“The odometer counted up, as the fuel dwindled down, more kilometers on the bikes
and gradually the surroundings began to change…”
Our arrival to Matamata the day before, two hours from Auckland, allowed us to start our journey West to East, riding the fattest bit of the North Island. The weather forecast called again for no rain, lucky for us! We managed to get an early start, and headed south west towards Te Kuiti. Our cunning plan to follow the back roads was thwarted by the damned Garmin box, squawking at us to turn left and right at imaginary roads until it wrote it’s will at the dead end adjacent of a long impassable lake. Realizing the errors in our ways, we hand fed it the route piece by piece until we could cross the lake and follow on towards the main road back towards Otorohanga.
The previous afternoon we had topped our tanks in Meremere and felt we had the range to make it to Te Kuiti. We were well into our reserve by the time we rocked into town. The GPS goof up had added a few unwanted kilometers on our steeds, but KTMs accurate reserve count down (or count up) kept us up to date on whether we would be walking or not. In Te Kuiti, before we refueled, we stopped for a quick bite at the Bosco Cafe. Sluggish after our afternoon feed we took our time on departure, where I promptly laid my grey stead on its side coming out of a awkward parking lot. With nothing bruised but my pride, we got it up in the nick of time, and headed off to fill up before departing southbound.
We made good time from Te Kuiti to Taumarunui, passing minimal traffic, as it was mid week and we weren’t on one of the main tourism routes. At Taumarunui, we decided to turn on to SH43 “The Forgotten Highway” and fill up our tanks. Unfortunately for us, all service stations were towards the town centre, not on the outskirts. A sign flashed and informed us there was no fuel for 150km, our mental math gave us a small buffer and decided we would eventually and hopefully end up in Stratford the next day on fumes.
The journey was sedate as we miserly calculated fuel economy figures, down SH43 a narrow sealed road hanging off the bank of the Whanganui river which deposited frigid waters from the nearby Mount Ruapehu. Further along the road, the feeling of being in New Zealand’s never ending rolling hills recedes into a distrust that we crossed the border into “No Mans Land”. We were both a bit surprised, as we expected the forgotten highway to be lush sub-tropical forest with a narrow ribbon of tarmac cutting its way through the hills. Instead we were staring at farms, pastures, and scenery.
The odometer counted up, as the fuel dwindled down, more kilometers on the bikes and gradually the surroundings began to change, lush forests, streams, and even some light gravel sections added into the mix. Slowly we made our way through, stopping when we could to take photos, and just enjoying the amazing scenery; this was the SH43 that we wanted to experience. Luckily we weren’t in a mad panic, as it isn’t a highway that you could come close to averaging 100km/h on. Some sections were so narrow that the KTM with panniers fit the width of the entire lane. The narrow roads added to the already hippo like feeling the luggage bound KTM projected. We chuckled thinking how camper vans must have a blast on the road.
We started seeing signs showing our destination and the distance on them. These helped to reaffirm our previous mental fuel calculations. The lush forest ended, giving way to more rolling hills adorned with bushes with cone shaped purple flowers. Not far from Whangamomona, we entered a small one lane tunnel with no lights. That was an experience, and the photos speak much louder than words.
With a true lack of climatic finality, we entered “The Republic” as the locals call The Republic of Whangamomona. A derelict sign greeted us showing a population of 40. The main street was a gathering of relics, weeds and an echoing silence. Plaques adorned each building stating its integral roll in the history of the town. Some buildings like the Hotel still functioned, others like general store were no more than a pile of kindling. After we unloaded our gear in our “100 year hotel room” we strolled down for a cool drink and to marvel at the artistry on the walls of the bar. A very “colorful” collage of photography and drawings sprawled across the walls. The locals were very proud of their republic status, though we couldn’t see what the hoopla was about over a bunch of slightly charred rickety old deserted buildings.
By the end of our journey we begun to understand the “forgotten” term in “the forgotten highway”. The derelict nature of the communities along this route was staggering, and it was sad in a way, to see how people tried to survive and make a living but in the end, it was all fruitless.