There are two main tracks that loop and link within the reserve. Both are reached from the car park. The 15-20 minute wheelchair-accessible loop track is clearly marked, allowing wheelchair users to immerse themselves in native bush and view interpretation signs along the way.
The reserve is on flat land, and is small enough to roam and explore freely. A full circuit of the tracks takes 40-60 minutes at an easy pace.
Gray's Bush Scenic Reserve runs alongside the Back Ormond Road, about 10 km north-east of Gisborne.
The car park and entrance is located on Back Ormond Road, at the turn off to Harper Road. The reserve is signposted from Back Ormond Road.
Enjoy the reserve, but look after its ecology. Don't litter or take anything from the reserve.
Gray's Bush Scenic Reserve is a small but significant remnant of the tall kahikatea (podocarp) forest that once covered much of the Gisborne plains, until cleared and drained for farming and agriculture.
The reserve is semi-coastal in character and has a dominant canopy of kahikatea, with a significant presence of puriri. This kahikatea/puriri forest type is nationally rare, and is the only surviving example on the Gisborne plains.There are also broadleaved trees such as pukatea, mahoe and tawa, with occasional kohekohe and rare matai. Most of the taller kahikatea in Gray's Bush are between 400 and 500 years old. The forest is well-preserved with some individual trees reaching heights of up to 40 metres.
The bush grows at the base of an alluvial fan descending from the hills to the north-east, on the edge of the flood plain of the Waipaoa River. The trees are supported by a slow-draining, clay loam soil typical of the plains, the area is less than 30 m above sea level.
The undergrowth is quite dense, predominant species include kawakawa, nikau and occasional small broadleaved shrubs, ferns and herbs. There are some areas with native grass (Oplismenus imbecillus) and kiekie in the damper parts of the reserve.
The reserve also provides a nesting, resting and feeding habitat for native and introduced bird species, including bellbird, fantail, goldfinch, harrier hawk, kingfisher, magpie, pheasant, pipit, redpoll, silver eye, skylark, sparrow, thrush, tui, grey warbler, shining cuckoo and blackbird.
There are also some kereru (native wood pigeon) and the rare North Island kaka is a seasonal visitor too.
Gray's Bush Scenic Reserve is one of the most popular and accessible of DOC's reserves in the region. An estimated 10-12,000 people visit the reserve each year.
The reserve's ecology is fragile, because it is such a small remnant and the surrounding environment has been highly modified. Possums are a significant threat; many plant pests have also established themselves there. To sustain the health of the forest, pest control and monitoring programmes are carried out when needed. There is currently tracked access only at the southern end of the reserve, to allow the rest of the forest to grow undisturbed.
The recreational and botanical significance of Gray's Bush was recognised as early as 1914, when the Commissioner of Crown Lands proposed a land exchange for the bush to its owner at the time, Mr Charles Gray. The bush was then part of Gray's Farm, Waiohika, which he had bought in 1877.
The proposal was eventually dropped and it was not until 1926, 8 years after Gray's death, that the trustees of Grays Estate offered the bush to the Crown as a reserve. The bush was formally reserved that year as Gray's Bush Domain.
The reserve was managed by various domain boards until 1979, when it was vested in the Department of Lands and Survey and reclassified as a scenic reserve. It is currently managed by DOC.