This was a rerun (in reverse) of a trip we did back in the early 1980s; cycle touring then was rare enough to make the local media.
Whangamona republic before dark; a call to home reinforced that "You've only got three hours of daylight - you'd better get moving".
Fortunately a westerly tail wind sped me across the flat bits to Douglas. The Nga Haerenga version of the Forgotten World Highway avoids this potentially boring section by heading in from Waitara; but I didn't have time for that variation.
|Model students at Douglas School|
I headed up the road to the Whangamomona Hotel for a beer and a plate of venison sausages. The hotel seemed to have retained it's country pub charm, despite a change of ownership; the previous management had created an interesting ambience by using Fawlty Towers videos as a customer relations training tool.
The road then dropped down to the Tangarakau Gorge - the 12 km of unsealed road left on the route. The lack of traffic, and the atmosphere of the bush clad hills, more than makes up for the gravel.
|Horses meet folder, Whangamomona|
Dawn in Whangamomona is always misty, which isn't a problem at bicycle speed when you meet a herd of sheep, or a group of horses.
Soon the cloud, and my altitude, lifted, as I climbed to Tahora Saddle, where a small campground/ bed & breakfast exists on an unlikely outcrop; to save the final climb to the accomodation, the letterbox is a scale model.
|Traffic gives way to sheep, Whangamomona|
|Mist clearing on the way to Tahora|
|Letterbox, Tahora Saddle|
The heart of the Forgotten World Highway is the Moki Tunnel (aka the "Hobbit Hole"); carved through the soft papa hill in 1936, then upgraded for triple decker stock trucks in 1989 by having the floor lowered.
The 90 km from Whangamomona to Taumaranui was more of a challenge than distances like that used to be; for the first time I walked the Tern up a hill at Aukopae, and by the time I got to Taumaranui I was composing letters to John Key suggesting that the town be moved 20km closer to Whangamona in the interest of the Nga Haerenga cycle trails. When I was back in cellphone cover I was fielding anxious calls from home about my whereabouts. I felt a bit better about the time I'd taken when a fellow cyclist at the Taumaranui Hotel admitted that he hadn't made it all the way the previous day, stopping 14 km from Taumaranui.
The next day I headed south to National Park and the mis-behaving maunga: the beautiful Ruapehu and the usurper Tongariro were both shrouded in cloud. On the way, a scrap wood dinosaur offered an excuse to stop before tackling the Raurimu hill.
|Journey's end: Ruapehu acting shy|
But the National Park station cafe did a fine curry pie, and then it was a relaxing afternoon on the train, watching the North Island go by till we reached Britomart.