Mad Drive to the Big Mountain

We set off from Auckland, negotiate the busy city highway past the big pointy thing and over the impressive harbour bridge. With relief we get out onto the open road to Hamilton. We drive through many little towns all much of a muchness. One main street. One storey shops. Graphic pollution aplenty. We stop at a ‘Service Centre’ for ‘long blacks with a little milk’. Past Hamilton and on to highway three. More cloned townships. To the right, the interior, Tongariro and co. All rugged and dark. But we drive on through a toytown summer landscape. Highway four, a little more undulating. To the west there are distant high hills. We stop again in Ngaruawahia, (no honestly, that’s what it was called) with vast sweeps of high, Pacific cloud in an impossibly pure pale blue sky above it. Then we make a fateful decision. We’ll take the scenic route to Stratford. Highway forty three. The Forgotten World Highway.
We roll on through increasingly undulating country. It’s sub-alpine says Alison who knows about that continental stuff, all conifers and cows and limestone outcrops. The road begins to wind. This is scenic, this is what we came for. The windiness becomes more marked. The hills are steeper. This is well scenic and dead picturesque. The windings and slopes intensify. You feel like you’re on a merry-go-round of unusual topology run by a somewhat unhinged fairground man. Always under an intense blue sky and a blazing sun.
The driving is becoming physically demanding. The bends are acute, the slopes severe. We negotiate ridge after ridge. This is like Derbyshire on acid. Giant green hills and limestone tors complete with sheep and cows flung across the map by a deranged giant. Eventually we plunge into the Tangaraku gorge. The wildly twisting descent is strewn with piles of fallen rocks and rendered hair-raising by the glare of the setting sun. Huge rock faces broken up by tree ferns tower over us. This is dead scenic with a vengeance. Intimidating might be closer to the mark. We stop in deep, green shadow at the bottom of the gorge. The bit of the sky which is still visible above is the purest blue imaginable. A sign informs us that we are not far from Joshua Morgan’s grave. He was the surveyor of the road who died here in 1892.

We were due in Stratford at five to meet Alison’s long lost cousins. This was revised to six before we started on forty three. Our latest estimate is seven thirty but no mobile network has ever penetrated this far so we can’t let them know.
Onward and upward, then onwards and downwards, apparently for the rest of eternity. We cross saddle after saddle. The view at the top of each is like the Grand Canyon with grass on it. Astoundingly the whole area is farmed. Clearly by mad people. We pass through Whangamomona, a wildly winding name eminently suited to the region. This is the capital of the Manawatu-Wanganui Republic. As we leave, a sign welcomes us back to New Zealand, but obviously we have left reality far behind.
Eventually the gradients imperceptibly decrease. The windy bits relax and unravel. At close to eight in the evening we roll past several small settlements like Douglas and Toko toward Stratford. We have covered something over one hundred miles through this unbelievable landscape.
Then, like the final Big Bang grand finale of a firework display after a brief lull, Mount Taranaki suddenly swings into view. It’s worth the crazy drive. A towering, symmetrical cone softened by distance to a pale purple madder against the glowing pink of the sunset sky. It is reminiscent of a faded woodcut of Fujiyama.
Roslyn picks us up after we check into the motel. We are taken to her and Kevin’s spacious and cosy home and once again regaled with kiwi hospitality. An excellent meal. A wide ranging after-dinner conversation. Genealogical bearings are established. They are both amused at our naivety in supposing that ‘scenic route’ means the same in New Zealand as it does in England. Kevin has worked in the area all his life and tells us tales of the rugged folk who inhabit the forgotten world and its ‘republic’. We are presented with splendid kiwi-emblazoned socks, wooly, thick and warm. We reciprocate with a set of coasters of native Australian design.
As we leave we remark on upside down Orion but the two New Zealanders tell us it is a saucepan with the handle pointing upwards, not a man with his sword hanging down. This sociable evening is a wonderful end to a weird and wonderful day. One thing we can promise, we will not forget our journey on the Never-to-be-Forgotten World Highway.


One thought on “Mad Drive to the Big Mountain

  1. Eek! This sounds like you may have eaten something ‘herbal’ before setting off or something! Scary! Still, it sounds like it was worth the trip. Enjoying these blogs- sounds like an eventful and fabulous journey! Xx

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