March 7th 2016
A pilgrimage resulting in: driving straight through a forest, collapsing roads, goat hurdles, a visit to a different country (briefly run by a goat), a hitchhiker, sheep envelopment, property prospecting, a petrol fail, the kindness of strangers and a tunnel of terrors. Unexpected coincidences and more of wild, backcountry New Zealand were what today was about.
I was absolutely clueless about what State “Highway” 43 had to offer. This was an unplanned entry, but after a day of unexpected adventures, I felt it deserved its own blog post. They call it The Forgotten World Highway (Wikipedia article) apparently. It crossed my mind that it may be the highway that the Ministry of Works ‘forgot’, given the state of the road. We encountered no less than six road washouts (could’ve been more, but I stopped counting at four) taking a whole lane out of commission.
You definitely want to be paying attention to your driving throughout your journey of bouncing down gravel roads and winding around riverside cliff faces. In fairness, the terrain is pretty inaccessible anyway and the Heritage Trail signs explain its history of independence.
Much of it revolves around a remote railway line and the Republic of Whangamomona (Wikipedia link) and its history as a self-governing state within the bounds of New Zealand. With that title comes the right to elect their own Presidents. It is a right that has been used to install some rather colourful leadership… including the reign of Billy Gumboot the Goat (1999-2001).
The willingness of some hardy colonial settlers and the need to connect the main trunk rail line to peripheral tracks brought about this roadway and it runs through some truly beautiful, natural montane forest scenery as wild as any you can be found in this modern world. Great for those who enjoy a scenic drive, but make sure you take plenty of fuel on-board. Similar to the Te Anau-Milford road in the South Island (but steeper), you won’t see a petrol station for 150 kilometres of meandering hill climbs and descents.
This is a lesson I would also do well to learn, as I found my poor car struggling by on the dregs of a fuel tank when we limped in to Ongarue. I’d picked up a backpacker hitchhiking from near Mangakino and this was his destination. In fact, I’d planned to take a different route prior to that, but adjusted it since Ongarue was on my way if I went this way. However, it’s fair to say this route was a wee bit more off the beaten track and I’d got caught out with the lack of refill opportunities through the backcountry. On the bright side, it presented an opportunity for life to brighten my perception of people. My hitchhiker’s host happily offered me petrol from his stores, insisting I’d paid it forward by giving the lonesome backpacker a lift. I gave him money for his beneficence anyway and headed on my way to fill ‘er up then on to the Forgotten World… and right into the arse end of a huge mob of sheep.
We’re talking several hundred sheep just being herded down the road by a rather attractive, sun-kissed shepherdess and her dogs. She invited me to push on through the flock, to which I acquiesced. And after about 20 minutes of driving, surrounded on all sides by sheep, my dutiful chariot and house popped out the other side. Shortly after this, a parade of goats leapt over fences, brambles and the road to climb near-vertical, scrub-covered embankments.
A little further on, we disappeared around a corner into a pitch dark tunnel from glaring sunlight. The contrast had a rather unsettling effect, especially since I was fairly slow to realise I was still wearing my sunglasses. Surprising how much better headlights work when you’re not wearing sunglasses. On this particular occasion however, I’m not sure it was an improvement. This may well be the narrowest car tunnel in New Zealand.
There would have been no more than 10cm clearance on either side of the car as we crawled through. It tested my nerves to have such a small margin of error and I preferred not to envision the possibility that I might meet a car coming the other way.
It really was a unique drive. Nice to have an eventful trip when you’re covering such a large span. And it all began because I’d decided to pay a visit to my Mum’s birthplace: Mangakino. Blink and you’d miss it. Mangakino is a tiny little village/town which, in the words of the local real estate agent “[they] consider busy if there are more than six cars on the road at any one time”. Nice little spot though. Very affordable land too. Glad I stopped by as it is the kind of place I may one day like to live.
But the goal was always Taranaki, where the caravan refurbishment begins.