Stratford to Taumaranui the long way!
By Sandra Smith
Progress…. always progress. The roads and railway lines around us are often superceded by a straighter, faster and more direct route.
This leaves behind smaller, now less used roads and sometimes the once thriving towns dwindle. But that is not to say that the communities do not survive.
An example of this is the “Forgotten World Highway” which runs between Stratford in Taranaki and Taumaranui in the King Country – Highway 43, some 148 kms long.
Small towns, saddles and tunnels
The road is full of historical points, small towns and beautiful scenery as we found out when we took a 3 day road trip just prior to Christmas.
There are 3 saddles to climb, from whence the views are spectacular (the road is a liitle bit “uppsey downsey” as understated by a local). And there are old tunnels to explore : these were built back in the 1930’s when they were used by pack horses.
In the 1980’s the floors were lowered by a metre or so to allow stock trucks and trailers through.
Nearly had a exploding cow!
We came across a disused brick kiln. Apparently, the owners used to blast the nearby hills for the clay.
Story board note reads: “On one occasion, Gichard (the owner) drilled a hole in the bank to blow down the clay, made up a fuse and some gelignite and laid it to one side.
One of his 3 cows came along and Gichard discovered her with ‘the fuse, the detonator, everything in its mouth and the dribbles running to the ground’.
Too frightened to go near the potentially explosive cow, Gichard kept his distance….. but nothing went off”. Whew!
Heading for Whangamomona
There is a side trip to the Bridge to Somewhere, as opposed the Bridge to Nowhere north of Whanganui. But essentially the same thing happened — farming in the area became unsustainable and the farmers abandoned their land.
To get to the bridge, there’s a 40-km return drive on an unsealed road. Needless to say we accumulated a bit of dust in the vehicle but it was worth it.
Late afternoon found us in Whangamomona where the locals were gathered in anticipation of the kids’ Christmas parade.
Whangamomona has one street about 100 metres long and the pub is the hub of the community.
Sure enough the parade started with the Stratford Pipe Band (especially brought over for the event) leading four floats crowded with kids waving and smiling.
Prizes were given out and everyone was happy.The kids were fed and they trooped over to the new playground while the parents went into the pub to catch up on the latest gossip – and such. Small town magic.
Taking in the scenery
There was not much traffic on the road the next day so we drove slowly taking in the beautiful scenery and stopping often.
Just before Taumaranui there is a wonderful Lavender Farm with an excellent cafe and good coffee. From here you are able to see the Whanganui River meandering by.
On the third day, we drove to Ohakune where we hired a couple of bikes and were shuttled out to the far end of the “Old Coach Road” cycle way.
It was an 18 km ride back to town, once again through beautiful scenery with many historical notes along the way for added interest — and an old viaduct which has been replaced by a modern counterpart.
Always there is progress, but we are so lucky to have these preserved gems to enjoy.