Hiring a car or a campervan is easy in New Zealand and even in winter, snow and ice rarely make driving difficult, especially on North Island. Why not follow the intriguing Forgotten World Highway this summer? This 150km road offers a rollercoaster ride up and over some of North Island’s hilliest landscapes; following a route once traversed on horseback by the first European settlers. Here’s a brief guide to the highlights of the Forgotten World Highway.
Beginning Your Forgotten World Highway Journey
Travelling south west, you’ll begin your journey in Taumarunui. The town’s riverside location means there’s plenty of opportunities for water-based activities such as fishing, jet boat rides and kayaking. Following the Forgotten World Highway, you’ll pass the Whanganui National Park; at Te Maire Reserve there’s an easy two-hour hike that will give you a chance to stretch your legs. Another worthy stop is at Nevin’s Lookout, where you’ll be treated to panoramic views across the rolling hills and fertile farmland which characterise this region. Equally unmissable is the breathtaking Tangarakau Gorge surrounded by native forest.
Mount Damper Falls
Further along the SH43 – that’s the road’s official name – you can visit one of North Island’s highest waterfalls. It’s a short detour up Moki Forest Road to Mount Damper Falls, which cascade over an 85 metre drop. Retracing your route, this part of the Forgotten World Highway requires a little care; its gravel surface makes it an accident black spot by Kiwi standards though you’ll come to no harm if you exercise caution and drive to the conditions. Just before you reach Tahora, you’ll pass through the Moki Tunnel; a single lane tunnel known to locals as the Hobbit’s Hole; in it there are fossilised giant crabs.
After crossing the Tahora Saddle, next up is Whangamomona, a charming village whose historic hotel makes for a convenient overnight stop. In keeping with the frontier mentality once the norm in these parts, the village declared itself an independent republic in 1989. Past presidents have included Billy Gumboot the Goat who was said to have secured a win by eating his rivals’ ballots and Tai the Poodle who survived an assassination attempt while in office. The hotel will provide you with a local passport before you re-enter New Zealand and continue along the Forgotten World Highway.
Leaving Whangamomona, you’ll drive along the remaining three saddles: Pohokura, Whangamomona and Stratford. This is verdant dairy country. The road will lead you towards Stratford; the jumping off point for Egmont National Park and the end of the Forgotten World Highway. While you’re there, listen out for New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower; which performs scenes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet four times a day.