Four saddles, four volcanoes and about four people, in the middle of the North Island…
This highway is so forgotten that I had heard of it only recently- and I thought I knew my own country!.
You start from the plains of Stratford, in Taranaki, rise gently through gorgeous green dairy farms, then head through steep mountains and dramatic saddles. On a clear day you can see, not just forever, but four volcanic cones: Ruapehu, Tongariro, Ngaruahoe, and up close and personal, Mt.Taranaki, most likely with snow on. . You drive through tiny settlements where the ghosts of glorious times past haunt the old dairy factories, coal mines, pubs, cottages and halls. There are no petrol stations at all, so fill up before you leave.
We promised ourselves a coffee at the (world-famous in New Zealand) Whangamomona pub, but we arrived too early. The door was open but the proprietor shut it with a firm- “We open at 11am, sorry.” The famous hospitality was bit thin that day.
So we wandered up the shingle road to the minimal but charming motor camp, past a car with a tree growing through it(true) , and a house with the front and door wide open to let the horse get through (also true) and read all about Whangamomona declaring itself a republic.
21 years ago, the locals were incensed when boundary changes meant that half the tiny population was in Taranaki and half in Stratford/Manawatu. So an independent republic was declared complete with a mayor., and an annual summer celebration which attracts hundreds of people every second year.
Why would you drive this forgotten highway taking 8 hours to explore the 150 km?
Locals say that they can cover the winding spiralling road in under 3 hours, but it is much nicer to meander.
- You get a slice of history, harking back to the days of hard men hand cutting the railway lines through the bush covered mountains, and strong women caring for their children and households many days walk from civilisation .
- You see the unexpected beauty of steep hills and untouched native beech and podocarp forest, with glimpses of volcanoes as a bonus.
- There is the chance to walk 30 minutes to the highest waterfall in the North Island- Mt Damper falls. and drive through a one way 180m tunnel into the heart of a mountain
- It is the pure pleasure of leisurely travel when you simply have to stop and stand and stare.
- Plus, the unusual experience of not having food and shops within easy reach. The coffee at Te Kuiti’s brilliant Bosco Cafe was all the better for the long wait. www.enjoywaikato.co.nz
Where is this secret highway- I forgot to say!
State Highway 43, between Stratford and Taumaranui, Central North Island
Where to stay? You really need a whole day to wander this highway and stop at all the historic and scenic spots, so it is best to stay the night before in Stratford. We found the prettiest holiday park ever in Page Street. Every little cottage was smothered in roses, and geraniums , the camping and caravan places were wide and private and the facilities excellent. Right next to some walkways and within easy reach of the town’s many pubs and eateries.
Coming from the north you could stay in Taumaranui
The forgotten world highway is one of the themed highways of New Zealand.
READ MORE HERE:
AA Travel 101 Must dos in New Zealand
Stratford’s website of the area
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