Last Updated On 11th July 2023 By Lauren | Wild Lovely World
Many New Zealand travel guides may tell you that the Forgotten World Highway is a ‘must do’ road trip, but is that really true?
In this complete guide, I’ll share with you what the Forgotten World Highway is really like. Plus, if you do decide to do it, you’ll know what the best things to see and do are on this remote North Island road trip.
Complete Guide To The Forgotten World Highway Road Trip: New Zealand State Highway 43
What Is The Forgotten World Highway?
The Forgotten World Highway, also known as State Highway 43, is a 149 km road on the east of the North Island.
Travelling from Taumarunui in the King Country to Stratford in Taranaki, the road passes through Whanganui National Park.
The rugged, winding road is New Zealand’s oldest heritage trail and it has New Zealand’s only section of unsealed highway. It is definitely not a drive to do if you’re in any sort of hurry!
Is It Worth Driving The Forgotten World Highway?
Let me tell you the truth. The Forgotten World Highway is best left forgotten!
Okay, maybe that seems unfair. This historical road has a few remnants worth remembering. However, in my opinion it’s not worth travelling specially to the area JUST to do the Forgotten World Highway.
Why? The Forgotten World Highway just seems to go on and on for a long, long time. There’s not a whole lot to see or do. As we were driving there just seemed to be endless farmers fields and narrow winding roads. The occasional interesting stop that would take all of five minutes to look at.
Driving this route to Taranaki takes a lot longer than driving around another way i.e. via the coastal route SH3. The Forgotten World Highway road is not very well maintained and a large section of it (12km) is even unsealed. Yep, in 2021 New Zealand still has actual highways that are nothing more than slippery gravel tracks.
Furthermore, the Forgotten World Highway is not even that scenic. There is one part that is quite pretty – as you go through the gorge and over ‘saddles’ which are roads that travel through mountains at the lowest point along a ridge. However, there isn’t anything different to what you could see elsewhere in New Zealand.
So Why Would You Drive The Forgotten World Highway?
I know what you’re thinking. Why should you forget the Forgotten World Highway when so many people say you shouldn’t?
I would say that the Forgotten World Highway is only worth doing in three circumstances. Firstly, if you need to travel that route anyway (i.e. you’re near Taumarunui and need to get to Taranaki). Secondly, if you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere and have all the time in the world. And lastly, you could do it if you really, REALLY want to and you won’t feel your trip to New Zealand is complete unless you drive that road.
For me, our trip along the Forgotten World Highway kind of ticked all those boxes. At the time, we were working very near to the highway (Taumarunui was the closest town to our job back then). We had our days off and for nothing better to do we decided to make the trip. I also was very curious and I wanted to go and see what all the fuss was about! Having read about the Forgotten World Highway on several other travel blogs and various places around the internet, I had to satisfy my own curiosity! However, as I have already shared with you, there is really not a whole lot to see or do and you could gladly give this one a miss!
Now with all that said, if you really, REALLY want to go there and your itinerary allows it, there are a handful of highlights that made the journey interesting enough, but bear in mind they are few and far between.
Keep reading to discover the best of the Forgotten World Highway, and the places you cannot miss if you drive this route.
Important Things To Know About The Forgotten World Highway
No Fuel Stations or Supermarkets
There are no supermarkets or fuel stations along the Forgotten World Highway, so take everything you need before setting off. You can stock up in Taumarunui – there is a New World, BP and Mobil. Or in Stratford – there is a New World, Z and Caltex. Make sure to fill up on water, food/snacks and fuel. A full tank of fuel should get you along the entire highway, however taking a can of fuel (even 5L) can be good in an emergency.
Whangamomona is the largest settlement along the Forgotten World Highway. It is located roughly half way along. There is a pub and small shops, however when we went through they were all closed (and that was at the end of the summer!). There are pretty much no other amenities located anywhere else along the road.
As for toilets, Whangamomona has a public toilet and there are several other drop toilets along the way.
Check Your Vehicle
There is very little phone signal along the entire route so don’t count on being able to contact anyone if you get into trouble.
Double check your tyre air pressure and basic fluids. Make sure your vehicle is in good condition to get you from start to finish. Remember that a large section of this highway is unsealed. The road is winding, narrow and in many places only big enough for one vehicle – you need to be comfortable with driving in these conditions.
Despite the condition of the road, the Forgotten World Highway is suitable for most vehicles so it’s no worries if you have a motorhome or campervan. If you have a high or extra wide vehicle, bear in mind that the smallest tunnel along the highway is the Moki Tunnel and it has a clearance of 4.5m and it is also quite narrow.
How Long Does It Take To Drive The Forgotten World Highway?
It takes just half a day to drive the Forgotten World Highway. This is at a leisurely pace and stopping at places along the way.
Without stopping, it will take 2.5-3 hours to drive between Taumarunui and Stratford. So, you can easily do this trip in a day.
In case you do want to stretch it out there are a couple of side trips you could do.
Side Trips From The Forgotten World Highway
Bridge To Somewhere
A popular side trip is to the Bridge to Somewhere. It’s an abandoned bridge in the middle of… somewhere?
It’s a 33km / 1.5 hour drive one way from the highway (turn off at Strathmore). So going there and back will add 3 hours to your journey.
Personally, I don’t see the point in going there! It’s a long way to go for not very much. If you want to see a bridge like this, I would recommend the Bridge To Nowhere. Despite the name, it is actually far more accessible and popular place to visit. You can get there via a jet boat, mountain biking or as a side trip on the Whanganui River Journey.
Mount Damper Falls
Another side trip is to Mount Damper Falls. This is a lovely waterfall with walking trail.
However, you can get to Mount Damper Falls from the coastal highway SH3, so there’s no need to travel via the Forgotten World Highway to see it. But, if you go from SH3 it will take slightly longer (around 40 minutes).
We took a detour to Mount Damper Falls from the Forgotten World Highway. It takes around 1 hour to drive there and back. Plus, you will need around 1 hour return to walk to the waterfall. So if you do this trip make sure to factor the time in.
I would say it is worth making the trip to Mount Damper Falls. It is the one of the highest waterfalls in the North Island. The falls drop over a huge curved wall of rock. It looked impressive to us on a dry day but after heavy rain it would look even more spectacular.
Where To Stay Along The Forgotten World Highway
I would recommend to drive the Forgotten World Highway in a full day. Without stopping, it will take 2.5-3 hours to drive between Taumarunui and Stratford.
We drove the Forgotten World Highway as a nice day trip, taking our time along the route. We camped close to the start and at the end of the highway.
If you want to make this an overnight trip then there are a couple of options. Here are accommodation options at the start and end of the highway and along the route too.
Hostels, Hotels, Motels & Lodges
Taumarunui has a great range of motels and lodges. Prices start at around $100 per night for a studio to $300 on the top end for a suite. Check out your options in Taumarunui here on Booking.com.
Stratford has highly rated accommodation and will cost a little more. Prices are around $150 per night for a room at a motel or lodge. Check out your options in Stratford here on Booking.com.
For a cheaper option, Stratford Holiday Park has a Backpackers Lodge with dorm beds for $35 per person per night.
If you’re looking to stay part-way along the Forgotten World Highway then could stay at the Whangamomona Hotel. Whangamomona is located approximately halfway along the Forgotten World Highway. The hotel has good reviews and is a well-known place to stay.
Taumarunui Holiday Park has a range of cabins and powered and non-powered sites. Prices start from $18 per night per pitch.
Stratford Holiday Park has powered and non-powered sites from $22 per person per night, so a little more expensive. However there is a swimming pool, hot showers, spa pool and a kitchen.
Near Taumarunui there is a nice DOC campsite called Ohinepane. Ohinepane is a on the highway a little further along from Lauren’s Lavender. It’s pay by donation into the honesty box (suggested $8 per night). This campsite is also used by those doing the Whanganui River Journey. It’s a nice, picturesque site by the river. There is a drop toilet and water and sink to wash dishes (not drinking water).
Whangamomona also has a campsite called Whangamomona Camp. They have hot showers and space for tents and motorhomes, non-powered and powered sites. I believe it’s $10 per person per night and they have good reviews.
If you have a self-contained vehicle there is a freedom camping at the Morgan’s Grave parking area in Tangarakau Gorge. At this spot you will be parking right on side of the road at the highway’s edge. There is a toilet. If you want to stay right in the middle of nowhere and don’t mind being by the road you could do it.
There is a pretty good freedom campsite located at the other end of the highway in Stratford at Victoria Park. This car park is on the edge of town and has a flushing toilet.
House & Pet Sitting
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There are lots of housesitting opportunities all over New Zealand so you could do it as part of your Forgotten World Highway road trip too.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Ohinepane DOC camp and the freedom camp in Victoria Park in Stratford. I would recommend both of these campsites as they were a good experience.
Which Way To Drive The Forgotten World Highway
I don’t think it really matters which way you drive the highway. We drove from Taumarunui to Stratford because that’s just how it turned out for us, but you could go either direction depending on your itinerary.
However, to help with your planning, I would say there is a lot more to see and do on the section closest to Taumarunui. So in this case, you may want to make sure that you give yourself enough time to see these things, for example if you’re making the trip in the winter and you need to be conscious of daylight hours. Between Whangamomona and Stratford there isn’t a whole lot to stop for, so you could whizz right through this section unless you want to take a side trip to the Bridge to Somewhere.
Best Things To See & Do Along The Forgotten World Highway
Now for the fun part! Here are the highlights of the Forgotten World Highway and the best things to see and do on this road trip.
These locations are listed in their order along the highway starting with those closest to Taumarunui and ending with Stratford. But as I mentioned previously you could easily do this road trip the other way too!
Begin your journey in the little town of Taumarunui. Here is your last opportunity for any groceries and fuel you will need before you journey along the Forgotten World Highway. There is a New World, BP and Mobil.
A short drive from Taumarunui is Lauren’s Lavender, a small lavender farm with a cafe and shop. It is only open in the summer and entry is free.
Although it was closed when we visited I still enjoyed taking my photo with the sign and imagining this was my lavender farm, haha.
Morgan’s Grave and Tangarakau Gorge
A small walk from the roadside takes you to the grave of Joshua Morgan. Morgan was a 35 year old surveyor who was working in Tangarakau Gorge in 1893. Suddenly he became ill and died before medical help could reach him. He was buried where he died at the bank of the river.
While at the grave you can admire the wild surroundings of the bush and the impressive Tangarakau Gorge.
There is a toilet here too so it’s a good spot to stop.
After the gorge you will begin the 12km of unsealed road. This is the only official highway in New Zealand with a section of unsealed road. Make sure you take your time driving here and be careful!
Mount Damper Falls
A short 30 minute drive off the highway to Mount Damper Falls is well worth the journey.
There is a nice easy walking trail to the waterfall view points that’ll take around 20 minutes one way. At 74m it is one of the North Island’s highest waterfalls and it looks pretty impressive.
To access the falls, turn off the highway at Moki Road just north of the Moki Tunnel and drive 15km to the start of the walk. After seeing the falls, return back to the highway on the same road.
Also known as the ‘Hobbit’s Hole’, this cute and historic little tunnel is 180m long. It’s single lane so make sure you put your lights on and check for anyone coming the other way before driving through.
There are four saddles (roads that travel through mountains at the lowest point along a ridge) along the highway. These are Tahora, Whangamomona, Pohukura and Strathmore. If there is a lookout point you could stop for a rest and enjoy the view.
This small town is the largest along the Forgotten World Highway. The town is jokingly a Republic and has an election day every year. Presidents of the past include a goat and a poodle.
It’s worth stopping here and taking a look around the town. There are a few shops as well as the Whangamomona Hotel and pub. I have heard that it is possible to get a novelty stamp in your passport for $2 at the hotel, but I would advise against it – novelty passport stamps can invalidate your passport!
There is a public toilet here too. Nearby is a cute cat that always seems to be hanging around giving people a friendly greeting.
After Whangamomona there is not much to see until you get to Stratford, unless you want to make a side trip to the Bridge to Somewhere.
Bridge To Somewhere
Unlike it’s friend the famous Bridge To Nowhere, the Bridge To Somewhere actually goes somewhere… but not necessarily somewhere you’d be interested in going.
This bridge was built in 1937 in the same style as the Bridge To Nowhere. The bridges were built to provide easier access at a time when early settlers were moving to live in the area for farming. However, the economic depression combined with living in extremely remote conditions in the middle of nowhere proved too much and the communities were quickly abandoned.
To get to the Bridge to Somewhere, turn off the Forgotten World Highway at Strathmore and drive for 33km. It should take around 1.5 hours to get there, making a 3 hour return trip.
Welcome back to civilisation!
Stratford is a quirky little town in the beautiful Taranaki district. There is a New World, Z and Caltex for your fuel and grocery supplies.
There are a few interesting sightseeing things to do in Stratford.
Most importantly, a visit to Stratford would not be complete without a look at the Glockenspiel. Everyday there are several performances by wooden puppets reciting Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet out of the tower windows. It’s a rather bizarre experience that you cannot miss. See it at 10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm.
If you like art check out the Percy Thompson Art Gallery.
Lastly, take a stroll around King Edward Park in the city center or head out to Egmont National Park for something more challenging. The Dawson Falls walk is a good one!
Free Guide Map For Your Forgotten World Highway Road Trip!
Check out this awesome map I made just for you! Find out where everything is that I’ve mentioned in this post. It’s easy to navigate with icons and colour coding. Just click the star to save this to your maps in Google.
Happy roadtrippin’! 😊🚐
So, are you planning to drive the Forgotten World Highway? Or will you give this road trip a miss? Let me know in the comments!
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