Great kiwi driving routes: the Forgotten World Highway

You may not know that three quarters of New Zealand’s population live on the North Island, although its neighbour to the south is roughly a third larger. That’s why many overseas visitors seek isolation and a sense of remoteness on the South Island. That is not to say there aren’t any remote, secluded and sparsely populated areas on the North Island – quite the contrary!

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The Forgotten World Highway

The Forgotten World Highway, or SH 43, runs between the towns of Stratford and Taumarunui and is roughly 150 km long. Don’t be fooled by this number though; it takes a few hours to drive the distance as the road winds through the lush green forests, farming land and mountains. A spectacular place for nature photography, but not a good place to run out of gasoline, by the way, as the next petrol station is in… you guessed it, Taumarunui!

Pohokura Saddle

Pohokura Saddle on the Forgotten World Highway. Photo by asgw, on Flickr

I think the Forgotten World Highway definitely qualifies as off the beaten track. After spending a fantastic week along Taranaki’s Surf Highway, exploring New Plymouth and all those great beaches to go, well, surfing, we decided to go inland to see what’s going on on the other side of Taranaki, or Mt Egmont, which had been a constant feature on the horizon for a week.

Mt Taranaki from SH43

Mt Taranaki from the Forgotten World Highway. Photo by 111emergency, on Flickr

I dare say that the Forgotten World Highway is the North Island’s inland pendant to the South Island’s coastal Southern Scenic Route when it comes to wilderness, remoteness and solitude. You start out on SH43 and quickly notice how the dairy country changes, farms become more and more rare until there is just nobody else around. Not even other traffic, which was surprising since we drove the road in February.

As the road winds over mountain saddles, through thick and untouched forests and alongside Tangarakau Gorge, you start getting this kind of mysterious feeling. Then you hit the 12km stretch of the road that is unsealed, and you wonder where you’re going. Rainforests, unspoilt scenery, wild pigs – it’s like you’re in a scene from Jurassic Park. Minus T-Rex, of course. It’s exciting and peaceful at the same time, being surrounded by nothing but green native bush. And while you’re still contemplating the isolation, landscapes and lack of signs of civilization, another kiwi oddity just pops out of nowhere:

the Republic of Whangamomona

Welcome to the Republic of Whangamomona

The Republic of Whangamomona on the Forgotten World Highway. Photo by asgw, on Flickr

Whangamomona is a tiny settlement that declared itself a republic in 1989 as a form of protest when the village became part of a different district. Residents and thousands of visitors celebrate Republic Day biannually in January and commemorate their independence day with hilarious activities such as gumboot throwing, gutbuster races and whip cracking!

Many surprises await on the Forgotten World Highway

There’s plenty to see on the Forgotten World Highway – native bush, beech and podocarp forest, the Moki Tunnel, spectacular views of Mt Taranaki, walking tracks and waterfalls. SH43 is yet another testimony to New Zealand’s diversity and ever changing landscapes. Those kiwis even manage to pack a whole Republic in there, too! Where else do you get such a variety on a 150km stretch of road?

What’s your favourite driving route in New Zealand?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  12 comments for “Great kiwi driving routes: the Forgotten World Highway

  1. 31 March, 2011 at 18:04

    This looks like a great route!!!! We are heading to NZ in about a month and have hired a camper van so I think we will try this route. Hopefully getting a visa for Whangamomona won’t be a problem haha!

    • 31 March, 2011 at 18:16

      Hey Jozef! So you’re off to NZ in a few weeks, so exciting! If you guys want to surf, check out Taranaki’s Surf Highway. If you drive towards Taranaki from Taupo you can also take the Forgotten World Highway to get to the Surf HWY. Looking forward to reading all your NZ posts!

  2. 31 March, 2011 at 21:12

    Seriously, you need to talk to immigration? Or was that a protest sign?

    • 31 March, 2011 at 21:47

      There’s a whole proper booth for border control underneath that sign, but you’ll find it mostly unmanned, unless you’re there on Republic Day!

  3. 1 April, 2011 at 00:00

    State Highway 6 between Wanaka and Fox/Franz Josef Glacier in the South Island. You pass Lake Hawea, the most spectacular lake and setting I’ve ever seen. Then going through Mount Aspiring Natural Park you can see countless waterfalls and rapid flowing streams and rivers. No gas stations/dairies for 100 km at a time too!

    • 1 April, 2011 at 00:21

      Great tip, Aaron, thank you! I agree, SH6 is spectacular. If I ever put a post up where I had to rank the best driving routes, I’d have a REALLY hard time. Lake Hawea is beautiful, there’s also a great DOC campsite there.

  4. 1 April, 2011 at 22:56

    i think i want to be doing this just because of the name: “forgotten world highway”. looks pretty damn special. nothing like an epic roadie through incredible scenery and tiny republics.

    • 1 April, 2011 at 23:06

      You’re right, it is special. So glad we drove that route. Taranaki is quite amazing in that it has two fantastic driving routes – this one and the surf highway!

  5. 2 April, 2011 at 06:30

    I wonder if they would stamp your passport at Whagamomona? And do they call themselves Whagamomonians? :>)

    • 4 April, 2011 at 11:00

      How I would love to have a stamp of Whangamomona in my passport! Whangamomonians, Whangamomonites… I’m going to have to clarify that next time I’m there!

  6. 3 April, 2011 at 23:43

    Great post! It is the isolation surrounded by beauty that makes NZ so great. And I agree about Hwy 6–that was my favorite drive on either island.

    • 4 April, 2011 at 11:03

      Thanks, Evan! Totally agree with you, SH6 is spectacular. I wish I had taken more photos on the way!

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