Taranaki Trails

Riding the Forgotten World Highway

Posted on 16 September 2020

The Forgotten World Cycle Trail offers a challenging 180km route between Taumarunui and New Plymouth that is both stunningly scenic and rich in history.

The first official Heartland ride of the New Zealand Cycle Trail, the route begins in Taumarunui in the Central North Island and traces the Forgotten World Highway through true back country before deviating through farmland to the Taranaki coast, finishing on New Plymouth’s acclaimed Coastal Walkway.

At first glance the route doesn’t seem for the faint hearted – over its 180km the Forgotten World Cycle Trail climbs several natural saddles (total ascent 2017m, descent 2175m) and there are few places to stop for a coffee – but the ride is gaining rave reviews for its scenery, connection to the real New Zealand and very low traffic count. You’ll likely meet more wild animals along the way than other vehicles.

At its heart of the trail – 87km ride from Taumarunui – is the Republic of Whangamomona – a self-declared republic complete with its own passport – available from the village’s iconic Hotel. Here you’ll find meals, a range of accommodation options, including the town’s former butchery, and some interesting side trips, whether that’s the mountain bike track along the Old Whangamomona Road to the Bridge to Somewhere, or an excursion along historic rail lines with Forgotten World Adventures.

Between Taumarunui and Whangamomona is the beautiful bush-lined Tangarakau Gorge, with historic points of interest such as Morgan’s Grave, and the Tahora Tunnel – also known as the Hobbit Hole – whose ceiling is lined with fossilised shellfish. Just after the Tahora Tunnel, 12km before Whangamomona, a 6km detour leads to Bushlands Campground, another accommodation option and the site of a once-thriving village. 

Around 13km through the Tangarakau Gorge is surfaced in hard-packed gravel, though the rest of the trail between Taumarunui and Whangamomona is sealed. The same can’t be said for the second half of the route though: 16km south of the village the cycle trail heads off the Forgotten World Highway onto Junction Road at Pohokura Saddle, and straight into some fairly rugged gravel roads far better suited to a wider tyre. 

31km from Whangamomona is Purangi, hope to kiwi reserve the Purangi Kiwi Project, which is achieving great results in growing the kiwi population, while the nearby historic schoolhouse offers welcoming accommodation. 

The gravel ends not long after Purangi, and then it’s a smoother road all the way into New Plymouth. And mostly downhill from the Tarata Tunnel, if you overlook the last little pinch climb after the historic Bertrand Road Bridge. 

The icing on the cake, though, is the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, which offers a smooth seaside cruise into the central city and the welcoming red glow of Len Lye’s iconic Wind Wand sculpture, across the road from the i-SITE Visitor Information Centre. 

While there is little in the way of infrastructure along the route – the café at Lauren’s Lavendar just out of Taumarunui and the Whangamomona Hotel are the only options to pick up supplies until you hit the Lepperton store 162km into the ride – there are enough sweeping vistas to distract you, including views of Mount Taranaki and the mountains of the Central North Island.  

Regularly judged one of the world’s top cycle touring routes, the Forgotten World Cycle Trail has to be added to your bucket list, and is best broken down over 3 days, as it does tackle a number of significant climbs.