first in first served, as spots on these Safaris fill very quickly, by the beginning of December it’s full.

Move forward a bit, and in just a week tomorrow I will be heading northeast to Motu. The truck is semi packed with gear in the lounge just waiting to be loaded, another trip to town, to visit the vampires (more blood tests) and then it’s change the tyres, check the oils etc and pack…

Finally, Motu, the day before the safari. Before setting up camp, I continued up the valley to Motu Falls, to walk across the swing bridge and along the old pack track into the reserve, which was dedicated back in 1905, so it’s been around for a while…

A small number arrived to camp in the paddock, down on previous years. After some overnight rain, the tent fly and ground were damp, no dust today. With breakfast underway, I packed the sleeping gear and the truck ready for the day.

Trucks started to arrive and park up in front of Motu School, as drivers checked in, receiving a bag of goodies, instructions, T-shirts and meal tickets if ordered, along with the all important truck decal, with number.

Following a small delay in departure times as the land was given time to dry out, we departed heading across the Motu Bridge and onto the Motu road.

Almost immediately it’s a left turn down the gravel road and into the first property of the day. Through a very small creek before the climb starts, we head away from the school, with views back into the valley, and the other trucks awaiting their turn to move out.

Still climbing we reach a 737m high point, to arrive back at the Motu Road, turn left through a gate, and the first “please shut the gate sign. After a very short road section, a right hand 180, through a dismantled section of fence, leads onto a grass track around Taumataokaretu at 796m.

Sidling around, it’s damp under foot, we soon hit the steep downhill sections. 1st gear and a little left foot braking keeps the Patrol under control as we head down, leaving plenty of gap between trucks.

Out on the flat the farm track continues, to join Marumoko Rd, crossing a saddle before dropping back to ford the Motu River.

Following the riverside track we enter Waitangirua Station via a hard left up hill. It’s a good long climb from 480m to 700m before we head down hill, providing views back over the track and valley we have come from, before dropping us into the rugged Jacksons Stream for lunch.

After lunch we head uphill again towards Okaihau Station’s Buildings,  the station house, dog kennels, and woolshed now long abandoned.

The track is tight, and mud underfoot has the potential to stop a vehicle not following the correct line, with a small amount of momentum.

We parked outside to check out the old station house, it’s only slowly returning to nature, and will be around for a few years yet.

On to Te Apiti Road, past the Station, we traverse farm land and cut over pine plantations, farm and logging roads, past Mangatu Station into the Mangatu River for the run down stream.

The Wairere Road bridge has mesh hanging underneath, but instead of the usual gap opened for us to drive through, an arrow points us onto a deviation out of the river bed onto the road. Later we learn that the lower section of the river is being used by logging trucks as the true right bank of the river is being logged.

Into Whatatutu Village, to the first night campsite, in an open paddock on the river flat, the river within walking distance.

Set up the fly and settle in for the night, with dinner up at the Marae.  It’s a warm night spent talking and catching up with new and returning Safari goers.

Saturday morning, the sun rises early, it’s going to be a hot one even with the high clouds to the north and wind blowing. Time seems to move slowly when waiting for events to unfold.

Checked out, we are through the gate heading for the river, but the arrow is pointing left along the river bank track, with a smaller sign indicating that the river bed is too soft, before we are back on Mangatu road.

We are on a bit of a road trip to start the day, past Tarndale Road which leads to the north end of Tarndale Slip, we head down Armstrong  Road, towards the valley floor. A right turn into the Waipaoa River takes us upstream onto Te Weraroa Road, and the climb up to Tarndale.

The views start as we clear the forestry out into the open farmland and head along the tops of the ridges, with Arowhana at 1439m in the distance. The wind packs a real chill at this altitude.

As we approach the Arowhana Station buildings we see the lead vehicle heading towards us, that’s not a good sign at all. Bottom line the forest gate lock has been changed within the last few days, so after fruitlessly checking the neighboring farms to see if they have new keys, it’s about-face while the crew come up with an alternative.

Back at the Weraroa Stream crossing, we head upstream a short distance for morning tea, while the new route is sorted out.

Eventually, we head downstream to join the safari back through Whatatutu and towards Gisborne. It looks like a road trip ahead.

We are led onto Waimata Valley Road (or the East Cape Back Bone Road), mostly gravel, rising from almost sea level to over 600m with a lot of travel at around 500m, through to Mata Road, before reaching State highway 2 and a left turn to Tokomaru Bay.

Fuel stops are few and sometimes far between on the East Cape, so I topped the tanks, before heading north again, with a detour into Waipiro Bay for those wanting a swim, and to admire the scenery.

Leaving the beach it was not long before the turnoff into Makarika and our campsite for the night….

Day three heads inland along Horehore Road, and Waingakia Station to the climb to 945m and the Telecom Repeater on the summit, along the way.

Mount Hikurangi  is viewed almost directly in front while winding up the track. The view from the top is impressive both inland and out towards the coast. A couple of the farms owners, Jimmy and Awhina White, are at the top, delighted to be sharing their backyard.

The track down requires concentration as it’s steep with not much on the sides, and a long drop to the river below. It’s rocky at times, and a small creek crossing proves tight in a large truck, as the back wheel drops away, requiring a bit of right foot to scramble back onto the track.

The track winds back down to the Mata River, with a short stop on the Terrace, alongside a new “weekend retreat” hut, which is one of the raffles being run by Motu School.

From the hut vehicles could be seen climbing the hill ahead. This section is a detour as the HoreHore Bluff slip is impassable.  It’s a steep and slow climb up the hill, but not as steep as the other side, down through a forestry section, with fresh cut pine alongside the road.

A jeep’s parked up in the road, the electronics not allowing it to shift into high gear, in fact not into any gear. Space was created for vehicles to pass while the problem was worked on. In the end, it was a little hot from the slow downhill and just needed a rest to cool down..

Back on the road heading towards Te Araroa, we pass on the option out to the Lighthouse, taking a turn inland after the Awatere River bridge onto Kopuapounami road for a very short distance, and into the river, where it is getting a bit busy with Toyota troubles.

Soon we pass a Safari crew, snatching a Hilux out of a hole in the river, then, heading upstream, we arrive a holdup, as there’s an 80 series, on a jack in the middle of the river, having lost the left-hand side lower kingpin bolts. At least one has sheared in the housing.

Everyone is delayed while a truck from the lead crew heads back with tools and parts. The track ahead is one way so we all wait till the oncoming truck is clear.


Emerging from the river, Kokomuka road is next, getting rougher the closer we get to Kokmuka at 762m. There’s a long bush section of old track as it sidles around the head of Tapatu Stream, before coming out into the open just past Kokomuka, changing sides of the ridge for the descent to Waikura Road and the nights camp in the distance.

After dinner one and all assemble in front of the Woolshed for the note of thanks to the sponsors, landowners, and those involved in running the Safari.

Following raffle draws, and competition results, the headmaster of Motu school, Paul Cornwell came up with the parting comment about the safari after 23 years and 11 Safaris, is that this will be the last in the current format, ie pack and travel.

What the future holds we can all only wait for that email advising what life holds from Motu School.

Monday heads further into the valley, up through Pakira and along the tops before dropping down into Waikura stream and a crossing to climb onto the ridge opposite. A freshly bulldozed track ends up at an airstrip, before turning us back onto the road, and oncoming traffic, as the rest of the Safari head out from camp to do the circle.

After an interesting few Km of two way traffic in the dust, we pass the campsite, before heading out of Waikura over a couple of ridges then dropping into Makahikatoa Stream for the last 5km of the Safari.

A great little run down stream with long shallow sections to lift water, stop and swim, or lunch while waiting for other trucks to come past.

After a wash from one close passing truck, it’s time to head for the Bridge, and the last casualty that I am aware of, a Triton with its transmission locked in gear, and exit onto the East Cape Road.

Said a few goodbyes, checked out and headed towards Te Kaha Point and a stop at the Raukokere Church, before heading towards home, that’s another story.

To Shelley and Paul, a great thanks for going ahead and doing it all again, to the team from Geyserland 4WD for all their hard work and assistance in making it happen.

To the sponsors, for their generosity, and, especially, a big thanks to the landowners for access to the land and tracks.

Motu School produced a 24 page A5 booklet for all participants containing all the relevant details relating to land crossed and history.


 School headmaster Paul Cornwall has recently hinted major changes may be afoot. Murray Taylor has been on most of these events, and reports on what could be the last of the big “camp and pack” Motu adventures.


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