Whinray Scenic Reserve is a 429 hectare reserve featuring native forest and a spectacular set of waterfalls on the wild and scenic Motu River.

Nature and conservation

North Island weka were numerous in the Gisborne District until the 1980s when they went through a sudden and significant decline. They are now found in significant numbers only in the Motu and Opotiki regions.

Whinray Scenic Reserve was intensively managed by the Department of Conservation as part of a study to try and understand what role predation played on the weka population. The project involved predator trapping and monitoring of weka. After 10 years the project finished in 2012 and during this time the weka population has expanded rapidly towards and along the Bay of Plenty coastline.

Whinray Ecological Charitable Trust

The Trust has taken over managing pests in the Whinray Scenic Reserve. It aims to intensify pest control in the reserve and trap rats, cats, ferrets, stoats and hedgehogs to benefit the kiwi population and other bush birds in the reserve such as North Island kaka.

Visitors should note signs placed at the entrance to the walking track advising of the presence of traps set under tunnels. Please do not disturb the traps which are essential to the predator control programme.

History and culture

The upper reaches of the Motu River Valley were covered with mature forest until the 1890s when settlers began to clear the land. James Whinray, a cabinet maker and Gisborne Borough Councillor, persuaded the government to withhold some land for a bush reserve, now named after him.

In February 1900 construction began on a project to link Gisborne with Rotorua via Opotiki by rail. The railway construction and development was significant in the history of European settlement of the district.

Townships based around the construction camps were created and then abandoned as the railway advanced. The rail link reached Moutohora near Motu in 1917 but because of the economic pressure of World War I and engineering difficulties further northwards, the line was never extended.

The Moutohora line opened up the hinterland, allowing large areas of land to be cleared, and logs and other goods to be railed out to Gisborne, as well as providing a popular passenger service.

By the 1940s however, most timber stands had been worked out, and increasingly efficient road transport steadily eroded use of the railway. The Moutohora Branch was closed in 1959.

The route that the track through the reserve follows is believed to have originally been used as a trail by Maori. It became a bridle path in European times and was upgraded to a dray track around 1913. It was used to drive sheep and cattle from Gisborne to the Bay of Plenty. When the Motu Coach Road was opened, use of the Whinray track declined.

The first bridge was built in 1885 and was replaced by a single span totara structure in 1913. This was largely demolished in 1955 and the abutments were swept away in the 1988 Cyclone Bola.

A magnificent 42 m suspension bridge now crosses the Motu River just down stream from the falls. The bridge was opened in 1994 after a huge fundraising effort by the local community.

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