A Step Into The Unknown

Leaving Port Jackson early on the Tuesday morning we wanted to get up and over the hill before any other traffic hit the road. This brilliant bit of thinking on our part had one major drawback, as the van was covered in morning dew and it’s a gravel road it wasn’t long before the motorhome looked like it had competed in the Paris to Dakar rally.

Once we had made it over the hill we made a brief stop at Fantail Bay another DOC camp which was completely deserted. This is a small camping area very close to the water nestled amongst some giant Pohutakawa trees that would be a great base for fishing and tramping in the area. I do think that at $13 per head the charges are a little steep during the off season and that a more realistic charge might bring more visitors.

Anyway to the reason for this post. Sarah and I have been members of the NZMCA since 2002 and I must confess that during this time we have never been to either a Rally or Safari unless you count us attending the opening of the new park at Te Araroa. So when our friends Dave and Nita invited us to join the Eastern Bay of Plenty members on a safari around Taranaki we couldn’t think of an excuse not to go and so agreed to attend our first ever safari.

The safari was to start in Rotorua on Monday however as we were going to be north driving south to meet the others we had elected to join the safari on the second day. We decided that we would use the inbuilt GPS unit in our motorhome to help guide us to the location at the Horohoro Domain. I have always used my phone in the past so this was to be the first major test. Sadly the test was a complete failure with me trying to turn up the volume on the voice commands whilst we were driving and then having the screen obscured by the graphic for the volume that wouldn’t go away so I couldn’t see or hear where we should be going. So back to the phone for instructions and time to read the handbook.

AJ's Park

Proximity to Attractions

Right on the mighty Waikato River so really handy if you are here for water sports and close to Cambridge and Matamata if you are visiting people

Nearest Supplies/Town

Bit of a drive to the nearest town and you cannot really pop out for milk so make sure you come prepared.

Ground Surface

Flat dry with great views what more could you want.

Proximity to Water/Dump Station

There is water here on site but the nearest dump station is about 10 kms away in Tirau

Outlook from Camp

Very pleasant river and rural views, you can spend hours looking at nothing and enjoy it.

Noise during Day and Night

Other than the Canadian Geese it was really very peaceful.

Cellphone Signal

Good signal

Walking/Cycling Tracks

Nothing formal here just a bit of a stroll along the river to stretch the legs.

Pets welcome

No problems here bring your dog or cat


Clean and tidy and included in the cost of $5 per night

Overall Rating:

A very pleasant place to stay just next door to the Horohoro Domain which is a freedom camping area if you don\\\'t feel like paying $5 per person.

Finally arriving at the Domain we found most of the people who would be on the safari parked up waiting for the stragglers. It turned out that we were staying at AJ’s Park which is a private camping area just on the edge of the Domain. I asked Dave why we didn’t just stay at the Domain which is a large freedom camping area. To which he replied that he couldn’t be sure that there would be sufficient space available at the Domain and AJ’s had water, showers and toilets for a very reasonable cost.

Parking at AJ’s was alongside the Waikato river with tons of space available for all. We have experienced happy hours in the past but there has usually only been us and another one or two couples. So it was a bit of an experience to sit down with 10 other couples listening to peoples stories. Most of this group which comprise members from the Eastern Bay of Plenty and friends have traveled together in the past and all know each other but were all very welcoming.


That night we were treated to the calls of Canadian Geese throughout the night making sleep rather difficult. I honestly don’t know what they had to honk about at 2am but whatever it was it was enough noise to wake the dead. Talking too one of our group they mentioned  how 2 or 3 geese were chasing each other underneath their van during the night creating a real racket.

The following morning after wiping the sleepy dust out of our eyes we spent some time getting to know some of the other travelers and in some of the blogs to come that cover this safari I will introduce each couple and their motorhomes. There is really quite a mixture here.


This Safari was planned by Dave and Nita with a different stop almost every night to give you the chance to explore a different part of Taranaki and if you were so inclined visit the gardens that are on display as part of the Taranaki Garden Festival. The places we are going to be staying at range from freedom camping areas to places like AJ’s where a small fee covers the cost of accommodation for the night. In this case $5 per person per night.

With our first night on safari safely ticked off it was time to head towards the next destination the freedom camping area at Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve just out of Te Kuiti on SH 30. We were the first to arrive here and debated about the best place to park as this place is huge but in the end opted for the spot you can see above just next to the river. We wanted to go for a walk through the bush but were reluctant to leave the motorhome unattended as some of the reviews for this place aren’t that wonderful.

We didn’t have to wait too long before another motorhomer arrived, they wen’t a member of our group but seemed like really nice people so we left them to guard our motorhome and set off across the swing bridge for a walk up the river. The sign on the other side of the bridge tells you that it’s 20 minutes walk to the Cascade and a further 25 minutes to the Waterfall so a 90 minute walk return if we walk up to the waterfall.

Once we had crossed the bridge we set off on a well formed path along a walk that would best be described as easy, in that it was mostly flat and level with the occasional small rise. You just had to be a little careful at times with tree roots crossing the path creating those sneaky tripping hazards.

A lot of these walks the time to reach your destination is often overstated to allow for people that walk at a slower pace. On this walk we found that the timing appeared to be set for our pace. So we have either slowed down or the timing is for once reasonably accurate. So 20 minutes later we reached the Cascade which was quite pretty from there it was onward to the Waterfall.


I wouldn’t say that the Waterfall was disappointing rather that it was less than spectacular. So much so in fact that we wondered if we had reached the correct one and since the track carried on we figured that the proper Waterfall must be further up the path. From here the quality of the track deteriorated and became a bit steeper in places, we pressed on searching for the elusive falls.

A little further up the path we came to realisation that we had seen the Waterfall when we came to another swingbridge that crossed the river to a sign pointing back to the Waterfall. That same sign gave two options for return down either side of the river. So having walked one side already we decided to return back to the motorhome down the otherside.

As if a sign of the track to come we noticed a number of goats high in the hills above the bridge. This side of the river the track is not as well formed here and it’s a matter of spotting the marker poles that pointed the way until we reached a slightly better formed track.

Whilst the path rose fairly steeply and was pretty rough in places it didn’t go on for that long and after we crested the hill it was fairly much downhill all the way back to the motorhome from here.

The walk took us just under two hours and is something that I would totally recommend to all the bush setting with large trees and river running along the path for large stretches of the walk made it a very pretty walk. I would suggest that if you aren’t that fit that you walk up and back the Waterfall side of the river, but it’s a great walk on the otherside if you like to challenge yourself a bit.

Returning to the motorhome it was good to see most of the others had arrived and approved of the location we had chosen as they had all parked close to us.

Happy hour was underway when we returned to the motorhome giving us another chance to start the process of getting to know our fellow travelers. As the babies on this tour (we are the youngest of the group)  we had a bit of friendly ribbing by the others but it’s all in jest and they are a great bunch we are with.

Sadly that night a number of the group were kept awake by locals (I assume) who chose at various times during the night to take a tour round the reserve testing their vehicles ability to do burnouts and other such noise making events. I have always said that I could sleep through a nuclear bomb going off and so wasn’t bothered but Sarah had a terrible nights sleep.

Mangakewa Scenic Reserve

Proximity to Attractions

3kms out of Te Kuiti so not to far to see the statue of Colin Meeds and the walking track is right here.

Nearest Supplies/Town

3kms to Te Kuiti and all you could need.

Ground Surface

Firm level flat and mud free what more could you need.

Proximity to Water/Dump Station

It's quite a way to the nearest dump station and the same goes for water so arrive with empty waste and full water tanks.

Outlook from Camp

Very pleasant aspect with the bush and stream as an outlook

Noise during Day and Night

Major problems at night with the local hoons tearing round the parking area, we would have felt very unsafe save the number of us there.

Cellphone Signal

Close to non existent but with the occasional text getting through


Toilets that were reasonably clean and no showers.

Walking/Cycling Tracks

Nice walking track along the stream well worth doing this walk.

Pets welcome

Pets are OK here

Overall Rating:

I would not recommend staying here if you are by yourself but if there are others or you are in a group then it's an Ok place to stay.

Hence early the following morning we were up and about with Sarah wanting to look at the viaduct that crosses the road at the entrance to the reserve. They are doing some repairs to this so you could hear the banging and clanging of the workmen but these were soon drowned out the sound of a train crossing, quite a spectacular sight.

From here it’s onward towards Taranaki with the next stop at the 3 Sisters. Blog to follow.

To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.

To view the Ratings we have done for other camps click here 

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