The Forgotten World Highway
The ‘Forgotten World Highway’ is the road from Taumarunui to Stratford, or vice versa, in the Taranaki/Wanganui regions. It traverses a part of New Zealand that in the past was very remote. It encapsulates rugged countryside with roads that are based on the original pioneers tracks from the late 1800s/early 1900s. Consequently the route largely follow the contours of the land, up and down the hills and also through at least one tunnel. It is a very peaceful ride with only one town on route – Whangamomona.
After breakfast and packing the tent, it was time to hit the road again. I loaded up with extra food in Taumarunui before leaving town. I was unsure what was ahead, but I was buzzing with the thought of a new adventure.
The day began somewhat slowly as I gently stretched and warmed the leg muscles ready for the hills ahead. The initial 20 kilometres roughly followed the Whanganui River so the road was not too bad. However, there are several short sharp hills to be overcome along the way. They were tough and rapidly sapped the energy. I was beginning to worry if I had enough water…
Near the top of one of these hills, I met another cyclist, a local, heading to Taumarunui for his weekly shop. His bike was amazing – it had lots of aerodynamic additions to try and streamline the bike. The gearing was something else with a single front chain ring that was 72 tooth! Yikes I thought, he must be super strong to get up some of these hills… An absolute character, to say the least.
The weather was playing its part as I was riding in warm temperatures, with cloudy overhead conditions. Just perfect.
Then the first of the three saddles to be climbed between Taumarunui and Whangamomona rose up in front of me. That is steep! I will admit that a few stops were had on the hills, but no walking!
At times, it seemed that I was always climbing or getting only a brief respite on a downhill before the next climb. Flat roads did not seem to exist! This part of the ride is challenging and arduous, but beautiful scenery as you crest each hill.
The soft green hills that surround you curve into the distance. Our pioneers have done wonderful work ‘breaking in’ this land which a hundred or more years ago would have all been forest. Today sheep and a few cattle graze the farm land.
A section of gravel road (approximately 12 kms) passes through the Tangarakau Reserve, an area of native bush that hugs the road. There are many native trees alongside the road and the nearby Tangarakau River dreamily accompanied me as I rode. I stopped by a bridge where there was a picnic table and enjoyed my lunch. An English couple travelling in a camper van joined me at the table for a chat and to enjoy the birdsong. This gravel section of the road is just gently uphill. It was a nice change after the tar seal road.
Back onto the tar seal road, I soon came round a bend and in front of me was the Moki Tunnel. It was one-way traffic only and I quickly zoomed through on the slightly downhill gradient. I was later informed that the original tunnel was not as high inside as it is today. Apparently when the higher stock trucks began being used, they were too tall to fit through the existing tunnel. However, the authorities came up with nifty solution to the problem – instead of lifting the roof of the tunnel, they LOWERED the road surface – clever!
From some of the hill tops I could see the old railway line deep in the valley. The railway is no longer used and I thought how it would make a wonderful rail trail for cyclists! It would certainly beat having to ride up and over some of the hills!!
I rolled along and into Whangamomona. Quiet, very quiet, the Pub proudly sitting at the convergence of the roads. A few buildings, houses, closed shops, but not much else. I cruised down the road to the campsite, which is an old school that closed in 1979. There is even a swimming pool.
I got chatting to a Swiss family who were camping and travelling New Zealand. They invited me to join them for a camp dinner – delicious. Their two boys (4 & 5 years old) had better english than their parents and acted as translators between us!
The next morning the young boys were amazed when the man who managed the campsite arrived on his horse – no saddle – to collect the camp fees.
I decided to have an extra day off and explore more of the local area, and visit the hotel. I enjoyed having a look around, talking to the locals and learning a wee bit of the local history.
The next morning I broke camp early, about 7:00 a.m. I was keen to get up and over the Whangamomona Saddle before the day got too warm. It was initially a flat few kilometres before the road took a right turn and the saddle began immediately. The climb is constant as it winds it way up the hill. There is no relief. The quiet of the early morning and the surrounding native bush was absolute magic. This particular climb for me was the highlight of this road. I stopped at the top to enjoy the silence.
The road from the top of the saddle to Stratford is mainly a downward gradient. There are more hills to be crested along the way, but each is a bit less than the previous.
I eventually rolled out of the hills and onto the flat plains that signify the beginning of the Taranaki region. Mount Egmont/Taranaki loomed up ahead leading me on. But drat, the wind was in my face!! How mean is that…
Thinking that I would take a break from the wind, magically a lavender farm cafe happened at the right time. I promptly rolled in. Enjoying a coffee, I got talking to the owner and was then invited to the lavender oil processing facility just behind the cafe. The manufacturing process was explained and I was most impressed with the hugely manual process. An incredible amount of raw lavender is required to make just one litre of lavender oil. More than three hours later I departed the lavender farm cafe!
Stratford was a few kilometres down the road and I have completed the ‘Forgotten World Highway’, all 155 kilometres.