The Forgotten World Highway
After our little exploration of Mt. Taranaki we needed to get to the small town of Pipiriki for a one-day-paddling trip in the Whanganui River. To drive there we could either take the SH3 and SH4 and drive fairly fast, or do a scenic route along the "Forgotten World Highway", the SH43, which is more a rural road actually and not even completely paved. That would of course take us a bit longer, but also promised to be more interesting.
Since were were in adventure mode anyways we couldn''t leave out this opportunity to experience some rural New Zealand and did take the SH43. The Forgotten World Highway is known as New Zealands Highway with the lightest traffic, Wikipedia for example says there are only approximately 150 cars driving through each day. The approximately 155km long highway takes at least three hours to drive from one end to the other, and it has no gas stations. A few kilometers pretty much in the middle are still unpaved gravel road.
The beginning of the highway as driven from the Stratford end first led through green rolling hills, and across a few small saddles (Strathmore Saddle, Pohokura Saddle, Whangamomona Saddle). On the way many rest areas with signs explaining the history of the area invited for picnic stops. There are a few sights that we could have visited which would have required driving a few kilometeres off the main highway - for example the "Bridge to Somewhere", a brother to the famous Bridge to Nowhere that we planned to see the next day. We had to skip those due to timing issues, and only visited the places that were right by the road.
We knew about Whangamomona before we started driving the highway, but we still thought it was really funny once we got there. Since we almost missed the roadsing announcing the entry of the Republic when we first drove by, we even turned around and drove back to take a nice picture of it.
Then we drove into town to go visit the Whangamomona Hotel, "Home of the Republic", to get our passports stamped and to have a coffee. And it really turned out to be an exceptional little town.
The story goes, that Whangamomona declared itself a Republic after the district boundaries had been changed by the government, and parts of the Whangamomona District then belonged to the Manawatu District, even though they associated themselves with the Taranaki District. Since the residents disliked that, they decided to declare independence (which was, of course, never offically approved). Still the town holds a biannual "Republic Day", where the new president is elected. Fun fact about that: so far mostly poodles, turtles and other kinds of animals have been president of the Republic. During the famous Republic Day the tiny town of 40 residents, sometimes gets as many as 3000 visitors.
On the remainder of the drive we stopped a few more times because of interesting viewpoints, but not so much for sights.
Right beside the road there's Morgan´s Grave – the grave of the surveyor who actualy surveyed the route throught area. It's not that spectacular though.
Then there's the gravel road part of the highway, that slowed us down a bit, and the Moki Tunnel. It's basically just a small one-way-tunnel which was driven through the rock. It's very raw. Above the entrance is a small sign declaring it to be the "Hobbits Hole" - the name the locals gave to the tunnel.
The end of the Forgotten World Highway is Tauramanui. We stopped there to buy some groceries and to use the public WIFI at the library and then conituned towards Raetihi and further to Pipiriki.
By the time we got there it was already starting to get dark. We stayed the night at the campground of the tour operator that would take us on our Whanganui River Tour the next day.