Off the beaten track: Why a Forgotten World adventure should be at the top of your bucket list

Explore 142 kilometres of once-abandoned railway with a front-row seat into New Zealand’s pioneering history.

Is travelling along once-abandoned railway through one of New Zealand’s most breathtakingly and isolated locations on your bucket list? If not, add it straight to number one. This is a must-do for travellers of any age and ability seeking one of the most authentic and enchanting Kiwi adventures.

The seldom-seen area between Taranaki’s Stratford and Okahukura near Taumarunui in the Ruapehu region is often referred to as the “Forgotten World”. The historic Stratford-Okahukura railway line, heralded as a remarkable engineering feat, opened up this hinterland that has been an important route since pre-European times. Mothballed in 2010, the line is now a private gateway for those eager to experience this corner of King Country in a premium setting, combining geographical exploration with cultural discovery.

Forgotten World Adventures offers exclusive guided tours ranging, from half a day to four days, all of which incorporate the iconic rail cart trip with a front-row seat into New Zealand’s pioneering history. The carts are self-driven (2, 4 or 6 seaters) and, with a maximum speed of 20km per hour, the pace is appropriate — slow enough not to miss anything and sufficiently speedy on the straights!

The rail cart trip explores one of the country’s most worthy unsung achievements of the 20th century.

“The Ultimate” is a two-day tour on which guests travel the entire line in their own cart — over its 98 bridges and through the 24 hand-built tunnels, spectacular open hill country and untamed native bush. Most choose a pre-tour stop over at the Forgotten World Motel in Taumaraunui. This ensures a comfortable night’s sleep before an early start the next morning, when all opt for the hearty cooked breakfast in preparation for the day ahead.

After the 7.30am introduction from your guide, a 15-minute bus ride and safety briefing, it’s full steam ahead (without the steam!). Sitting alone with your travel companions creates an intimate setting for leisurely chats with friends or family and you soon have the feeling of escapism as you meander along the track deep into the wilderness. The line tells its own story but it is one greatly enriched by the guide, whose passion for their region’s rich history and storytelling is shared during perfectly timed stops.

The historic Stratford-Okahukura railway line was once heralded as a remarkable engineering feat.

Day one includes morning tea at Matiere, an idyllic rail-side picnic lunch at Tokirima and afternoon tea at the awe-inspiring Tangarakau Gorge. Be prepared to indulge in delicious home-baking with hot and cold refreshments throughout the day. Toilets are available at all three breaks; guests are advised at Tokirima that “toilets are flash but don’t flush!” which is spot on, but you couldn’t ask for more considering the remote location. The afternoon is spent soaking up the rugged beauty as the tour ventures further off the beaten track.

You’ll see remnants of original settlements and pass by once-thriving towns that time seems to have forgotten. Take a moment to reflect on the tenacity of the hundreds of hardy workers who spent more than 30 years building the line. One can’t help but be in awe of their creation. Spotting the majestic Mount Ruapehu in all its splendour is another highlight. Truly magnificent.

When the carts pull into the self-proclaimed Republic of Whangamomona mid-afternoon, it really feels like you’ve stepped back in time, in the most positive of senses. Guests stay at the Whangamomona Hotel — one of New Zealand’s most iconic, historic and secluded destinations. It’s a welcoming haven bursting with warm hospitality, old-world charm and wholesome, gourmet pub-style food. Don’t forget to get your passport stamped!

One of New Zealand’s most iconic, historic and secluded destinations: Whangamomona Hotel.

It’s back in the carts at 9am on day two. In addition to discovering more of the dramatic, diverse landscape and passing through the final three tunnels, guests enjoy more historical commentary, an imposing view of Mount Taranaki and a visit to Avonstar organic farm with its offerings of homemade preserves and local fare. After lunch, there are smiles all round upon arrival into Stratford. One feels a real sense of joy, privileged to have been so at one with nature and to have experienced one of the country’s most worthy unsung achievements of the 20th century. From here you can take a bus transfer back to Taumaraunui or have your car conveniently brought to Stratford for your onward travels.

There are other options. Two premium tours, “The Expedition” and “The Epic”, boast the opportunity to discover the Bridge to Nowhere by foot, fly over the Whanganui National Park, see award-winning conservation efforts at Blue Duck Station and visit Lauren’s Lavender Farm.

Those seeking an adrenaline rush can also choose an exhilarating jet boat trip along 23km (or more) of the Whanganui River. Or why not customise your own experience with family or friends. Reservations can only be made via phone call (0800 7245 2278) to the friendly bookings team who can help identify the most suitable tour package.

So update your bucket list and book a front-row seat to one of the most authentic experiences New Zealand has to offer. You certainly won’t regret or forget this unique Kiwi adventure. You’ll just be left wondering why you didn’t do it sooner. 

Send this to a friend