“The journey is the destination”
So after 1hr 1/2 or so we arrived in Taumarunui and turned left off Route 4 onto Route 43- NZ’s 155km Forgotten World Highway. Its NZ’s oldest touring route joining Taumarunui with Stratford. 12 km of it is still unsealed roads and there no petrol stations or food shops along the way. So we filled up the tank and ventured West hoping for the best! The road was slow, very slim and windy. We were heading into proper NZ backcountry and man did we feel it! We were travelling through some stunning scenery though, and stopped off at Nevins Lookout which gave us panoramic views of the Central North Island. Bizarre landscape looking like a green grass Pavlova top- lots and lots of little green peaks! Next up was Tangarakau Gorge. The road was unsealed and we felt sorry for our little car crunching through the gravel. The scenery was something out of Jurassic Park. The road was wrapped with steep sides covered in thick foliage and the road was so thin, we were pleased we didn’t pass too many people on our way! We then went through a really cool tunnel on Moki Road called ‘Hobbits Hole’. It’s just 4.5m tall, single lane and 180m long with mud walls and timber ceiling. A proper little tunnel for Hobbit sized cars! It was built in 1936 and lowered in 1989 to allow access for trucks, but it is still super tiny. And then it was onto the village of Whangamomona through more windy, thin roads. As we arrived in the tiny village we both said in unison “where the hell are we!” Whangamomona village was first established in 1895 and was once a bustling frontier town with 300 residents and providing a lots of key services for the hardy farmers trying to wrestle a living from the bush surrounding it. The population has now since declined to 30 residents with all the shops closed except for the iconic Whangamomona Hotel/Pub. The welcome sign actually says “Welcome, please stay and add to our population”! So we entered the pub in the middle of nowhere, realising our phones had no reception, and asked at the bar if we could use their phone. My accent and non-farming attire soon unmasked me as an ‘outsider’ and she enquired further who I wanted to call, where I was staying etc. With Hedd in the toilet (who had all this info) I had to say, like a plonker, that I didn’t know their names, just the wife’s brother who was called Gwyn and no I didn’t know his surname. She knew instantly who I was staying with (the Hutchinson’s) and consulted her A4 list of all the families in the area with their phone numbers and dialed Gwyn saying to come pick us up! Now that what I call a community hub pub! Gwyn arrived 20 mins later (my goodness where were we staying!) and we catched up over a couple of ciders. No worry about drink and driving here…the nearest police were in Stratford 1hr 1/2 away and their visits to the area was twice a year at most! We then made our way to Gwyn’s sisters farm 10 mins along route 43 and then left off the road onto an unsealed road for 20 mins. So just to the left in the middle of nowhere, from the middle of nowhere! So a bit of context maybe required. Gwyn and Hedd are friends from Secondary School. Ceri is Gwyn’s sister and married to Kiwi called Daniel but everyone calls him ‘Pork’. They met in Ruthin whilst Pork was over doing a Shearing Season in Wales. They fell in love (awww) and then she moved over to NZ, to Whangamomona where Pork’s farm was, and has been here ever since (10 years). Gwyn’s been travelling around Oz/NZ and was helping out at the farm and invited us to stay so here we were! So the farm was in a lovely spot and Ceri greeted us with a big home cooked meal of roast chicken, mass and peas- yum after weeks of soup and beans on toast! Oh about the food. As I said there are no shops on the Forgotten World Highway. So all food comes from the Farm or the big food shop Ceri does once a month in Stratford. They have a big freezer for all the milk and bread etc! For fuel, they have their own fuel tank which gets filled up periodically by a big tank! Fair play, sounds tough but Ceri loves it and her 3 boys, Jed (10), Max (7) and Gus (1 1/2) are constantly outside being how boys should be. Great!
Next morning we had a lie in, enjoying sleeping in a proper bed for the first time since Auckland. With a duvet yey! We headed out late morning, meeting Ceri on the way. All communication is word of mouth or on the landline phone so we told her where we were going and when we were due back so she would know when to be in. Felt like the early 1990’s, arranging to meet up with friends ‘by Disney store’ in Plymouth city centre! So we were heading to Mt Damper Falls and we would be due back at noon! So after a 40 min drive along windy, unsealed roads we arrived at Mt Damper Falls car park and then walked the 20 mins to the falls. At 85m it is NZ North Island’s second highest waterfall and it had rained over night so their plenty of water crashing down into the pool. The water would eventually find itself to the Tasmin Sea. It was a really lovely waterfall in a very secluded point. We then headed back to the farm for lunch (cheese toasties-yum!) and then Ceri got the call that “the hay was ON”! , as they say “make hay while the sun shines” so there was no procrastinating, we all jumped in the car and made our way down to the field. So why were we ‘making hay’. Well the farmers in the area normally have to hire labour to load and transport hay from their fields to their storage barns each year. But instead in Whangamomona, the parents and children of the school do this instead and the farmer then pays 60 cents per bail to the school. This then funds school trips and educational resources. Really great initiative. So the farmer was half way through the field making all the bundles in his tractor and then all us lot rolled the bails into piles for the 4×4 trailer trucks to come around and load them and take them to the barn. It was hard going but great to be involved and that field gave about 400 bails so $240 for the school- not bad at all, and they still had plenty more farmers field to do so a nice little earner for the school each year! Afterwards the governors of the local primary school put on a BBQ for all the volunteers in the field, plus free beer! So we all sat around eating, drinking and chatting. Real community spirit in action. We then all headed back to Ceri’s farm to get ready for the ‘big friday night out’ at the local pub in Whangamomona (20 mins drive away!) The whole family came, including little Gus, and we played pool and chatted about all different things, but it soon got back to the subject of farming!
Next lunchtime after some more cheese toasties, we went on our way, saying a fond farewell to Ceri, Gwyn and the family farm. We got our passports stamped at the Pub on the way out and then made our way to Stratford. Ooh a bit of explanation Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1989 after community outrage at local government boundary reshuffle. They have their own presidential elections each year but from what I can gather these presidents tend to be goats or dogs! As we left the village the sign said “You are now leaving Whangamomona, welcome back to NZ!” So the rest of the forgotten highway was just as windy and thin as the last bit and we arrived in Wanganui late afternoon on the West coast. We stayed at a Top 10 Holiday Park in a dorm overlooking Wanganui river and just chilled at the campsite. It was a bank holiday weekend in NZ so there was a local festival going on so we shared our campsite with a lot of beautifully restored vintage cars. The next day (22nd) Hedd got up at 6am to watch the Liverpool game and I sat by the river with a cuppa and watched the rowers on the river. Sculling seems a lot bigger here than sweep. But I did see a women’s 8 row past with their coach in the launch. Reminded me of my Sunday mornings back in Chester. But of course we were loads better than this crew [; ) ] Due to Liverpool losing 3-1 to Bolton, the final drive to Wellington, NZ Capital, was a sullen one! But we arrived safe and sound around lunchtime after putting the car through the car wash to hide the fact that we had obviously been on a lot of unsealed roads (not allowed in our rental apparently-oops!) Dumping our stuff at Downtown Backpackers by the Waterfront in Wellington, we dropped the car at Apex and made the walk back in the rain to the Hostel. Boo- bad weather again. The hostel was huge- 6 floors of accommodation and communal areas. It was a bit too big and anonymous for me. That evening we ventured out in the rain again to grab some tea and find the ‘Welsh Dragon Bar’- the only Welsh pub in the Southern hemisphere. We found it neatly tucked into the middle of the road on Cambridge Terrace. It used to be old public toilets so had lovely tiled walls and a domed ceiling….don’t make toilets like that nowadays! As soon as we entered it from the rain it felt like home. The guy behind the bar was from Pontypool and clearly has a South Wales accent. The place was covered in Welsh flags with the various Welsh visitors names and messages on them. We tried to find Emyr and Ger’s (Hedd’s school friends) names on them who had been here 2 years ago but failed. However there were plenty of people from Ruthin and surrounds who had been here, and Hedd recognised a few names. They only played music by Welsh artists (obviously) so plenty of Stereophonic but just before we left they even played a weird dance version of ‘Da Ni Yma o Hyd’ (‘we’re still here’) which Hedd loved! Hedd signed his name on a Welsh flag and then we headed home through the rain to our hostel.
Next morning the weather had improved and, after speaking to Mum and Dad for the first time in ages (so good to speak to them), we headed out to explore Wellington in a better light! We walked along the waterfront to the National Museum called Te Papa. It was the Monday of the bank holiday so there was a big concert in the little amphitheatre there plus a weird Bird Man competition where locals dressed up as birds jumped off a plank into the quay! After watching that for a while (the water looked terribly cold!) we visited the museum for free- yey! It was actually really good, interactive and the top floor had a roof terrace with a great view over the city. They even had a earthquake experience ride where you go into a little house and it rocks just like an earthquake back in the late 1990’s. Apparently the real thing was 50 times stronger than what you were experiencing- fingers crossed we won’t experience one for real when we’re in Christchurch! After lunch we found Cable Car Lane and took the car ride ($3.50) up to Kelburn lookout for a stunning view over the city and the harbour of Tara. The Botanic Gardens entrance is just behind the lookout and we took the Downhill Path to the City route through the gardens following the pink flowers painted on the ground. The Gardens are 25 hectares of unique landscape, protected native forest, conifers, specialised plant collections and colourful floral displays. Plus it was FREE, yey! The sun was shining and it was a lovely place to wonder through. You quite forgot you were in a capital city. My favourite bit was the Vireya Rhododendrons section- a whole mini valley of different coloured Rhododendrons; very beautiful. We popped out of the Gardens just by the Parliament building- an ugly round 1970’s construction if you ask me! After an afternoon of internet cafe-ing and blogging we were ready for dinner and cider before packing up our bags for the next mornings ferry across to Picton (24th) to start our South Island adventures.
When taking a NZ road trip don’t leave without:
- A NZ touring map- as many different ones you can get for free. Each map shows different towns on it, plus definitely try to get one which shows where the i-sites are located.
- A Holiday Park of NZ directory and map booklet- where to stay and at what price
- Any variety of Pascalls sweets- our personal favourite: the pineapple lump!
- NZ Frenzy- An Adventurers Guide to NZ Wild Places by Scott Cook- a much better guide than lonely planet showing you lots of ‘off the beaten track’ places for you to visit along the way of your journey
The Forgotten World Highway and Wellington in a snapshot:
- Weather=A real mixed bag of brilliant sunshine and heavy showers grey days- are we in NZ or UK?!
- Food= Home cooked grub and toasties (thanks Ceri!)
- Drink=Monteaths Apple Cider
- Community Spirit Moment= Making Hay in Whangamomona
- Total kilometers travelled Auckland to Wellington= 3021.5
- “Oh my goodness” revelation moment= We’re already half way through our travels!
Hedd’s words of wisdom:
It’s always good to catch up with old friends. The fact that we had to drive to the middle of nowhere to find Gwyn was just a bonus. We had a great couple of days in Whangamomona with Gwyn, his sister Ceri and her family. They welcomed us into their home and gave us a taste of rural life in New Zealand. The night out at the local pub (20mins drive away) was a particular highlight, as was baby Guss (so long as he had a clean nappy on!!). So thanks to Gwyn, Ceri, Pork and their kids for giving us a proper NZ experience in a place that I’m certain 95% of travellers to this country won’t visit.