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!
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!
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.
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
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!
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?