Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Forgotten World

Leading from Taumarunui southwest towards Taranaki, Highway 43 is a seemingly endless curving road through green hills, sheep- and cow farms and more green hills. It's called the “Forgotten World Highway”.

There is nothing around there but some run down sheds and the rare farmhouse(which, in most cases, is also a run down shed), the rugged hills, inhabited only by some lifestock, stretching on beyond the horizon. Most houses in the area look like they have been built out of what they found on the next junkyard. Even if they are 'real' houses, they look like they have been abandoned for decades, with broken windows, collapsed roofs or cars with deflated tires that show more rust than paint.
The road itself if adventurous to drive: it crumbles away on both sides or is halfway overgrown and the earth and rock surrounding it is not secured at all. Which leaves it with whole lanes blocked by fallen debris, pieces of the street broken off and fallen down the side into the bush and for all that, you are lucky if they put up some traffic cones around it to warn you. Clearing the road or repairing the damage doesn't seem to be an option. Good we didn't drive this road by night.

The area had some industry once and the historic information panels along the road tell stories of settlers populating it – but there is barely anything left. We hoped for some nice photogenic remains of the settlement, but the only tunnel we found was closed down.
All in all, the drive was a bit depressing – The hills themselves might have been nice, had the weather been better. It was grey and rainy for the two days we drove it. The area seems lost, given up, even ghostly somehow. It does not have the beautiful atmosphere of untouched nature, but neither is it 'alive' enough with agriculture to feel like the relaxed kiwi countryside we are used to. A Forgotten World indeed.

There is one funny 'highlight' on the way, though. About halfway from Taumarunui to Stratford there is a little nest of a town, rather a bunch of houses along the street, with as many as 171 inhabitants: The Republic of Whangamomona.
In 1989, they declared themselves an independent republic to protest against a governmental decision concerning the separation of districts.
Today it has become more of a funny tourist attraction and a reason to have a huge festival for “Republic day” every two years to elect their president (former ones are 'Tai the poodle' or 'Billy gumboot the goat'), have serious sport competitions such as gumboot throwing and sheep sharing and gather for a couple of drinks in the local hotel/bar.
For a few dollars you can even get a passport. :) 

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