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If I had to sum up our day trip along the Forgotten World Highway, I’d use one word - exceptional. One of New Zealand’s most secluded roads, it runs 148km between Stratford in Taranaki and Taumarunui in King Country. But this was to be a journey not by car, but by golf buggy.
Laura and I arrived in Taumaranui the night before our adventure and stayed at the Forgotten World Motel which has been neatly restored. The next day there was a short transfer to the starting point of the trip, which we would make aboard the modified golf carts that roll along the railway tracks. The mechanics of the carts are fairly simple - you just accelerate and brake as needed and follow your guide who is in the leading cart.
The railway we travelled along in our wee carts follows the Forgotten World Highway as it passes through the heart of the North Island. A colossal railway network complete with numerous tunnels was originally built in the early 1900's, and it was much used when the area prospered back in the coal mining days. Now the region is mostly deserted.
On the first part of the trip we headed through rolling green farmland complete with grazing sheep, passing by the ruins of old cars, vintage tractors and abandoned cottages - it really felt like we had stepped into yesteryear. We were amazed to discover that one particular valley home to only a couple of houses was once a thriving village of over 3000 people!
The second part of the trip in the afternoon took us through lush native New Zealand forest that is completely untouched, it has remained the same since the first immigrants settled here, whether Maori or Pakeha. The contrast with the earlier stage was striking.
As the day drew to a close we arrived in the “Republic of Whangamomona”. This self-proclaimed nation was dreamt up in 1989 in protest at the New Zealand government’s decision to make the town part of the Wanganui region rather than leaving it as part of Taranaki. Every 2 years a new president of the republic is elected. None of this is officially recognised of course - but it is nonetheless the perfect excuse for holding a huge biannual local fair which is a source of pride for the town’s 15 residents.
We made sure to get our passports stamped at the Whangamomona Hotel where decades of photos of the local rugby team are proudly displayed. The local team is quite distinctive as they are the only rugby team in New Zealand that is authorised to play in black uniforms besides the mighty All Blacks themselves.
This was without a doubt one of the best activities we have tried out when it comes to experiencing an authentic, off the beaten track experience. The pace is gentle, leaving you time to soak up the scenery, snap some great photos, and converse with your local guide and fellow travelling companions.