Friday, 25 October 2019

NZL Travelogue: The Forgotten Highway, Whangamomona Hotel, Dawson Falls, Mt. Taranaki & Lake Mangamahoe

Day 9 of our NZ roadtrip was a rather "last minute" decision, planned (with some major re-routing, since I initially planned for us to head to the opposite direction of Napier and Hastings after Taupo) only after I chatted with R briefly on our planned meetup in Auckland (he brought up The Forgotten Highway) , and with Oyhz (she brought up Mt. Taranaki, which she chanced upon... somehow) a couple of weeks before our trip. 
It was a day of "mad rush" doing research on Google and then re-route planning on Google Map, and viola~

The Forgotten Highway, which is also part of the State Highway 43, starts from Taumaranui and takes you through Whangamomona to Stratford, with a total estimated (NON-STOP) travel time of 2 hours and 15 minutes.
And so with a FULL TANK (very important because there is NO petrol station along The Forgotten Highway), we started our Forgotten Highway drive towards Whangamomona Hotel, passing by Tangarakau Gorge, Moki Tunnel and Tahora Saddle along the 92 km drive.

We decided to skip Mount Damper Falls as it'll take us at least a 30 minutes detour after the gorge, plus probably another 20 - 30 minutes of walking to the falls' lookout.
-credits to

The Tangarakau Gorge is supposed to offer a magnificent path through a dense forest that's unique to the area, making it a traditional New Zealand postcard picture spot.
I can't decide if I have set my expectation a little too high, or we actually didn't get to the exact picturesque spot along the gorge, but it was really nothing impressive to us.
Other travel blogs has mentioned that this will be the gravel road section of the highway, so I guess we did get to the correct spot though.
Anyway, the gravels were no joke, it was probably also around these extremely bumpy section of the gravel road that caused the crack in our water tanks.

Next up along the way was Moki Tunnel. Although brief, I quite liked Moki Tunnel and found it rather cute as there's a 'Hobbit Hole' signage put up above it. We could have hung around and took a few more shots, if not for the nasty Caucasian couple who got there before us and hogged the parking spot at the road shoulder area just beside the tunnel's entrance. They actually horned at us when we slowed down (there were NO CARS behind us) and tried to reverse the CV up into the side of the road beside their car.

It's kind of true that the spot could only fit 1 car comfortably But because there's hardly any cars along The Forgotten Highway, plus it's not as if we wanted to CAMP OVERNIGHT right there or what, we probably just need a 5 minutes quick stop and it shouldn't be an issue at all.
It was as if they own the road shoulder. TSK. 

So, after Moki Tunnel came the Tahora Saddle, which looked pretty scenic overall and there'll be "free spots" along the highway for you to stop your vehicles and take a few IG-worthy photographs.

And finally, we arrived at Whangamomona Hotel for lunch! 

The hotel not only provides accommodation, but it's also a classic New Zealand pub! And most importantly, and also the main reason why I planned the hotel into my itinerary, is that Whangamomona is actually a Republic, and you can get your passport stamped right here at the hotel with just a small adminstrative fee of NZD $2!

And there's the cute neighbourhood/resident cat that came for a visit. 

Food wise, you can find proper hot-cooked food and also some baked goods at the 'pub'.
The BF had their beef burger, which was pretty good according to him.
As for my Fish & Chips, it was not bad, but the marinate was pretty mild and fish had a distinctive "fishy" taste, which the mild marinate couldn't cover. It also didn't help that I will only take chili sauce as my choice of dips, and you won't get chili sauce anywhere when dining in New Zealand.

Anyway, after the hearty lunch, we hopped back onto our Jucy Chaser and it was another 64 km worth of driving to the Shakee Pear Cafe, located at the Taranaki Pioneer Village, passing by the Whangamomona Saddles, Pohokura Saddle and Strathmore Saddle along the way.

-credits to

There's actually another tunnel, the Makahu Tunnel along this stretch of the highway, but we decided to skip it as it requires us to exit the highway and take another detour.

Both the Whangamomona and Pohokura Saddles were pretty mediocre in comparison to the other 2 saddles (there's a total of 4 saddles along the way) that we drove by along the highway. We even skipped taking photographs of the Wangamomona Saddle because it looks too.... normal.

The Strathmore Saddle has to be the most impressive of the four, but the sight that greeted us still fell short of my expectation by... a lot.

Hello, Mr. Rooster.

And I think I only have google images to blame for showing me tons of post-edited, ridiculously stunning shots of the saddle.
-credits to

Anyway, more camwhoring moments as we drove on towards the end of The Forgotten Highway...

 This has to be one of my favourite shot of the trip!

Finally, we arrived at the Taranaki Pioneer Village, which is actually a unique outdoor museum that consists of around 30 buildings that take you back in time when the pioneers first settled in New Zealand.

But since it closes at 4pm and the entire place seems eerily deserted (we weren't even sure if they're open when looking from the outside), we decided to just pop by Shakee Pear Cafe, located just beside the car park, for a quick rest.

Food choices here are pretty limited, and taste wise were mediocre at best. Highly suggest that you do not try their smoothies; it tasted really bland and the texture very watery and diluted. 

For more information of The Forgotten Highway and various places to drop by along the highway, visit HERE

After the short and not very satisfying (in terms of the food) pit stop at the cafe, we headed down to Dawson Falls, which is approximately half an hour's drive away.

But before that, see who we met along the way!
SHEEPS! So adorable!

According to travel sites, there's toilets, well-maintained picnic area, the DOC office and a cafe situated at the end of the road, about 3 minutes' walk from the big car park, but as it was a touch-and-go stop for us, we didn't get to explore that area. 

The walking trail from the carpark will start off as a downhill (meaning it'll all be uphill when you return) walk that'll take you 10 minutes to reach Manaia Road, where the entrance to the Dawson Falls will be. Hence, you can actually park your vehicle at Manaia Road (if you're lucky to snatch one of the very limited slots) to save up on the 10 minutes uphill walk during your return. 

The first part of the track starting from the forest will bring you to a junction within just 5 minutes, at this point which you can either choose to walk to the upper waterfall's lookout (5 minutes return) or go further down to the waterfall's base (5 - 10 minutes return). 

For us, we just took the track to get to the base and skip the additional 5 minutes' walk to the upper lookout. 

And right after Dawson Falls comes the 2nd major highlight of our day, Mt Taranaki!

First up, we headed for the Potaema Track, which was another half an hour's drive away from the Dawson Falls. 

This 30 minutes return track starts off from the Potaema picnic area, on the left side of Pembroke Road, and is supposed to be a well-maintained wheelchair accessible track. However, I will beg to differ, as not only some portions of the tracks aren't truly smooth and flat, some areas along the track will get pretty tight due to the growing trees, which I doubt a wheelchair can easily pass through. 

The track supposedly takes us through the lush lowland forest and eventually leads us to a large lowland bog that sustains a wide variety of flora and fauna. From here, at the viewing area, you can get magnificent views of the mountain across the swamp. 

But we couldn't, as the entire mountain was covered up by thick clouds. 

where is  my mountain?!

It was definitely a 30 minutes well wasted, as there's nothing for us to see along the track, and we ended up not seeing the mountain at the view area. :(
Highly suggest that you skip this if it was a particularly cloudy day on your visit. 

Well, no mountain views at Potaema Track? It's okay, because you can actually see the mountain peak along the road, nearly anywhere around this area. 

And of course, to get the famous view of Mt Taranaki over a lake, we need to get to Lake Mangamahoe!

Lake Mangamahoe has a well sign-posted 6km circuit that undulates around the lake shore. It passes radiata pine forest, mature ornamental tree plantings, pockets of regenerated native bush and some impressive viewpoints. Perhaps the best is a bit more than halfway along Lake Road, at a turn-around/car park point giving a view south, across the lake, to the mountain. Another vantage point is easily reached on a short walk beyond the northern end of Lake Road along a trail above the lake. Facilities abound – picnic areas, toilets, ample car parking, a mountain biking area and horse riding trails. -credits to

We stopped our Jucy Chaser by the turn-around point, where there's picnic tables and benches available by the lake. However, with A LOT of small flying insects (sandflies, again?) at some area near the bushes along the lake's perimeter. 

Nevertheless, we loved the place so much that we decided to cook up some food and have an early dinner complemented by the amazing view of Mt Taranaki and the sunset. 

The initial plan on my itinerary was to drop by New Plymouth Coastal Walkway and grab dinner at one of the cafes (probably Deluxe Diner or Elixir Cafe) along the way before heading to Seaview Holiday Park at Mokau, but since we've already had dinner, we decided to go for the free campsite (since it's still relatively early) at Tongaporutu Domain, which was roughly a 1.5 hours' drive away. 

There's absolutely NO FACILTIES here at this free campsite, but you do get pretty nice views of The Three Sisters from here, so do stay tune for my Day 10 (final day) travelogue for the morning views. 

edit: Day 10 recount is up HERE!

Till then,
Mia Foo


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