Taumarunui to New Plymouth via Ōhura
For those of you feeling intrepid this is a great alternative to the Forgotten World Highway through the tiny settlement of Ōhura, deep in the heart of the King Country.
This route is wonderfully scenic, and you will have it practically all to yourself because daily vehicle numbers are in the single digits. The total ascent is slightly less than that of the Forgotten Highway but, more importantly, it has a few long climbs instead of a lot of short ones, which I much prefer.
But of course there is a price to pay for all this quietude... the road is mainly gravel, and with practically no services en route you should reckon on finding a camp site at the end of each day. You will also need to pack enough supplies to last 2-3 days. Ōhura does have a small store, but opening times vary. For water refills you may try your luck with farm houses along the way, but bear in mind that through stretches the Waitaanga Saddle and Kiwi Road there are no farms to be found. Another option, if you have a water filter, is fresh water from streams. You'll pass a few when climbing up the Waitaanga Saddle, but there are none on the saddle itself.
Your first task for the day is to decide which way to head out of Taumarunui...
I started by heading south-west along SH 43, turning right at about 29 km into the gravel Roto Road, which follows the Ohura River gradually upstream to Ōhura.
Another option is to head north along the Ongarue Back Road. This follows the Ongarue River upstream for about 10 km, shadowing the course of SH 4 along the opposite bank, then joining it briefly before turning left into Okahukura Saddle Road. The road, though largely sealed, turns to gravel at various points, including over the saddle. Take the left fork at Matiere to follow Ohura Road through to Ōhura.
One last option is to head west along the gravel Kururau Road, joining SH 43 for a few km before the turnoff to Moto Road. With two significant climbs this choice is for the stubbornly adventurous only.
Once at Ōhura you can take a break, try your luck at the store, and then begins your ascent up the Waitaanga Saddle. At the top of the saddle, about 1 km after the road levels out, you can find a nice camping spot with a good view of Mount Taranaki.
Day two takes you back down the saddle and then up Kiwi Road, forking right onto Moki Road, then left into Uriti Road towards Okoki. This section takes you through several hand-carved tunnels. To your left, after the second tunnel, is a location used for the filming of the movie The Last Samurai. The scenery here is wonderful.
Ask locally and camping may be possible at the old school grounds in Okoki. Preferring a shorter day I stopped earlier, asking a local farmer if I could camp on his land; a great spot high on the hill, again with views out to Mount Taranaki. If you camp close to Kiwi Road then a night walk may reward you with a sighting of the shy, nocturnal Kiwi. There are plenty around, and you will almost certainly hear their raucous cry come nightfall.
The final leg from Okoki follows the Urenui River down to join SH 3. There are a few campgrounds nearby to choose from, but if you're pushing on to New Plymouth then you can avoid the busy highway by heading inland to Huirangi or Lepperton, then through Bell Block to join the Coastal Walkway into the city.