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