Getting lost, never felt so right.
Hidden between the towns of Stratford and Taumaranui in the North Island of New Zealand, lies a road trip, so lonely and wild, it’s easy to imagine dinosaurs popping out, as you turn the corner.
The Forgotten World Highway is 150 kilometers (93 miles) of partially dirt road, through virgin forest, which caresses the Whanganui River (Wh is generally pronounced as F for Maori names).
You can drive for hours and not see another car; there’s only one town along the way, which is basically just a pub, and it’s so remote if you ask any New Zealander about it, chances are your question with be answered with a blank stare of bewilderment.
There’s an official tourist map, and guide (you can pick up for free from any Tourist office) which includes places of interest along the way. Highlights include a lavender farm, waterfalls and historic ruins but it’s the single-lane tunnel, filled with glow worms that is not of this earth. At night, you can see glow worms lining the entrance of the tunnel, as stars fill the sky above.
Having completed the Forgotton World Highway in both directions, twice during the day, and again at night.
Roughly halfway along is Whangamomona, a village famous for declaring themselves a republic, and visitors are expected to buy a local passport ($5) to pass through. New owners took over the pub a few years ago and renovated it. You can stay overnight at the pub which makes for a nice pit-stop, and gives you a chance to meet the locals, who ride their horses to get to the pub. They offer a simple menu and are pretty much you’re only lunch stop option.
Driving the Forgotten World Highway is not on the to do lists for most tourists, but that’s what makes it unique. You’re getting to see New Zealand nature before Europeans arrived, and there’s no better escapism, than traveling back in time; entering remote wilderness, unchanged for generations.
There’s limited cell-phone reception and in the modern world of always being switched on, it’s nice to know there’s places, where the modern world, does not exist. It also offers an opportunity for less abled people, to experience raw New Zealand nature, because most tourist stops are close to the main road.
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Stratford is modeled after Stratford in England, complete with Tudor style buildings and streets named after Shakespearean characters. It’s quirky but New Plymouth is where most people stay which features modern hotels, an excellent museum, outdoor wind sculptures by famed local artist Len Lye and ancient hot springs.
Taumarunui is great for fishing, kayaking and golf, or it’s about two hours to Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Black Water Rafting.
If your heading to New Plymouth, if driving from Taumaranui to Stratford; there’s a turn-off (before Whangmomona) you can take which leads to the coast road, which will then bring you to New Plymouth. It’s windy and steep in parts but equally spectacular, taking you past remote farmland, dense forest and huge boulders.
Regardless of what the tourist brochures or google maps will tell you, it will take much longer than you anticipate to do this trip along highway #43 because you’ll want to stop often to take photos, it’s slow going because it’s partially dirt road and for a drive as beautiful as this, you’ll want to take your time and enjoy it.
Good To Know
Be sure to fill up with fuel before you start the journey because there’s no petrol stations along the way. Even though it’s only 150km, you should allow a minimum of half a day, but a full day is ideal to do the drive comfortably, taking into account stops along the way. GPS will try and divert you the main routes so it’s of little use.
Take a picnic and plenty of water, because there’s only one option for food, the Whangmomona pub, and if it’s shut there’s nothing else. If you leave Taumaranui in the morning, the Lavender farm has a cafe which should be open, but it’s always best to have a backup.
If it’s hot, there’s a couple of places where you can pop into the Whanganui River for a swim (look for boat ramp signs), but check conditions because if there’s been lots of rain, there can be strong undercurrents, debris and hidden dangers like potholes.
There’s a couple of companies that can take you part-way along the Forgotton World Highway including cycling tours, a purpose built railway pod and kayaking adventures.
If you would like more detailed information about New Zealand, you can download the Lonely Planet Guidebook for New Zealand (in e-Book format), now on iTunes.
For general brochures about New Zealand and a map, contact Tourism New Zealand.
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