The Republic of Whangamomona is a tiny settlement, hidden away along New Zealand’s Forgotten World Highway. It’s an hour-and-a-half’s drive to the nearest supermarket, not to mention the nearest petrol station, and the road is narrow, winding and occasionally treacherous. As you can imagine, not many people live there, but there is one very nice pub/hotel: an essential stop for any New Zealand tourist driving the Forgotten World Highway.

The Forgotten World Highway, New Zealand

One of Whangamomona’s more prominent buildings…

The Forgotten World Highway snakes for 155km – 12 unsealed – between the town of Stratford in Taranaki and Taumarunui in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region. It’s an interesting drive – relaxing aside from the odd point where the road’s in danger of crumbling down a cliff beneath your car – with many attractions along the way, including the North Island’s second highest waterfall and the aptly named Bridge to Somewhere. My family drove it last summer, on the way back from our holiday in Taranaki, and right from the start there was something different about it.

I feel I should point out that very few New Zealand campervan hire companies allow you to drive their vehicles on the Forgotten World Highway, but it’s fine as long as you’re careful, so make sure you check the small print and choose a company that does allow it. The Forgotten World Highway adds excitement (and convenience) to many New Zealand self-drive routes.

At first, I thought it was going to be just like any other New Zealand country road, surrounded by fields and hills and sheep and cows. But the hills were… strange. For a while, I couldn’t put my finger on the reason for their strangeness, subtle as it was. Then I realised: they were more conical than the grassy hills I was used to seeing, like lots of small, grass-covered pyramids packed tightly together. The views from the various lookout points were quite lovely.

The Forgotten World Highway, New Zealand

And quite Kiwi…

Railway tracks often run by the side of the Forgotten World Highway, used only by tourists now, but not for trains. The tourists ride in modified golf carts and weird bike-like contraptions attached to the rails – they looked dead funny going past! Passenger trains ceased using the tracks in the 1980’s, when Whangamomona was already in decline. Its population went down to about twenty people at one point. Then, in 1989, regional council lines were redrawn, meaning Whangamomona was no longer in Taranaki.

The Whangamomona Hotel, The Forgotten World Highway, New Zealand

The only pub for an hour-and-a-half…

The residents were having none of it. In protest, they declared Whangamomona a republic and held presidential elections.

The first president of Whangamomona served for ten years, having had his name put on the ballot without his knowledge.

The second president of Whangamomona was a goat. According to Wikipedia, he won the election by eating the other candidates’ ballots. He died in office.

The third president of Whangamomona was a poodle who “retired after an assassination attempt left him a nervous wreck.”

The fourth president “fought off strong competition” from a former president and a cross-dresser called Miriam.

The current president, Whangamomona’s first female president, runs the local pub. Here’s a rather hilarious article about it.

The Republic of Whangamomona, The Forgotten World Highway, New Zealand

A relic from Whangamomona’s glory days…

Passports to the Whangamomona Republic are available at the pub. My family stopped there during our epic voyage along the Forgotten World Highway. I have a very nice memory of relaxing in the surprisingly beautiful pub garden, sunlight glinting off the flowers, sipping a cold glass of G & T…

 

Article by Abigail Simpson