Forgotten World Highway
The Stratford to Taumarunui Heritage Trail was established in 1990 to give travellers an awareness of the rich and unique history along the route linking these important Taranaki and Central North Island centres.
The highway is also called the 'Forgotten World Highway', as it threads 155km through pristine sub-tropical rain forests and unspoilt scenery, just as they were thousands of years ago - including the beech ridge-tops of Whangamomona Saddle and the awesome Tangarakau Gorge.
After it leaves the Taranaki volcanic ring plain, the trail drops into the rolling and then steeper inland landscape.
The highway threads through valleys and over saddles, through countryside made up of grasslands, virgin rainforest and regenerating bush.
At about twenty sites there are descriptive reminders of the area's heritage - it follows the floor of the spectacular Tangarakau Gorge and for 20km follows the scenic Wanganui River. Sites include the famous Whangamomona Village – a small, historic village which calls itself a 'republic' and holds a Republic Day every two years in celebration – as well as disused coalmines, riverboat landing and Maori village sites.
The route crosses four saddles, runs through the Moki Tunnel, is often flanked by the railway line linking the two centres, and travels through the spectacular Tangarakau Gorge.
Mt Damper Falls
The highest waterfall in the North Island, Mt Damper Falls, is a short drive and walk off the main highway.
Bridge to Somewhere
The now-isolated valley of Aotuhia was once a thriving community. It was settled in the early 1900s with the only access being by pack tracks and the Lower Whangamomona River. All supplies needed to establish the settlement were brought in by these means, and eventually there was a school, sports ground, timber mill, telephone/post office and other amenities.
The impact of isolation and harder times took its toll in the 1920s and 1930s however. Farmers began to walk off their land as the effect of the depression was felt on the nonviable sections. Notwithstanding this, a road into the settlement was built and the Government of the day had plans to build a highway west to Whangamomona to open the country up. They authorised the building of the Aotuhia Bridge in February 1936 and it was completed in May 1937 by the Peacock Construction Company of Patea for £1,800. This construction replaced the old swing bridge that had fallen into a state of disrepair, but occurred after the community of Aotuhia had been largely abandoned.
The last settler left the area in 1942 after severe storm weather left the road link to Whangamomona so unusable that the Government declined to reopen it.
This reinforced concrete arch bridge is 39.6m long.
Stratford to Taumarunui Heritage Trail
The Stratford to Taumarunui Heritage Trail was established in 1990 to give travellers an awareness of the rich and unique history along the route linking these important Central North Island and Taranaki centres.
The Trail follows the scenic Whanganui River through fertile river flats for about 20 km. It then leaves the river valley and climbs to an impressive lookout giving views of the central mountains of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. It threads through valleys and over saddles covered with a wide variety of grasslands, virgin and regenerating native bush, and follows the floor of the spectacular Tangarakau River Gorge.
Signposted along the route are descriptive reminders of the historic earlier days - riverboat landings, ritualistic Maori poles, a disused coal mine, a coal seam on the roadside, a brick kiln, a boarding house, and historic settlements.
Whangamomona Village has a walking trail around points of interest, and there are also other developed walks along the route.
The traveller will finish this Heritage Trail more aware of the heritage of this part of New Zealand and the unique diversity of the landscape.
Whangamomona Republic Day
In 1989, local government reforms put part of the easternmost area of Stratford District under Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council control instead of Taranaki. This included Whangamomona, Tahora and Kohuratahi. The people living in those areas protested by declaring themselves a 'republic', thus ceding from New Zealand. They elected their own president, and the publicity brought such a high profile to Whangamomona that the first annual 'Republic Day' in November 1989 attracted thousands to the small village.
The Republic Day is now held every two years. Find out more on the Whangamomona Republic Facebook page.