The oldest Heritage Trail in New Zealand is by no means a forgotten one. This 155km route took us on a journey over 4 Saddles, across 12km of unsealed road, through a 180m long tunnel and best of all – to a Republic! Yes this is The Forgotten World Highway in the North Island of New Zealand and as we were about to find out – things got a little dirty!
“Let’s give this a go” one of us suggested at the iSite in New Plymouth. We always think if a route gets a name it’s got to be worth the effort! When it’s called The Forgotten World Highway, our imagination really got the better of us, without doubt this was a ‘must do’ to take us back in time.
Beginning in Stratford, the last main town before the start of the route, the preparations began. Stocking up on fuel and a few last minute groceries to see us through the couple of days we’d allowed for the adventure.
With a really limited phone coverage, zero fuel stations and not much in the way of supplies, we had this covered! It was like the Outback of Australia all over again!
Before we knew it, we were off – meandering nicely through the old farmlands and rolling hills – just us and the cattle for company. Not ones to miss our morning coffee, we soon stopped at a viewpoint enjoying fine views across the landscapes.
This is where our bright idea of a two-hour detour became a bit of a disaster. We’d meandered along nicely up to now, but then decided to take the gravel road from Strathmore via Makahu – both hamlets in the middle of nowhere.
Speaking of nowhere, The Bridge to Somewhere, is actually a Bridge which has that name – how cool’s that?! It’s a cousin to the more famous Bridge to Nowhere, which we walked to from a separate trip on our canoe journey on the Whanganui River.
There were several of these bridges built, all to gain access to land given to returning soldiers after the war. Unfortunately the land turned out to be too difficult to farm, so the bridges were of no use at all, hence the names.
Oh my goodness – we’ve been on gravel roads before but this was something else! What had we done? This 30km return detour just to see a bridge turned out to be one messy business.
The unsealed road was as dry as a bone, the plumes of dust were wallowing out from under the tyres, drifting off behind us as we slowly went along. Doing everything we could to lesson the mass of dirt surrounding our every turn of the wheel but to no avail.
The road was narrow, with nothing en-route except an occasional farm house, there was no sign of the bridge. It seemed as if we’d driven for miles with nothing in view.
Finally we caught sight of a fellow human! Noticing our slightly out of place appearance, he wondered over to see if we needed help – pretending to be expert’s at handling the dust, we wound down the window and happily asked “how much further to the bridge?”
The response of another 10km must have sent the look of dread through the window! Wishing us luck, we parted company and left our countryman to his flock!
By the time we reached the Bridge to Somewhere, we looked like we’d been in a fight with a bag of flour!
The van was covered in a thick white/brown layer of dirt and that was just the inside! We could have cried – but instead jumped out, walked across the bridge, drove over too, turned round and after a couple of pictures set about re-tracing our steps for the 15km return.
What a waste of time! The bridge was rather pretty but not worthy of the effort.
Back on the tarmac road of The Forgotten World Highway, time was ticking on. Thank goodness the sign for the only main village in these parts came into view – Whangamomona was a welcome sight.
Thankfully, we found a basic campsite in this former bustling frontier town. Opening the doors of the van to a layer of fine dust was inevitable. This stuff finds its way through every nook and cranny, our new van was now well and truly broken in!
Hot buckets of water was the only option, emptying everything out onto the grass, wiping the whole contents of the camper over was a painstaking task.
I hate dust at the best of times, but this was another level. The evening was spent wiping, cleaning, washing and re-loading. We felt it in our noses, our hair was white and our eyes gritty, by the time darkness fell, we were out for the count….hot showers first, of course!
Trying to forget the dust incident, we couldn’t not have a good look round this gorgeous historic village of Whangamomona.
Here’s the quirky bit – it’s actually a Republic! Declaring itself the Republic of Whangamomona in 1989, it has its very own presidential election and a Republic Day!
The best bit, other than the traditional architecture, was getting our passports stamped at the Whangamomona Hotel bar. The coffee and cake went down a treat too!
So after officially entering the Republic of Whangamomona, it was time to depart.
A little further along The Forgotten World Highway, came the next big feature of the route. The tiny Moki tunnel entrance didn’t look much bigger than our van, deceptive in appearance, it actually has a height of 7m.
That’s because, they lowered the floor in 1989, so that triple-decker cattle trucks could make it through. It’s home to giant fossilized crabs, so we got out to take a peak before driving on through.
At 180m long, it’s actually quite a sight, no wonder the locals call it the “Hobbit’s Hole”, it could easily be part of a movie set. After a quick look inside, it was back to the wheel, slowly driving forward into the darkness.
Once on The Forgotten World Highway, we soon did forget all about the dusty mess and got on with enjoying the ride.
Passing old railway lines brought an interesting view – golf buggies riding the rails! Not something you see every day, but here, you can take to a network of old tunnels, over viaducts and along the disused railway lines.
We stuck to our own transport and carried on to do a 14km detour, this time along a tarmac road to see the North Island’s second highest waterfall.
This is Mt Damper Falls and after parking up the van, we did a 20 minute walk across a grassy path, over a little bridge and into pretty bush.
Then we saw them…the 85m tall falls, dropping over the edge of a tall white cliff, surrounded by thick, native bush. All rather lovely we thought!
We knew this bit was coming – a 12km section of gravel road and we were dreading it! In preparation, we’d soaked the van before leaving, to try and capture any dust in the moisture.
We hoped that the morning dew had dampened the dust too, then got ready for the onslaught and crossed our fingers.
Thankfully, this well used section of dirt road didn’t bring the same clouds of the dusty stuff. Emerging on to tarmac road was a relief but we needn’t have worried, all was well – the inside was dust-free and we could breathe a sigh of relief!
The most picturesque part of The Forgotten World Highway in New Zealand happens to be on this 12km section of gravel road. But could we really relax and take it all in?
Really, that’s all we could do, why spoil the main event over a bit of dust? The road winds along the river path, narrowed out cliffs towering around the water, filled with the greenery of thick bush.
This is Tangarakau Gorge, a peaceful, idyllic route winding through this remote part of the North Island.
Our 2-day journey on The Forgotten World Highway had come to an end. The road led us further out of the wilderness and back to the town of Taumarunui.
The familiar large yellow ‘M’ symbol of Mcdonalds, reminded us of how far this country has come. And how times have changed since those early pioneer days of farming and working the land.
This certainly was an interesting route, taking us back in time and reminding us that a little dust didn’t hurt anyone!
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