The Forgotten Highway – an inspirational journey

The Forgotten Highway – an inspirational journey

We’ve always wanted to explore NZ’s forgotten highway – full of history and mystery, here was the perfect road trip for Easter weekend.

“Careful up there” warned the checkout attendant as we loaded supplies in Stratford.

“The roads are a little hairy in places,’ she went on to say.

‘No worries’ I replied, remembering the state of the gravel road to Waikaremoana a few weekends back.

After an hour or two of easy winding road, we found ourselves in the middle of the famed forgotten highway. Taking a side road to Tangarakau camp, we discovered the even more forgotten site of a once bustling railway construction village last century.

Welcome, I thought, to the middle of nowhere.

It was an invigorating evening in the Tangarakau river gorge. Speckled with the sound of bats taking flight and the call of a distant soulful morepork, this was real inner New Zealand alright – and quite magnificent. Places like this really nurture the creative spirit.

We broke camp at daybreak next morning, pointed our van into the valley mist and cautiously set out on the journey home.


A short time later, things went a little pear-shaped as we hit a soft spot on the bush track and slid into a sodden, dastardly ditch.

Bellied in mud, leaning heavily and helplessly into a mossy roadside bank, we found ourselves completely and utterly stuck – right smack in the middle of nowhere.

A lot of things go through your mind as waves of realisation wash over. I spent a good few moments pacing – searching for a stick to beat myself with before finally deciding it might be more useful to put a plan together.

It’s true that we cannot change the wind – but we can adjust the sails, right?

‘We need a tractor’ Deb and I agreed, so we put our boots on, rescued a few essentials from our sunken ship and trudged off into the mist.

It’s fair to say that we’ve had better moments, but I have to admit that as we walked through the bush-clad valley with the sun now peeping through, our spirits lifted. Upbeat and reflective, we pushed the reality of our situation aside for a while and just enjoyed this impromptu journey within a truly magical, peaceful setting. Birds chirped, photographs were taken and giant canvases planned.  There’s something about vulnerability that grounds us as human beings, and our connection to the environment becomes so much more meaningful and poignant.

Then hope flickered. The road unravelled into a clearing where a young woman was training a cattle dog.

‘Think you might be able to help us?’ I asked sheepishly, hopeful as heck.

‘No worries’ she replied with a beaming smile and halo, ‘happens all the time – we’ll get you sorted.’

With the assistance of a hefty, heavenly Toyota Landcruiser, and some of the nicest people we’ll ever meet, we emerged from the quagmire miraculously unscathed and on the road for home again.

Forgotten highway? Not likely. We’ll always remember the pristine bush, the heritage and history – but we especially won’t forget the fortuitous incident which connected us to, and reminded us of, the most wonderful setting and people out there – out in the middle of nowhere.