© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

The Quest to Find Ghost Town on the Forgotten World Highway

© NZPocketGuide.com

39 Days on the Road

Here, there and nowhere: that’s the road trip plan for today. More specifically, we start our journey on the Forgotten World Highway.

However, before we set off from Taumarunui, the start of the Forgotten World Highway, we are recommended to go and do a quick hike, just 20 minutes south of Taumarunui in a settlement called Owhango. We aren’t heading on this road for too long today, but man, we would be pretty happy too. The hills are getting more dramatic the further south we go, so much so that we can even see New Zealand’s largest volcano, Mt Ruapehu’s, snow-covered peak poking behind the green hills. There’s a lookout point between Taumarunui and Owhango so we can both ogle at the scenery.

O-whan-go to the Lagoon

The Ohinetonga Walkway is well signposted from the state highway and town itself. We park up before the beginning of a forest gravel road that leads to walkway. We do this because we try to avoid taking the campervan down gravel roads when we can. (As we are about to find out later today, this is an impossible mission in New Zealand). Nevertheless, a 10-minute walk down the gravel road brings us to two walking tracks going in completely opposite directions. Both say: “track”. Well, that’s a start. We go right and about five minutes later we spot reflections through the trees. It’s a bit trippy, but we realise its water! We have stumbled upon the Owhango Lagoon! The bright sunrise casts long dark shadows across the water with rays of light blasting through the trees. A boardwalk takes us over the lagoon to the rest of the hike through a fairy-tale like forest. Wow, what an awesome start to a day!

One last teeter around Taumarunui

We are heading back to Taumarunui now for one quick last look around the town before we head down the Forgotten World Highway. The town has a strong Maori heritage, with a couple of maraes (meeting grounds) characterised by the detailed carvings. Another feature of the town is a restaurant inside a rail cart! Pretty cool, but it wasn’t open at this time in the morning…

Now, this is it. We’ve journeyed into the Forgotten World by rail, but now we are about to journey by campervan down State Highway 43 Forgotten World Highway. We fill up on gas, because there are no gas stations for about 115km. Then, we drive.

We run into woolly traffic

We may have had a bright and sunny day in Owhango, but a thick fog is setting in as the highway climbs higher and higher inland. To our left, we see part of the Whanganui River that we jet boated on yesterday and to our right we see fields of sheep, sheep and more sheep. The sheep are not just in the fields, but there is a whole flock on the road! We stop the van and watch the show as the farmer and his dog move hundreds of sheep up the road. After that, we rarely see any other vehicle let alone a farmer and his dog.

Someone forgot to fill in the potholes on the Forgotten World Highway

Forgotten World Highway really lives up to its name due to the fact that there is moss growing on the sealed road! But the most forgotten about section is a 12km stint through the Tangarakau Gorge. That’s 12km of unsealed road. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a highway in New Zealand. Our big old campervan rocks over each pothole. Where the gravel runs out onto just sleek and slippery mud, we are driving snail pace, even if there was a warning sign for rock falls just further up the road. For sure, this is a forgotten world, but the scenery is not something we will forget quickly. Cruising down a river gorge thick with native bush, even with mini waterfalls trickling down the sides looks amazing!

Taking our campervan caving

Finally, we return to the sealed road but we are about to face the biggest road challenge this campervan has faced yet: the Moki Tunnel. (But not before taking photos because this tunnel looks so friggin’ old and mysteries just carved here under a mountain). As we take the campervan through, we are met with some of the largest potholes yet. The narrow tunnel walls are rugged as sh*t.

“This is not a tunnel; this is a cave!” Robin exclaims between bounces in his seat. Honestly, we have never had such an adventure out of literally driving.

Meeting the residents of Ghost Town

We survive the tunnel and approach our final destination for today, Tangarakau, a.k.a. Ghost Town. The reason we are heading here is because we met a guy called Bryce a couple of days ago who said we can’t miss the Ghost Town! We have to stay with his cousin who has a campground and bee-keeping business in the town of 10 residents.

Indeed, this really is a ghost town. The entrance welcomes us with the skin of goats hung up on the fence lining the gravel road. We first head to the Bushlands Campground because this is the written instructions given to us by Bryce. We get out of the van to look for Bryce’s cousin, Sarah, and her husband, Simon, but instead we are met with an old lady at the campground who points us towards Sarah and Simon’s house… We are not sure if this experience is real or if the lady is just a ghost. Nevertheless, we follow her instructions and it gets us to the right place.

We meet Simon and Sarah, the dad/father-in-law, Bruce, their au pair, Lauren from the UK, their five children, two dogs, two pet kids (baby goats), and one grumpy cat. Woooaaawww!

A 4×4 thrill ride!

Before we sit down for dinner with the family, Simon takes us on an unexpected thrill ride. We jump in a Gator (a 4×4 farm buggy) and speed off across hectares and hectares of farmland. Robin’s in the passenger seat while Laura’s in the back flying around over the rough terrain.

Some people hike up mountains, Simon speeds up them in a Gator. This is insane! The ridge up the mountain is only wide enough to fit the 4×4 with steep drops on either side. It’s like a rollercoaster going up and down, around and around.

Almost at the top, Simon stops the Gator, the guys get out buzzing, while Laura rolls out the back battered to sh*t. One last climb by foot up to the peak and… Oh my God, we are on top of the world! We get a perfect view of the volcanoes, Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro, covered in snow while the sun sets on them.

A proper family dinner

Back at the house, we hang out with the family, drinking wine, eating cheese before a homemade dinner of lamb, veges and gravy. Desert is chocolate cake made by one of their children, Chelsea. We are totally spoilt here. Not only with the food but by how welcoming this family is. There au pair, Lauren, has stayed with the family for quite a while, even returning to them after she travelled around New Zealand, and we can totally see why.

It’s getting pretty late for all the family (and us especially), so we plug in the campervan, put on the electric heater, and collapse in bed.

Tomorrow, we have a full day with the Ghost Town family seeing some local sights and even doing some bee-keeping before heading to the Republic of Whangamomona. See you then!

Making ripples in the Owhango Lagoon

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