The Forgotten World Highway
The Forgotten World Highway is an old heritage trail that mostly follows State Highway 43 from New Plymouth to Taumarunui in the King Country. A wonderful, remote, and scenic route passing through many historical and natural points of interest.
The best way to leave New Plymouth is to make your way to the Wind Wand then head east along the Coastal Walkway, crossing over Te Rewa Rewa bridge and continuing all the way to the end at Hickford Park. Take the Ellesmere Ave exit, making a left into Parklands Ave then a right into Nugget St, continuing over the motorway overpass into Henwood Rd, which soon becomes Manutahi Rd. Cross over Highway 3A, continuing along Manutahi Rd for another 1 km to arrive at Lepperton where there is a dairy.
Around Lepperton you should start to see NZ Cycle Trail signs, which will lead you through the labyrinth of back-country roads, over the historic Bertrand Rd Suspension Bridge and onwards east. This really is some wonderful riding over uber-quiet roads, with the added interest of the Tarata Tunnel and views out over Mt. Taranaki.
After a while you may start thinking that this much tar seal this far out into the boon docks is too good to be true. Alas, at around 55 km, just before you reach Purangi, this turns out to be true. And what a transformation - a corrugated, rough as guts, metal road takes you through to the junction with SH43 some 17 km further, slowing your pace to a crawl. Take plenty of water.
Whangamōmona is a pretty settlement known for the historic Whangamōmona Hotel, and with a great campground on the grounds of the old school (which was closed in 1979). Whangamōmona declared itself an independent republic in 1989, originally as a protest against boundary changes which put half the district in Taranaki and half in the Manawatu. Today "Republic Day" is an annual event which attracts thousands to this small township of about 40 permanent residents.
This day gets off to an easy start, but soon enough you're tackling the Tahora Saddle (B&B/campground). The views here are pretty impressive. Soon after Tahora you pass through the Moki Tunnel, then about 22 km into the ride there begins a 10 km section of gravel, though it is well graded and is mostly downhill.
At 27 km, just before the crossing the Tangarakau River, there is a rest area with a picnic table and a short walk to the grave of pioneer surveyor Joshua Morgan. Morgan was working in this remote area in February 1893 on what was to have been his last surveying job before retiring when he fell gravely ill. Help was quickly dispatched but to no avail. He was buried on the spot where he died, aged just 35. Almost 60 years later Morgan's widow Anne died, aged 85, and was buried with her husband.
Rest well here because the remainder of the day could best be described as arduous. Although you start and end this day at an elevation of around 150m, in between you cycle up and over saddle after bluff after countless hill so that over the course of the day you ascend many hundreds of metres.
Most write-ups about the Forgotten Highway have you starting at Taumarunui and finishing at New Plymouth. I guess the rationale is that you start 150m higher than you end and therefore have an easier ride. In reality I don't think it matters much which direction you take because in this terrain 150m is small change.
Your can break up the journey with a stay at the DOC Ohinepane Campsite (21 km from Taumarunui), and 14 km from Taumarunui there is a Lavender Farm and café.
Taumarunui is a smallish town set on the upper reaches of the Whanganui River. It has a supermarket, garage and most everything you'll need. There's only one campground about 4 km out of town, but it is very good, with grape vines trained around the kitchen block, a shared herb garden, an outdoor open fire and many other nice touches. Avoid the highway and take the back route instead. Head down Hikaia St (directly opposite the information centre) continuing past Taumarunui Domain and over the river. Once across the bridge hang a left into Marsack Rd. The next left into Racecourse Rd takes you over the main trunk line and out onto the highway directly opposite the campground.
The Surf Highway follows the coast from New Plymouth down to Hawera in the south. Relatively flat, low traffic, plenty of services en route, and with every side road heading to a stunning coast; no wonder some cyclists pick this as a highlight of their New Zealand tour. One thing to bear in mind though is that the road from Hawera onwards to is not cycle friendly and you'll probably want to bus from there to Whanganui. From Whanganui you can connect up with some quieter roads to head further south.