I’ve spent my life working in advertising so I love a good story of an embattled brand going up against the big guys & defying the odds and doing something amazing. And this is exactly what The Forgotten World Highway did…
State Highway 43 was literally a forgotten highway. There were quicker ways to travel from Taumarunui to New Plymouth. The roads were rough. There were few places to stop. In fact there are no petrol stations for 150 winding kilometres, which the German group we saw in Whangamomona found out to their detriment.
And so people forgot about the wild beauty that existed on this road and no one drove down it.
That was until 2002, when Highway 43 was rebranded to the Forgotten World Highway. As in all great marketing stories it had a happy ending – bed and breakfasts sprung up in houses once falling into disrepair and a rail tour opened on the Stratford–Okahukura railway line in golf carts modified to run on the tracks.
We, like many others went purposefully out of our way to find it. Not just for the romantically impossible to miss name but also because of the promise of what we would find.
And while the tourism numbers may have soared it was far from over crowded and we saw more cows, lambs and goats on the road than we did cars.
An old rail track winds beside the highway. There are self drive carts available but we didn’t see any that day.
We come across a bridge over a river with a sign saying Morgans Grave.
We’ve been driving for a while now so we decide to stop and explore. The story on the side of the road tells the tale of Joshua Morgan – one of the early surveyors who died beside the river at 35 and was buried here. We wind our way through the track to find the isolated and beautiful place for a solitary grave.
Further down the highway we come to a 180-metre-long single-lane tunnel build in the early 1900’s. We find out later that it was in fact designed by Joshua Morgan.
Sealed roads give way to gravel and still there are no cars to be seen.
We arrive at the Republic of Whangamomona. This little town also put itself on the map by declaring itself a Republic. It all came about when the council boundaries were redrawn in 1989 and Eastern parts of Taranaki became part of Manawatu. The locals of Whangamomona were not happy with the decision and so declared themselves a republic and elected a President. You can get your passport stamped there and a sign happily declares that you are now re-entering NZ when you leave. In 2015 they stamped 5,000 passports!
Whangamomona was in equal measures deserted and thriving. The pub was full with no seats available outside. The post office had paint falling off the walls and no other shops were open. With the roads so quiet I wondered where all those people had suddenly appeared from.
Across the road there is the late president of the republic of Whangamomona, Murt Kennard’s, shed. A testament to the individuality, wit and ingenuity of the man, the town and the forgotten highway.
It’s a road that every Kiwi should travel at least once. A glimpse back into a forgotten time.