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Forgotten World Highway

Thursday, September 25, 2008
The Forgotten World Highway is in the heart of the Taranaki region of New Zealand. It follows a mixture of ancient Maori trails and pioneering settler roads, winding for 155km between Stratford and Taumarunui. It can be driven in either direction in just under three hours.

It was once the main route through the area, but the development of two major highways meant The Forgotten World Highway is passed over and missed. The new name somehow seems more romantic than its former name, Highway 43.

Driving through tiny villages is like a step back in time. The road is made up of 144km of sealed surface and 11km of gravel, and passes through untouched native bush, regenerating bush, farmland and forest. It is isolated and very beautiful and there are points of historic interest along the way.

Getaway began the drive in the small town of Stratford. Its population is around 5300 and it is mainly visited by those wanting a base for exploring Egmont National Park. Following the Shakespearian theme of the town's name, streets are named after characters or places from the Bard's writings. It's central attraction is the Romeo and Juliet Glockenspiel clock tower, which performs at 10am, 1pm and 3pm each day.

From there, it's a 20-minute drive to Strathmore Saddle, a great outlook point. There are four such saddles on the drive and this one gives fantastic views of four mountains: Egmont/Taranaki to the west and Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe to the east.

The saddle lies close to a fault line and in the surrounding hills there is evidence of shell rock containing fossils of marine life deposited when the saddle was part of the ocean floor millions of years ago.

Another 10 minutes takes you to Makahu Tunnel. Opened in 1907 to give better access to the township of Makahu, it collapsed in 1919 and was rebuilt in a more robust manner in 1921. The narrow tunnel gives access through the Makahu and Puniwhakau Valleys and onto Whanganui National Park. It is surrounded by the Kirai Scenic Reserve.

The next tiny village is most interesting. "The Republic of Whangamomona" is New Zealand's only self-styled republic and behaves as if is a law unto itself. It all started in 1989 when residents disapproved of local government plans to move its boundaries. Presidential elections are held annually, and the prestigious post has been held by a goat and a poodle in the past.

Visitors wishing to enter and stop must purchase a passport to "ensure safe passage". Passports cost NZ$3 at the hotel, and they do accept major currencies and do not charge commission.

Be warned — if you try to enter The Republic of Whangamomona without a passport you could be held-up at the border. Hold-ups are usually done by school children in costume who escort you to the hotel to make the all-important entry permit.

There are only 40 residents in the republic, which was once a thriving coal mining town. The Whangamomona Hotel is 100 years old and is a watering hole for locals. There are 11 rooms for overnight stays.

From Whangamomona, the highway leads up to Tahora Saddle. At 300m, it's the highest point on the highway and you can enjoy a coffee from the Kaieto Café while enjoying the 360-degree panorama. You will see the Central North Island mountains — Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe — and the surrounding valleys.

Fifteen minutes on, is the Tahora Tunnel and a further 20 minutes along is Mt Damper Falls. Most people like to detour to see the highest falls on the North Island. They are a tributary of the Tongaporutu River and fall year round. They are so remote you will more than likely experience them all by yourself.

Tangarakau Gorge comes up next. It's around 20km long and the drive follows a river cutting through native bush and high cliffs. At the end you arrive at Tangarakau village, which was settled in the early 1900s and boomed in 1925 when workers arrived to build the railway.

The wonderful experience of driving along the Forgotten World Highway is like visiting New Zealand's pioneering days, a world where history and heritage are paramount, but Mother Nature firmly holds the upper hand.


Whangamomona is in the Taranaki area on the south-western side of New Zealand's North Island.


A passport for the Whangamomona costs around $3.

Europcar has car hire starting at $35 a day.

Best Western is offering two nights' stay for the price of one at selected properties throughout New Zealand. This is valid for stays until December 21, 2008 and the first 100 callers will receive a bottle of wine and chocolates. Blackout days apply and this offer is subject to availability. Quote "Getaway New Zealand".

Air New Zealand has special fares to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin or Hamilton. You'll have to be quick — they are only available until 11.59pm September 27, 2008 AEST and conditions apply.

One-way fares from:

  • Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne $229
  • Adelaide $359
  • Perth $509

Prices correct at September 25, 2008.

For further information

Whangamomona Hotel
RD 26 Stratford
New Zealand
Ph: +64 6 762 5823
Fax: +64 6 762 5823

Kaieto Café
Tahora Saddle
New Zealand
Ph: +64 6 762 5858
Fax: +64 6 762 5858

Ph: 1300 131 390

Best Western
Ph: 1300 WESTERN

Air New Zealand

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