Sunday, April 13, 2014

Maunga 2 Maunga: memories of the Forgotten World Highway

After the CANDO meeting, I needed to head north to Auckland. Yes, I could have got a bus, or flown. But flying creates excessive carbon emmissions, and trains are more pleasant than buses to travel on. Problem was how to get to the train. The Forgotten World Highway from Stratford to Taumaranui offers a good cycle touring route. I got offered a lift as far as Stratford, and figured I could face biking from Taumaranui to National Park. Despite the lines of Peter Cape's "Taumaranui on the Main Trunk Line" being engrained into the national consciousness, the tourist oriented Northern Explorer train no longer stops there.

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.
Daylight saving had just kicked in, so when Graeme dropped me in Stratford about 2:30pm, I was conscious of the need to get going to reach the borders of the 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
Mt Taranaki receded gradually; of course I was also roughly following the route that traditionally the maunga followed when booted out of the central plateau by Tongariro, usurping his place as the husband of Ruapehu.
Taranaki selfie
I made it to the top of Whangamomona Saddle before sunset; strapped on lights for the descent, and was knocking on the door of Richard, the affable guardian of the Whangamona Domain Campground before it was truly pitch dark. "Sure - a cabin is 20 bucks - old ministry of works hut if that's OK". For one night, it was. Richard is keen on developing the campground - a range of exercise machines decorate the entrance for the benefit of campers.

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.

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.

Traffic gives way to sheep, Whangamomona
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.
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.
Moki Tunnel
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.
Tangarakau Gorge
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.
Dinosaur, Raurimu
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. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice one Alastair. I did the same route last year and also found the second day to Taumaranui a struggle. I found a nice little tea place about 15 km short of the destination that refreshed me. I was also nursing some gravel rash after losing it slightly at the end of the unsealed section.