Web update May 2020
As we left Taumarunui* and entered the Forgotten World Highway a light mist hung over the hills. With no vehicles in sight and only sheep and the Whanganui River for company we followed the winding road into the forgotten world. A world full of native bush punctuated with ponga trees and steep green hills stripped and fenced off for farming. *(If you want to stretch your legs before heading out on the highway, see taumarunui.co.nz/walks, thanks to website visitor Robin for the heads up).
Fifteen kilometres along the highway from Taumarunui we found Lauren's Lavender Farm. Lavender will be blooming at the end of December but in June the bushes are bare and the cafe is closed for winter. (Lauren's Lavender opens October to mid May, visit the website to check hours).
With our Forgotten World Highway brochure in hand we took our first 4.5km detour down narrow, unsealed Saddler Road. We were heading to Nukunuku Museum with its collection of river boat and early settler memorabilia. All we found was an unreadable, decaying sign and some old farm sheds. Back home via Google I read that others can't find the museum either, it's long gone. However you can see it in the documentary Great NZ River Journeys - The Whanganui River which can be watched at Nga Taonga Sound & Vision in Wellington.
Nevin's Lookout was our next stop, it's a short walk up the hill through farm land for views across the King Country, and if you're lucky mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.
Another detour, this time 10km off the highway to the settlement of Ohura, an ex coal mining town, now home to less than 150 people. Mining was a key industry in Ohura from the 1930's until the state owned mines closed in the early 70's. Ohura Prison was built on the site of a miners' hostel in 1972 but the isolated location played a big part in the prison closing in 2005.
We were looking for the prison turned backpackers which as it turns out is no longer trading and was sold to religious group Hope International. You can stay at Ohura Bed & Breakfast, and if you're travelling in a camper van you may still be able to park overnight at Ohura Cosmopolitan Club. You may find the Fiesta Fare Mexican food caravan open.
There were some surprises in Ohura like our second ever sighting of a kereru (NZ wood pigeon) in the wild, and a little Bike Museum. We visited on a Saturday morning when husband and wife team Charley and Janet had their shop open, the one and only shop in town.
Janet sells second hand bits and pieces in her half of the shop and Charley's half includes a Bike Museum. (We were last in Ohura in 2015 so are unsure if the Bike Museum is still there).
Cycle enthusiasts have probably heard of Moulton Bicycle Company, the English company that handcrafts bikes famous for their small wheels and full suspension. Charley has a few Moulton bikes, a couple he modified for cycle touring.
The next stop was just over the Tangarakau Bridge near Joshua Morgan's grave. Joshua was a 35 year old pioneer surveyor who died of suspected peritonitis in 1893. Rugged and remote bush stood between Joshua and medical assistance and he was buried where he died, working to link Stratford to Taumarunui.
It's a short two minute bush walk to Joshua's grave, the remains of his wife Anne were also put to rest here in 1953. (This photo shows the grave site and Tangarakau Bridge around 1915, over 100 years later the bush has regenerated significantly). (There is a long drop toilet here).
Today, 12km of the Tangarakau Gorge remains unsealed. It seems apt in a way as it causes drivers to slow down and maybe ponder how the trip was before tarseal and motorised wheels. Another reminder for us of how times have changed was the lone horseman we passed leisurely trotting out the kilometres.
Our next detour was a 15km drive down Moki Road to the starting point of the track to Mt Damper Falls. Note that access to the falls is via private farmland, the track used to be closed for lambing season but now is only closed to hunters from 1 August - 31 October.
There are two picnic tables in the paddock at the start of the track and a long drop near the car park. It's an easy 20 minute walk through farmland and then down a bush track to see the 74 metre Mt Damper Falls sliding over the bluff. Walk down a second set of stairs to see the falls meet the water. (If you're a fan of waterfalls check out www.waterfalls.co.nz).
Back on the highway we made slow progress through the 180 metre long Moki Tunnel looking for fossilised crabs. Number of crabs seen? Zero. The tunnel is known locally as the 'Hobbit's Hole' and was built in the mid 1930's, the floor was lowered in the 1980's to allow access for tall trucks and trailers.
Continuing on we saw a sign for Tangarakau Ghost Town - Camp & Accommodation. We'd driven down unsealed Raekohua Road before and knew there were no remnants of Tangarakau Town to be seen. However there was also a sign for Bushlands Holiday Park so we drove 6km down the road to see what we could find.
Turns out Tangarakau Ghost Town - Camp & Accommodation and Bushlands Holiday Park are one and the same. It's a lovely camping spot and the big green open space is dotted with little cabins. In the camp kitchen there are photos of Tangarakau in the 1920's and early 30's when it was a thriving railway settlement. A school photo taken at Tangarakau School in 1926 shows around 100 children. The Bushlands Holiday Park website has a Tangarakau history page, you can also click through to a gallery of images.
Next stop was the Tahora Saddle, the area was once covered in dense forest but the trees were felled and the forest burnt away to create blocks of land for farming. Back Country Accommodation at 7225 Ohura Road is atop a hill and provides splendid views of the surrounding countryside.
After departing Taumarunui at 9.45am we finally made it to the self proclaimed Republic of Whangamomona at 2.30pm. Two cows were acting as Immigration Officers and gave us the once over as we cruised over the border.
We paused to read the Heritage Trail sign dedicated to Alice King. In 1884 Alice moved with her husband and two children onto one of 111 blocks of land created by the NZ Government. Access to the land was described as primitive and services were nil. Alice raised her children and had another son before developing peritonitis in 1897. A doctor set out on horseback on the 65km journey from Stratford to treat Alice, unfortunately she died before he arrived. Trees planted to mark Alice's grave were inadvertently cut down in 1975. Alice's family campaigned for a Heritage Trail sign to be erected in her memory, and in 2008 their campaign proved successful.
As we entered Whangamomona Village we saw some dinky little carts sitting on the railway lines. Forgotten World Adventures offer rail cart tours running from 5.5 hours to 4 days.
We pulled up outside Whangamomona Hotel where you can stop for a meal and a beverage all year round (you can stay the night too). It was a welcome break for us and fortunately there were scones left to go with our tea. If a cold beer is what you're after there'll be a Whangamomona brew on tap.
If you're wondering why it's called the Republic of Whangamomona, it's because local district boundaries were changed in the late 1980's. Half of Whangamomona District remained under Taranaki but the other half joined Manawatu-Whanganui. Locals weren't impressed, especially as it happened without consultation.
The locals responded by declaring their independence at a meeting in the Whangamomona Hotel in 1988. Republic Day is celebrated biannually in January, festivities include possum skinning, gumboot throwing and the election of a President. As well as human Presidents (RIP Murt), Tai the poodle (photo left) has been in charge along with Billy the Goat. If you're looking for a unique souvenir get a Republic of Whangamomona passport stamp.
Whangamomona Village has been spruced up since our last visit and the front window of the old General Storekeepers is full of local memorabilia. A spotty roof marks Whanga Bridge House and if you're a camper, a powered site at the old school turned Whangamomona Camping Ground is $15, tent sites $10. There's a little playground for the kids and an 'outdoor gym' for the adults.
After six hours on the road we were keen to put the final 60km to Stratford behind us. We stopped at Strathmore Saddle which has two picnic tables roadside, on a clear day you can see all four mountains - Taranaki, Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. We captured a hazy Mount Ruapehu in the fading light.
We whistled through Stratford as we had accommodation booked in Inglewood, but from a previous visit we know that Stratford has at least one unusual attraction - the Glockenspiel on Broadway. Four times a day (10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm) Romeo and Juliet appear separately out of windows in the clock tower before reuniting on the balcony. (If you're interested in unusual clocks in New Zealand see Curious Clocks via thecuriouskiwi/blog). There is more than a hint of Shakespeare in Stratford as streets have Shakespearian names, you'll find the Visitor Information Centre on Prospero Place.
Travel Tips for the Forgotten World Highway
- There are no petrol stations on the highway, so make sure your petrol tank is full.
- Although the Forgotten World Highway is only 150km long there are plenty of twists and turns and four saddles to climb. It's not a road to drive if you're in a hurry, 12km of the highway is also unsealed, the unsealed road is easily managed if you drop your speed.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to drive the highway, it took us 7 hours with plenty of stops and detours.
- If you start your journey in Taumarunui and plan to visit Mt Damper Falls and other sites it's a good idea to have some lunch and drinks with you. Whangamomona Hotel is 88km from Taumarunui and is currently the only place open all year round where you can buy food and drinks. (Lauren's Lavender Farm is 15km from Taumarunui and has a cafe but it's closed in winter - reopens October).
- Cell phone coverage is almost non existent, try the high points like Nevin's Lookout if you need it.
- Book ahead if you want accommodation, especially at Whangamomona Hotel.
- There used to be a lack of toilets on the highway but now you will find long drops at Joshua Morgan's Grave and Mt Damper Falls (it's worth taking your own toilet paper just in case). There are public flush toilets in Whangamomona, and in Ohura (10km detour off the highway required).
- If you're not keen to drive the road but would like to travel slowly through the countryside on the straight and narrow have a look at Forgotten World Adventures. A speedy and exhilarating option is Forgotten World Jet, jet boat and rail cart combos are also an option.
- If you're interested in reading more about the history of the highway and some of its people see Once Upon a Time via Stuff.
- Not a travel tip as such but a conversation at our place in May 2020 - Me: "Should we do this drive again?" Mike: "Yeah, nah, tell people they might think it will take 5 hours but it will take them 10". An exaggeration, however I'd wager some of the most popular words spoken on this road trip are ........ "are we there yet?".
Comments to date: 29. Page 1 of 1.
Thank you for journaling your trip down the Forgotten Highway. We are so looking forward to travelling through it February!
What a wonderful travel description of a part of NZ I did not know existed.
Thanks for the description - heading through the Forgotten Highway next Saturday. My mother was born in Tahora in 1929. Her father immigrated from England and worked on the railway. I was told he did the explosives work for the Moki tunnel and several of the train tunnels. Looking forward to seeing the area my mother grew up in again.
We - me, my husband & his parents - travelled this road in a 6-berth camper van in 2010, after we read a recommendation as a ‘must see’ in the Lonely Planet book. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Hairy at times, but great fun & what memories!
Kathy & Chris Hatton
You missed a fantastic bush walk not far out of Taumarunui. You turn at the first little bridge you see on your left. Narrow road. About a 5min drive to the parking spot. there's clear, well maintained walkways, bridges, heights for views, really tall trees, bird song, burbling stream, following you along. It's a quick fix New Zealand Bush experience and absolutely stunning. Cheers. Robin Duff.
what a great read! planning to do this drive on my solo-cross island road trip as a canadian adventurer. thanks so much for the info.
Hi, thanks for the insight, is this trip doable with a caravan I’m wondering.
Looking forward to this drive in April. Thanks for such a great post!
I believe there are currently partial road closures, is the diversion tricky and how much more does it add to a journey?
Great post and it's really whetted my appetite. We'll be travelling from New Plymouth to Taupo in February and I'd love to drive this but I can get really bad vertigo on a road with sheer drops and no barrier. Can you tell me anything that might put my mind at rest? Thanks.
Adventurous drive on this route with my parents from Turangi to New Plymouth.
Some 52 years ago today I got married. We spent the first night of our married life in Wanganui and the next morning headed northward confidently. Alas we soon discovered we had taken a wrong turn and were heading for Taranaki. At Stratford we consulted our map and saw a reassuring red line offering what seemed to be a short cut to Taumaranui. However, we soon found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. We had discovered The Forgotten Highway! Alarm soon turned to delight. It was a marvellous adve... read more »
I was also brought up in Ohura where my father was a bushman, a coal miner and later a prison officer. I have fond memories of pig hunting, eeling and swimming in the river all summer long. Paradise!
Well back in the 50's and 60's i used to travel out with my grandparents to Kohuratahi were my auntie and uncle Barry and Doreen Rowe lived. They moved a few times. One place they moved to was Tangarakau. I used to feel the cold ,but they had big fire places. No power out there then.
This was an unforgettable accidental drive trying to get from Waiouru to New Plymouth...we followed Google Maps and after panicking at first that we were completely and utterly lost, finally began to enjoy the spectacular drive. We stopped at Joshua Morgan's grave and are really glad we did. What an amazing drive, I just wish we were really prepared for it! Kept on coming over a crest and thinking "this must be it", but no! Just kept going and going...we will definitely do it again, fully pr... read more »
You're welcome, hope you have a great trip.
Thanks for all descriptions and help. We are heading off tomorrow to travel the road. Really looking forward to it
I was bought up in Ohura & Used to Travel to High School In New Plymouth, So know this road well & all the Tunnels but was 30yrs ago & all gravel Roads brings back memories & I close my eyes & still see & feel the past, My Granddad was a Cattle drover & they lived at Tatu, Mangapara, on the road to Ohura, This to me will always be home & will Eventually be my final resting place blwing in the wind with all the mountains in View , The heart of the Country, May be called the forgotten highway , ... read more »
I have been promising myself another trip for the last 20 years. Did it first 1997, before the upgrade, in torrential rain, with washouts in a shaky rent a dent hire car. This time was brilliant sunshine. Stunning views and atmosphere, great lunch at Laurens Lavender farm and a first visit to Ohrua which I loved. This is the “re New Zealand”
This is a great description, and now can't wait to take on the adventure.
I enjoyed looking at the photos at the Tangarakau camping ground from the 1920's and 30's. It gave me some insight into how it was once a thriving railway community, so it's easy to imagine that Ohura would have been considered a thriving place back then too. I was surprised to see Ohura had a Cosmopolitan Club, it's great that it's been able to survive despite the dwindling population.
Eileen Dellma McLean
Born in Ohura, left for Auckland 1936. We went back on the train several times over the years, had relatives there, still no power at the house in the '40's. Went to New Plymouth from Auckland for the Military Tattoo several years ago, weather postponed it the night we were going, came along the Forgotten Highway to Ohura before returning to Auckland. My father worked on the tunnels when they were putting through the railway line. Ohura used to be a thriving town.
You're welcome. Whoever came up with the name Forgotten World Highway was bang on, that's just how it feels to me, and spectacular views for sure.
Wow! Thank you for sharing.. I have have travelled this road many times to get to Stratford and Eltham.. Spectacular views.. Theresa's no other road like it.. This road takes you into the journey.