WEEK­END DRIVE

Kiwi Rd was the ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion and Whang­amomona the overnight stop on David Coxon’s latest back coun­try ad­ven­ture.

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS - Story and photos by David Coxon

This month our trip was planned by our reg­u­lar trav­el­ling part­ners Ash­ley and Gilli to cover the south­ern half of the For­got­ten World High­way (SH43 from Tau­marunui to Stratford, Ed) and some roads link­ing across to the coast north of New Ply­mouth. The plan was to spend Satur­day af­ter­noon driv­ing up to Stratford then tak­ing the For­got­ten World High­way to Whang­amomona where we would stay in the his­toric Whang­amomona ho­tel, one of the most re­mote coun­try ho­tels in New Zealand. Sun­day would then be spent ex­plor­ing the Tan­garakau Gorge on our way out to the coast be­fore the long hike back to Welling­ton. The Whang­amomona Ho­tel proved to be a warm and invit­ing place to stop with friendly staff and a roar­ing open­ing fire. Built in the early 1900s, the ho­tel is slowly be­ing “de­mod­ernised” to give an au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence of the old life while still keep­ing some mod­ern com­forts.

No dis­trac­tions

With no cell­phone cov­er­age, no Wi-Fi and no TV in the rooms, it may not be teenager-friendly, but I en­joyed the lack of elec­tronic dis­trac­tions. A mem­o­rable part of the evening for me was un­wind­ing in the lounge af­ter the oth­ers had re­tired, do­ing a crossword and fend­ing off the at­ten­tions of Tom, the ho­tel cat. Our plan for Sun­day was to have a look at Whang­amomona be­fore head­ing up the For­got­ten High­way to check out the Tan­garakau gorge. We would then re­turn to turn off at Moki Rd and work our way across to the coast via Kiwi Rd. De­spite its small size, Whang­amomona has made a name for it­self thanks to declar­ing its in­de­pen­dence in 1988 in protest at the dis­trict coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to change the bound­aries be­tween Taranaki and Manawatu in line with the wa­ter­shed of the main rivers. This was done with­out even con­sult­ing the peo­ple in­volved, who con­sid­ered them­selves part of Taranaki but some of whom ended up in Manawatu or even with part of their prop­erty in each coun­cil. Re­pub­lic Day, in Jan­uary, is now a good ex­cuse for a ma­jor cel­e­bra­tion. Af­ter the oblig­a­tory photos at the bar and in front of the ho­tel, we con­tin­ued north on the For­got­ten World High­way. A good sealed road took us up into the hills through rugged farm­ing coun­try, with a few stops to en­joy and pho­to­graph the scenery.

Moki tun­nel

The next land­mark was the hand-dug, sin­gle lane, 180m Moki tun­nel, built in 193536 to avoid the slip­pery and chal­leng­ing climb over the Moki sad­dle. Orig­i­nally five me­tres high, the road was dropped another two me­tres in 1985 to al­low more mod­ern stock trucks to use the road. Past the tun­nel we dropped down on the now un­sealed road into the gorge with its sheer cliffs and lush na­tive fo­liage. We did the first half be­fore stop­ping at a rest area with a colour­fully painted toi­let. The rest area also con­tained an in­for­ma­tion panel on Joshua Mor­gan, the surveyor who plot­ted the route for the road and died here in 1893. It was a short walk from the rest area through the bush to his grave. Although an easy walk, the dense bush and streams sur­round­ing the track made me re­alise what a dif­fi­cult un­der­tak­ing it must have been to sur­vey the road when vis­i­bil­ity through the bush is only a mat­ter of me­tres. Re­turn­ing to the start of the gorge we took a right onto Moki Rd. This soon be­came Man­ga­papa Rd, with Moki Rd be­ing a dead-end side road off the main route. Our next stop was at a rest area with a num­ber of old steam boil­ers and re­lated milling equip­ment on dis­play. A short run from here took us to the car park for the walk to Damper Falls. The falls are about a ten-minute walk across a few pad­docks and through the bush to the top look­out. The falls were quite im­pres­sive and well worth the break from driv­ing. Re­turn­ing to the cars we did the fi­nal halfhour run along what was now Okau Rd to the junction with Kiwi Rd. At this point the now-sealed Okau Rd pro­vided a short run out to the coast, join­ing SH3 at Ahi­titi, but Kiwi Rd was our ob­jec­tive.

Not for novices

Kiwi Rd is def­i­nitely not a road for novices. Right from the start it was an un­sealed,

rough and very nar­row run along the side of a val­ley, with sheer cliffs loom­ing above the road and an equally sheer drop on the other side down into Kiwi Stream. At times there was not even room for t wo ve­hi­cles to pass. As we climbed it de­te­ri­o­rated even fur­ther with a few slips and some very muddy sec­tions that had my AT tyres strug­gling for grip to the point where I had to go into 4WD to avoid wheel­spin. Talk­ing to Ash­ley later he said that with mud tyres he had never felt the need for 4WD, which high­lights the ex­tra grip mud tyres of­fer in muddy con­di­tions, even on formed roads. Against that I had the ad­van­tage of bet­ter trac­tion on the sealed road that made up about 90 per­cent of our trip and I had no prob­lems mak­ing progress in 4WD. Reach­ing the top of Kiwi Rd, the fi­nal sec­tion was an up­hill gra­di­ent through another hand-cut tun­nel very sim­i­lar to Moki tun­nel. While there is no rea­son that tun­nels can’t slope, it is not some­thing I have seen very of­ten.

Long drop

Once through the tun­nel I thought that I could re­lax as we started the long drop down the seaward side of the ranges into the val­ley and lower gorge of the Moki stream, how­ever there was more in­ter­est­ing driv­ing to come. This side of the tun­nel turned out to be a mix­ture of good gravel road, sec­tions of mud of­ten sev­eral inches deep and large sec­tions of pot­holes that had been filled with large stones and left to set­tle. Care was cer­tainly re­quired, as was rea­son­able ground clear­ance. We fi­nally joined another Moki Rd which later in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the map showed was linked to the Moki Rd we started on by the Moki track. This meant that the road was built on the Moki track at each end but de­vi­ated to find an eas­ier way over the ranges. I love work­ing out the history of the roads. It was a short fi­nal run back to SH3 at Uruti from which we headed south, tak­ing an un­planned de­tour down Waitoe­toe Rd look­ing for a beach­front lunch spot. Another highly suc­cess­ful trip, with Kiwi Rd be­ing the driv­ing high­light and one I would not have liked to tackle with­out at least a recre­ational AWD ve­hi­cle..

“Rab­bit” (Ash­ley’s ve­hi­cle) tack­ling Kiwi Rd.

Ash­ley and Gilli ex­it­ing the Moki tun­nel.

When the Whang­amomona Ho­tel was built we would have been pos­ing with our horses!

David, May, Gilli and Ash­ley pos­ing in the bar. And yes, David bought the T-shirt.

A welcome lunch break by the sea. It could al­most have been sum­mer.

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