View of Motu river above falls
Image: Steve Sawyer | ©


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

Whinray Scenic Reserve is a great example of primary podocarp/hardwood forest where you can see tall, majestic trees such as kahikatea, rimu, totara, miro and matai. In the past, the reserve was intensively managed by the DOC as part of a study to understand the impacts of predation on North Island weka, which are only found in significant numbers in the Motu and Opōtiki regions. The project, which ended in 2012, involved predator trapping and monitoring of weka in the reserve and surrounding area over a 10 year period.

Blue,  white, red and purple triangles off to the side of track indicate the presence of traps. Do not follow these markers and do not disturb the traps which are essential to the predator control programme.   

Whinray Ecological Charitable Trust

Whinray Ecological Charitable Trust formed in 1999 to restore the North Island brown kiwi population in the reserve, has since continued and intensified the predator control in and around the reserve. As a result, the forest is now alive with bird song.

You may see or hear species such as bellbird, tui, tomtit, kereru and ruru as well as less common species like rifleman, North Island weka, robin, falcon, kaka, whitehead and North Island brown kiwi. Other native species that live here include long tailed bat, forest gecko, green gecko, striped skink, copper skink, Hochstetter’s frog, tree, ground and cave weta, and there are native fish such as koaro in the streams.

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 Ōpōtiki 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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