The history-rich Forgotten World Highway features hilltop views, ocean vistas, a river gorge and the remote republic of Whangamomona with its old-world hotel.
The road is long and winding, stretching between the Ruapehu adventure town of Taumarunui and New Plymouth on the black-sand Taranaki coast.
The distance and terrain mean this journey is best completed over 2–3 days, which will allow sufficient time to soak up the scenery and heritage sites off the bike. The highway’s major town is wee Whangamomona, which declared itself a republic in 1989 and sells its own passports.
The Taumarunui end of this trail provides access to two Central North Island Great Rides, the Timber Trail and Mountains to Sea, both accessible via other Heartland Rides, the Timber Trail Connection and MTS Connection.
The Forgotten World Highway (SH43) is the quietest state highway in New Zealand. It is, however, a decidedly challenging ride, with hilly topography and some narrow stretches of road that push the entire route to Grade 4/advanced.
77km, 5–8 hours
From Taumarunui, SH43 heads over hilly farmland for 30km or so before climbing over Paparata Saddle. It then drops down into the beautiful Tangarakau Gorge, cloaked in native forest.
This is followed by 12km of gravel road. Although this is relatively smooth, it’s not always an easy ride on road bike tyres, especially when the road has just been graded.
Beyond the gorge there is a moderate climb to the Moki Tunnel (known locally as the Hobbit’s Hole) and over Tahora Saddle.
45km, 3–5 hours
It’s a long and gentle downhill ride to the settlement of Whangamomona. Not only charming and full of rural history, it stakes a claim as New Zealand's only independent republic, and celebrates that fact every second January.
Heading south from the ‘republic’, the route turns off the state highway and heads west on Junction Road. The first 16km of Junction Road is gravel, and requires wide road tyres or mountain-bike tyres. It is scheduled to be sealed before 2020.
Junction Road passes through several original settlements, including Purangi, where accommodation is available in the original schoolhouse. The road is narrow, quiet and scenic. You will need to watch out for goats, sheep and cattle wandering along the verge.
63km, 4–6 hours
The route continues over Tarata Saddle, through another picturesque tunnel, and down to a historic suspension bridge across the Waitara River.
The ride leaves the very best for last, as the route now becomes a shared path through Bell Block and around the coast where you will enjoy some spectacular views as you head into New Plymouth.
Known as the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, this award-winning 13km pathway winds along the edge of the Tasman Sea, past epic surf breaks and dynamic kinetic art. You can take a 15-minute stroll from the central city to Breakwater Bay, a bustling coastal precinct alongside Ngamotu Beach.
New Plymouth has plenty to offer the visitor, including Egmont National Park, surfing, a boat cruises out to the Sugar Loaf Islands, plus dining and shopping in the bustling urban centre. Breakwater Bay is also a great spot to see a stunning west coast sunset.
A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.
Need to Know
FITNESS & SKILLS
The surface of this trail is around 142km sealed road, 28km gravel road and 10km cycleway. Much of it passes through remote, undulating countryside with a number of significant climbs (and descents!). It is rated Grade 4 (advanced), so is recommended for fit and experienced cyclists only.
TYPE OF BIKE
Although the route mainly follows sealed roads, the rougher gravel sections mean a touring bike or mountain bike with wide road tyres or knobbly tyres are most suitable. E-bikes, with sufficient battery capacity, are also acceptable. The remoteness of this ride means that riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit and spares.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
The Forgotten World Highway is well sign-posted, but a map will help prevent wrong turns, help you time your ride, and identify points of interest along the way.
The trail can be ridden year round, but the best conditions are in summer and autumn (late November to early May). This region can, however, experience heavy rain any time of the year, so a good raincoat is essential at all times.
Accommodation is limited to a couple of options in Whangamomona including the famous hotel, and the old schoolhouse in Purangi. Taumarunui and New Plymouth at either end of the route have a variety of accommodation.
FOOD & WATER
Food is available at Taumarunui and New Plymouth, and at the Whangamomona Hotel (check ahead for opening hours during off-season). Whangamomona offers the only easily accessed water once en route.
Buses and the Northern Explorer train go to Taumarunui. Buses go from New Plymouth to Palmerston North and Wellington. You can also drive to both ends of the trail.
Coverage is limited between Taumarunui and Whangamomona, and available for much, but not all, of the way.
The are public toilets in Taumarunui, New Plymouth and en route at Tangarakau Gorge and Whangamomona.