The Forgotten World Highway, NZ oldest heritage trail, is 155 km long and will take you along ancient Maori trade routes and pioneering farm tracks, through ambitious historic settlements, untamed native bush and stunning natural scenery. Starting in either Stratford or Taumarunui, the road not only gives you access to a landscape where man and nature have battled for centuries, but also to many historic or natural points of interest. Make sure to not miss this adventurous drive (that sometimes looks like straight out of Jurassic Park) during your time in New Zealand’s North Island.
How to get there?
You can either choose to start exploring the Forgotten World Highway (highway 43) in Stratford or Taumarunui.
The drive itself can already be considered as highlight, but out of all the beautiful things we saw, we really enjoyed the view on Mt Taranaki from the Strathmore Saddle, the 180 m long drive through the Moki Tunnel and the Tangarakau Gorge, a scenic passage through the magnificent podocarp froest which still is quite characteristic for the region. This last section is unsealed for 12 km. So be prepared for a rocky ride.
How long to stay?
The Forgotten World Highway is 155 km long and if you do not stop too long, the drive will take about 3 hours, so you can consider it as a day trip. We would recommend to leave early and to give yourself plenty of time to explore what the road has to offer. The landscape changes often and you might want to stop from time to time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Make sure to fuel up you car before you leave, there are no petrol stations along the way. You can also decide to split the drive in half and spend one night in the village of Whangamomona.
Where to stay?
Before we took the Forgotten World Highway, we stayed one night close to Mt Taranaki at the carpark of the North Egmont Visitor Center. From here it was just a short drive to Stratford and to enter the Forgotten World Highway. Stratford itself offers plenty of accommodation, as well as Taumarunui. But you could also choose to stay half way through the highway in the province of Whangamomona, which certainly is a very unique experience.
Our Recommendations (or what to see along the road)
Quick Facts 0 Petrol Stations | 3 public restrooms | limited mobile coverage | 4 road peaks to cross | 12 km of unsealed road | 180 m long road tunnel | 1 republic Mt Damper Falls This waterfall, which is the North Island’s second highest waterfall at 85 m, can be reached by doing a 14 km detour along Moki Road. Follow the signposts for the 20 min walk. It is a spectacular sight, especially after heavy rain. The waterfall is surrounded by native bush and the falls spill over a papa bluff. Te Maire Track This track is an easy 2 hours walk which starts with a nice suspension bridge. It then loops around a mosaic of native trees including rimu, miro, totara, kahikatea, matai, rewarewa, hinau and tawa. Te Wera The Te Wera camp and arboretum was an early settlement and is the base for the 6500 ha forest. The former New Zealand Forest Service campsite is still well used, and a number of walks lead from here through the arboretum and forest. The Purangi Kiwi Project You can reach the Purangi Kiwi Project and self-guided native bush walk by doing a 15 km detour along Junction Road towards Purangi. Make sure to read the Kiwi info boards and enjoy the lush native forest walk. Lavender Farms Two lavender farms can be found along the route: Lauren’s Lavender Farm & Cafe and Lavender Lane. Both are a treat for the senses. Opening times vary and the fields are best enjoyed in summer months when the flowers are in full bloom. Forgotten World Adventures This acitivity is quite expensive, but if you have some money left, you most probably will enjoy to ride the old trails with modified golf carts, or purpose built RailBikes. You can yip along through a number of tunnels, over viaducts and through landscape inaccessible by road. It sure is a truly unique experience. Avonstour Rare Breeds Farm A 7 km detour from Douglas you will find Avonstour Rare Breeds Farm. This farm offers information, guided tours from late September to May, workshops, crafts and seasonal produce for sale. Specialising in heritage breed cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and other livestock, there will be plenty of animals to see. Visits are by appointment only, as it is a working farm. Republic of Whangamomona About half way through the highway, you will pass the Republic of Whangamomona. First settled in 185, the village once was a bustling frontier town, with up to 300 residents providing strong service links, roading and rail construction to the hardy farming community. Whangamomona 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 are available from the hotel. Make sure to stop here to have a chat with the locals and to find out about hikes, walks, runs or cycle trails. The locals are bound to tell you a great yarn or two – especially about the history or other local points of interest. And do not forget to get your passport stamped in the village hotel! Egmont National Park Stratford does not only mark the start/end of the Forgotten World Highway, but also is the gateway to the Egmont National Park. Make sure to plan a stop here to explore Mt Taranaki and the Egmont National Park. Hiking is possible year round, though you should be prepared for changeable weather conditions. Popular hikes are the Summit Climb (to reach the 2518 m summit), the Pouakai Crossing (which probably is the best day hike in the west with stunning forests and open alpine areas) and the Veronica Loop Track (an easy 4 hour hike which gives you great views of the National Park and Mt Taranaki). But there are more tracks to choose from – ranging from 15 minute family-friendly walks to the three-to-five day around the mountain hikes. The North Egmont Visitor Center is probably the best place to start your mountain adventure. You may even stay on the carpark with your camper overnight for free.
Fun fact: According to Maori legend, Mt Taranaki once stood in the center of the North Island alongside Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. Taranaki fell in love with pretty Mt Pihanga and battled with Tongariro for her heart. After losing, Taranaki was banished to the west, carving the Whanganui River in his wake.
Surf Highway 45 Taranaki is the home of Kiwi surf.Just in case you have plenty of time in the area and also are interested in surfing, make sure to take highway 45. This 105 km coastal road between New Plymouth and Hawera will give you access to epic surf, art studios, historic sites, spectacular scenery and cosy cafes, making the drive a real adventure. Almost every road that heads towards the coastline leads to a pristine uncrowded wave. Breaks like Stent Road, the Kumara Patch, Fitzroy Beach and Arawhata Road have become legendary in New Zealand surfing over the decades and continue to attract surfers from around the globe. No matter what the swell or wind direction, it is almost always offshore somewhere along the Surf Highway. And just in case there are no waves – the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, one of the last working lighthouses in the country, always is a good place to visit.