New Zealand’s oldest heritage trail is 155kms long.
Starting in either Stratford or Taumarunui it follows ancient Māori trade routes and pioneering farm tracks, through ambitious historic settlements, untamed native bush and stunning natural scenery.
Along the Forgotten World Highway, you’ll encounter a landscape where man and nature have battled for centuries, resulting in many historic or natural points of interest. Whether you approach the Forgotten World Highway as a three-hour scenic drive or explore its many stories over several days, you’ll be treated to an adventure like no other.
Here are the top five things to explore along the Forgotten World Highway. For more ideas read our Forgotten World Highway brochure.
First settled in 1895, the village of Whangamōmona was once a bustling frontier town, with up to 300 residents providing strong service links, roading and rail construction to the hardy farming community. The town experienced a great flood in 1924, but didn’t decline to around 20 residents until farm mergers and rationalisation took place in the 1960s. The village has a Historic Places Trust precinct rating, and centres on the iconic Whangamōmona Hotel, which provides refreshments and accommodation.
Rugby fans might be keen to know that Whangamōmona is the only club in New Zealand that is allowed to wear an all-black strip – as they had it well before the All Blacks. The team also competes for the Dean Cup – the oldest rugby challenge cup in New Zealand dating back to 1907 and contested between three teams in the district – Whangamōmona, Strathmore and Toko in East Taranaki.
Whangamōmona declared itself a republic in 1989, complete with its own presidential election. The famous Republic Day is held biennially in January and is enjoyed by thousands of visitors. Passports to the Republic of Whangamōmona are available from the hotel.
Along the route you will cross four saddles – Tahora offers spectacular views of three prominent Māori Pa sites, railway tunnels and the Central Plateau.
The Whangamōmona Saddle offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape with a backdrop of beech and podocarp forest.
The Pohokura Saddle is named after a prominent Māori Chief and provides views into the valley used as a large railway construction campsite.
It’s worth stopping at the top of each to take in these stunning vistas. The Strathmore Saddle offers stunning views of both Taranaki Maunga and the Central Plateau.
Mt Damper Falls is a 14km detour along Moki Road. Follow the signposts for the 30-minute walk. At 85m this is the North Island’s second-highest waterfall, and is a spectacular sight, particularly after heavy rain. Surrounded by native bush, the falls spill over a papa bluff. Please note – the track is closed to hunters and dogs from 1 August to 31 October due to lambing.
The Tangarakau Gorge offers an incredibly scenic passage through the magnificent podocarp forest that still characterises the region. This section is unsealed for 12kms.
Te Maire Loop Track is an easy two-hour walk that starts with a suspension bridge, and loops around a mosaic of native trees including rimu, miro, totara, kahikatea, matai, rewarewa, hinau, and tawa.
Two lavender farms can be found along the route – Lauren’s Lavender Farm & Café and Lavender Lane – and both a treat for the senses. Opening hours vary and they are best to visit in summer when the flowers are in full bloom.
A 7km detour from Douglas you will find Avonstour Island Rare Breeds Heritage Farm. Specialising in heritage breed cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and other livestock, the farm offers information, pre-arranged group tours, workshops, crafts and seasonal produce for sale. Visits by appointment only as it is a working farm.
The Purangi Walks are self-guided native bush walks and are a 15km detour along Junction Road towards Purangi. Read the information boards and enjoy the lush native forest walk.
Reminders of Times Past
The single-lane 180m long Moki Tunnel was built in 1936 and is known locally as the ‘Hobbit Hole’. Home to fossilized giant crabs, the tunnel’s floor was lowered in 1985, increasing the tunnel’s height to 7m to allow access for triple-decked stock trucks. It has a timber gabled roof and hand carved walls.
The Aotuhia Bridge to Somewhere is best accessed via Makahu via Strathmore. This road also takes you to the Matemateaonga Track. Access to the bridge via the 18km long unsealed Whangamōmona Road is strictly for dedicated 4WDs, motorbikes, mountain bikes or intrepid hikers. Ask at the Whangamōmona Hotel about road conditions before embarking on this trip.
The final resting place of respected early surveyor and trail blazer Joshua Morgan, who died in 1893 at the age of 35, is marked by a memorial and a short walkway through native bush to his grave site. This memorial also remembers the many other pioneers who sought their fortunes in this remote area.