I won’t forget our journey down New Zealand’s Forgotten World Highway. Also known as Highway 43, it is considered one of the most dangerous roads in New Zealand. So you may be wondering, why was it on your New Zealand Trip Itinerary. Well, Chuck found a travel guide for it, became enamored with all the possibilities and added it. I didn’t discover how dangerous it was until after we got home and doing research for this post.
Forgotten World Highway
Our first order of business was stopping for coffee and chicken nibbles in Taumarunui. While Greg was determining which chicken nibbles deal he wanted, the rest of us got the low down on the Forgotten World Highway from the cafe’s customers. “It is a middling road” and another chimed in, “We did it yesterday. Today we are going back but by helicopter.” I had a nagging feeling the comments about the middling road were important.
With chicken nibbles in hand, we waved away the nagging feeling and headed toward the Forgotten World Highway.
Just a few miles into our journey on the Forgotten World Highway we stopped at Lauren’s Lavenders. Lauren mentioned a trail to the river while we were buying our lavender soap. We scampered around the lavender field to find it. The eight-year-old boy in Chuck couldn’t resist the rope used to climb the riverbank. I’m not sure Lauren had this in mind when she suggested we check out the trial.
Soon the conversation from the cafe was making sense. The Forgotten World Highway is a narrow, winding road. It snakes through deep crevices cut into the earth.
Peeking out the car window often brought on vertigo. Road washouts and rockfalls were common. I was terrified our car wheel would kick off the road. Hoping to calm vertigo which was washing over me, I opened the car window. A wave of jungle noise filled the car. The loud thrum of the cicadas and crickets did not help with vertigo. Occasionally a squawking parrot or a lone moo from a cow would break through the din.
Hair roller curves were common. Chuck tapped into his fighter jet skills to channel Hans Sol. He was banking the curves and flying down the Forgotten Highway fueling my brewing nausea. Thankfully there was a pit stop coming up.
Joshua Morgan’s Grave
Joshua Morgan’s grave was our next stop. Josh was a surveyor tasked with mapping the trail which would become the Forgotten World Highway. He died around 1893 from stomach cramps. They buried him where he died.
After studying the informational sign, we found the trailhead. Within seconds on the trail, Dianne said, “It is like Jurassic Park!” Yes, I agreed, it definitely had that vibe.
I was in the lead bushwhacking the trail until I heard scratching and scurrying noises from the underbrush. Something scrambled over my foot. Screaming, I retreated to the back of the pack. Bushwhacking the trail no longer seemed like a good idea. I’d like to believe it was the elusive Kiwi bird and not a weasel that scampered over my foot.
Cows and Sheep
Thousands of cows dotted the landscape, but we didn’t see many barns. We counted the cows and categorized them by breed. Eventually, the conversation turned to practical things like how do the farmers milk so many cows without barns. The conversation took a new turn when we spotted an ATV with at least 5 dogs crowded on the back and a barn with someone shearing sheep. Chuck refused to stop so I could take pictures! But I snapped this sheep picture in the Burger King Drive-Up.
The Hobbit’s Hole was top on our list of things to see on the Forgotten World Highway. I was slightly worried we wouldn’t find it.
It wasn’t hard to find as it is a tunnel cutting through the Moki Saddle and if you’re on New Zealand’s State Highway 43, it isn’t optional. The narrow single-track tunnel is about 180 meters long and 7 meters high. About two decades ago, a witty New Zealander nailed up a sign re-naming the Moki Tunnel as the “Hobbit Hole”. This nickname is still used today. Moki Tunnel is its official name.
Republic of Whangamomona
Try saying Whangamomona three times fast. Even with coaching from the barmaid, I couldn’t say it once. The main attraction was supposed to be getting our passports stamped at the Whangamomona Hotel.
“What, wait a minute,” you may be thinking. “How did a tiny town New Zealand become a Republic?” The Backpacker Guide NZ has the answer:
It all began in 1988 when the local council planned to split Whangamomona into two regions: Taranaki and Manawatu-Wanganui districts.
Much to the locals’ dismay, as most of them associated themselves as part of Taranaki and they were not consulted about the change first, the residents decided to declare Whangamomona as a republic complete with a president!
It was while eating lunch at the hotel that Greg spied the Whangamomona Hotel bar mat, which turned into the main attraction.
While Chuck and I experimented with the minced meat, Greg perseverated over buying a Whangamomona bar mat. Dianne was perplexed about why he wanted it since they don’t have a bar in their house. He didn’t buy one and almost immediately regretted it. Going back wasn’t an option. Thankfully you can buy them online!
The “hair roller turns” as Greg called them had us all a bit stressed, so turning around and driving the Forgotten World Highway in reverse was not an option. An alternative route home was a necessity. As we left Stratford we headed south towards Patea.
“Does anyone want to check out the beach?” Chuck asked. Tired of the car, we all agreed that a walk on the beach sounded great. What we didn’t know, Patea Beach has iron sand. It was my first black sand beach. Thankfully a retired chemistry teacher who lives in his camper happened to be parked near the beach. He was delighted to share his knowledge about the properties of iron sand and had a magnet ready to demonstrate. Clearly not his first rodeo.
After exploring the beach in Patea we spotted what looked like a whale skeleton. Of course, we had to stop and check it out.
It wasn’t a fancy swing set but an important sculpture and is called the Graden of Tutunui. Its story is worth a read.
The story of Tutunui the whale comes from the Pacific islands and also links to Patea traditions. The whale Tutunui is the pet of the great chief Tinirau. When a son is born to Tinirau, the tohunga (priest) Kae is called upon to perform the birth ceremonies and is fed a morsel of flesh from the whale. Tinirau allows Tutunui to take Kae home over the sea. Remembering the succulent taste of the whale, Kae manipulates the death of Tutunui, and cooks his flesh in an oven, wrapped in koromiko leaves, which hold in the fat and flavour. Kae is found out by Tinirau and put to death.
Tena te kakara o Tutunui – There rises the savoury smell of Tutunui
This whakatauaki (proverb) is handed down as a moral lesson that means we should not covet someone else’s goods or enjoy another person’s property.
Our alternative route home gave us an opportunity to admire and take a few photos of the volcanoes in Tongariro National Park which is the home of one of New Zealand’s best day hikes, the Tongariro crossing.
Racing against the clock, we barely made it back to Lake Taupo to snap a sunset picture.
What an unforgettable experience. Have you traveled down the Forgotten World Highway in New Zealand? Let us know what you thought about your experience in the comments below.
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Links to our photo galleries where we have almost a thousand pictures.
Be sure to read our other stories from our trip to New Zealand including:
- Our 20-day first-timer itinerary to New Zealand
- The mysterious volcanic White Island
- A visit with the hobbits in Hobbiton
- Heli-hiking on Fox Glacier
- Hiking in New Zealand Easy Jaunts
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