Cycling the Forgotten World Highway
- Written by Peter Waworis
The Forgotten World Highway is a little travelled route in the central north island from Taumarunui to New Plymouth. Typically cars travel from Taumarunui to Stratford and on to New Plymouth but a route change more suitable for cycling had us travelling further north on very remote roads via Purangi to New Plymouth. The weather forecast was for showers/rain for most of the following week so we were mentally prepared for the worse, thankfully we were pleasantly surprised!
It was a damp Thursday morning in December that had our group of four riders (Mike, Nick, Paul & Pete) commence the 180km journey to New Plymouth. Two kilometers down the road I had a flat rear tyre, the only mechanical problem encountered on the trip. A pinched tube after a tyre change to road biased tyres prior to the start was deemed to be the likely cause. A tube change had us back on a road that followed an undulating route beside the meandering Wanganui river. Just as we were warming up to the task we stopped at the Lavender Farm cafe for a coffee and muffin with our host Lauren.
This was the last place to buy food until the Whangamomona Pub 60km away and well worth a visit. Once back on the road it wasn't long before the hill climbs became a little steeper and a little longer. Light rain began to fall as we started the long climb to the Pararata saddle/tunnel. A quick regroup and then the reward of a fast downhill to the start of the metal road section through the Tangarakau Gorge. A gentle decline and good clean metal surface gave us plenty of time to appreciate the scenery whilst riding through the gorge. After about 12km we were back onto a mainly flat, fast sealed road before the last uphill to our accommodation on top of the Tahora saddle. This was shrouded in cloud as we pedalled up the steep driveway to be greeted by our hosts for the night, Annie and Ron. They quickly ascertained from our wet, bedraggled condition that a hot showers was at the top of our "to do list". A twin birthed cabin and caravan provided our group with comfortable digs for the night.
The following morning, after a late breakfast we had glimpses of the spectacular views thru the mist before a short, mostly downhill sprint to the Whangamomona Hotel. At the pub there was a great assortment of historic photographs of the area dating back over a century to enjoy whilst having a coffee before lunch. The sun was finally making its presence felt as we started climbing up to the Whanga saddle after our hearty lunch. The top of the saddle offered spectacular views of the surrounding beech and podocarp forest. A quick downhill was shortly followed by another climb up to the turn off and we continued climbing up Junction Road before another long descent. We were now back on metal roads but the bonus was even less traffic, maybe only a vehicle or two an hour. This route took us off the road to Stratford and through even more remote farming area to Purangi where we were overnighting in the schoolhouse at the Cycle Inn.
We had been warned about the poor state of the road and the day's final downhill reinforced that with a combination of road works and rain turning it into a slippery,muddy bog. Nick on his touring bike found this a bit disconcerting but the rest of us on mountain bikes were lapping it up, bring it on! Our hosts Ian & Laurel have a picture postcard property nearly encircled by the Waitara river. The historic schoolhouse closed in 1947 provided comfortable accommodation for our mud spattered group. With plenty of time to spare before dinner we relaxed in the sunshine and enjoyed the views.
An early start had us on the road just after 8am the next morning in an attempt to miss the forecast heavy rain. The metal road was quickly replaced by an undulating tarseal road that meandered west towards the coast. On rounding a corner we had our first and only glimpse of Mt Taranaki before in disappeared behind a fast approaching storm front. A fast downhill had us crossing the historic Bertrand Rd suspension bridge which provided an ideal rest stop before the final push to New Plymouth. On encountering the main highway a constant stream of traffic both ways was a bit overwhelming after three days of next to no traffic. The coast cycleway now provided us with a fabulous ride into town with stunning views of the coast and on a fine day Mt Taranaki. It was great to see large numbers of locals walking, running and cycling along this great resource. We were blown away by the award winning Te Rewa Rewa bridge with its spectacular structure reminiscent of both a breaking wave and a whale skeleton. Our timing couldn't have been any better as the rain laden clouds finally decided to dump their payload as we arrived at the door of the Ariki backpackers in downtown New Plymouth. That evening over a cool ale or two we gave the route a "big thumbs up" with Nick even looking at riding it again next year.