Leaving Stratford in the morning we turned right onto Highway 43, the famous Forgotten World Highway. Our special adventure begins here!
We could see the picturesque Mount Egmont peeping out from cloud cover as Geoff and Robin went about their business at the dump station just out of Stratford. Across the road the stock yards were bustling as cattle were moved into pens for the day’s sale. Over 2000 sheep were expected shortly, one of the men told me, and the stock agents all aim to get their customer’s stock auctioned early. It was going to be a busy day at the stock yards.
Dairy herds grazed in lush pasture as we drove through Toko and Douglas, with balage (wet hay wrapped up in plastic coating) stacked in the paddocks ready for winter feeding. We drove up and over the Strathmore Saddle (saddle = ridge between two summits) the first of four natural saddles along the highway. The 6500 ha Te Wera Forest was on our right, and the Stratford to Taumarunui railway line wound along on our left. Road works are everywhere, even on the Forgotten World Highway. We had to stop on one of the many hills till road worker turned his sign around to “Go” and waved us on.
Then it was up and over the Pohokura Saddle with a very steep grade on the downward side. The valley was used as a railway construction campsite when this line was being laid. No more farmland was in evidence as we approached The Whangamomona Saddle. The hills were covered in beautiful native bush and the sounds of cicadas filled the air. Another hard climb up and over the Whangamomana Saddle and before too long we were approaching Whangamomona, also known as the Valley of Plenty. We approached the Whangamomana Border Control office with trepidation, but as it was unmanned, we drove quickly past.
Whangamomana declared itself a Republic in 1988 when the locals were unhappy when the local district boundaries were shifted, without any consultation. Republic Day is held every two years in January, and up to 5000 visitors travel to the village to join in with the locals to celebrate. Country activities such as sheep racing, gumboot throwing, whip cracking and possum skinning all take place in the main street. Presidential elections are held, with the honour previously going to Billy the Goat, and Tai the Poodle.
Whangamomona village has a Historic Places Trust precinct rating, and there are a number of buildings being restored. It is like stepping back in time, New Zealand as it was in an earlier age.