The US has route 66, New Zealand has the Forgotten World Highway. You’ve probably never heard of it, and yet it is one of the most incredible things to see in this world.
Road Trip in New Zealand
After facing a snow storm in Tongariro National Park, I had to get over my idea of skiing in the Mordor (Mount Ngauruhoe in Tongariro was used as the natural movie set for Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings). So I hit the road and headed to my next destination, New Plymouth, on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. I had been driving away from National Park for about 20 minutes when I saw a sign indicating “STRATFORD – FORGOTTEN WORLD HIGHWAY – NEXT LEFT”.
That’s when I remembered what the Irish guy I met at the hostel had said: he told me about a highway between New Plymouth and National Park that was one of the most beautiful in New Zealand, but he advised me against taking it because it was very winding and potentially dangerous. “You know, being a girl, traveling by yourself, you probably don’t want to risk it” he said.
I was quite irritated by that comment, but also saw some truth in it. It was my first time traveling alone, and I didn’t really feel like getting into an accident with my little rental car, so I decided that I would stick with the regular road.
But when I saw that sign, the temptation suddenly got intense. After all I was in New Zealand. It was the farthest I had ever been from home, and if I wasn’t willing to take a risk now I never would. You know what they say, “you only live once”. So 400 meters later I turned left, and spotted another sign: “43 – FORGOTTEN WORLD HIGHWAY BEGINS”.
Facts about the Forgotten World Highway
The Forgotten World Highway (Highway 43) is a 150km road going from Taumarunui, King Country to Stratford, Taranaki. Built in the late 19th century on ancient Maori trade roads and pioneering farm tracks, it is the oldest touring route in New Zealand. It climbs four mountain saddles and goes through the Moki Tunnel, a one-lane tunnel also called “Hobbit’s Hole”. It also passes by the Mount Damper Falls and the Tangarakau Gorge. Even though it is considered one of the most beautiful roads in the world, it is also one of the most dangerous in New Zealand because of its slippery gravel surface in the gorge, that’s why very few people dare to take it.
A scenery that will take you from Ireland to South America
The highway is narrow and sinuous, and it takes you to another world, a forgotten world. Following the Whanganui river, it passes through green hills where the sheep and cows wander around peacefully. You feel like you’re in the Connemara region in Ireland, only with a river instead of lakes. I stopped after every turn to take photos, and there were lots of turns. I was starting to relax, the road was definitely not that bad. Then, after about an hour drive, you reach the unsealed part. that’s something else. I never exceeded 30km/h, anxious that I might damage my cute red car, but the truth is if you’re driving carefully there is absolutely no reason to worry.
Then the landscape changes and it turns into a sort of tropical forest. It’s like all of a sudden you’re in Ecuador. Not many people can say they went from Ireland to South America in just about ten minutes, all the while staying in New Zealand.
I never wanted this road to end, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when I got back on concrete. It took me about four hours to go from National Park to New Plymouth, while it should have only taken three if I had chosen the state highway, but the detour was well worth it.
If you’re a dare-devil and decide to take this road, please be very careful as there are 15km of unsealed road and no gas station on this highway, but I highly recommend it. It is an adventure with stunning scenery that you will never forget! One of the only and best impulsive decisions I have ever made in my life!