Cultures Sauvages (Raw Cultures) is a radio show on Radio Eponyme, a local radio of Mulhouse. The show was created in 2017 and talks about culture and especially music and literature. Since October 2019, I’m doing a chronicle every month about my travels and I decided to draw something to illustrate my adventures!
The June 2020 show was about “Hitting the Road” and was recorded in each of the team’s house since we couldn’t get together due to the Covid19 locked-down. You can listen to it -in French- right here:
THE FORGOTTEN WORLD HIGHWAY
(This post is a improved version of this post here – where you’ll find more stunning pictures of this stunning route! )
The Forgotten World Highway (or SH43) is a 150km long road located in the North Island of New Zealand, between the town of Stratford, close to the Taranaki mountain and the village of Taumarunui, not far from the Tongariro National Park, the famous setting of the Mordor.
For my last road trip in New Zealand, I had to see this forgotten road with my own eyes. With my favourite partner of unlikely adventures and road trips rocked with lame songs, Florent, we rented a car to explore more of North Island before going back to France.
As we’re leaving the Fitzroy Beach campground beside the sea, where we spent the night in our car, Mount Taranaki is still hiding under a heavy foggy cloud. It’s said that it looks like Mount Fuji, and we planned to hike its ridges, but the shitty weather has buried our desires for heights. We’ll leave this country without having ever seen its pointy peak.
HITTING THE ROAD
150 km doesn’t seem like a long road but between the touristic stops and the narrow turns, you’d better plan the day to drive it through. And you should think about putting some gas in your car before, for there’s no gas station on the road. And no phone coverage as well. This road winds its way through the middle of nowhere, the rural part of New Zealand with its rolling green hills and almost no people at all. This is the New Zealand of the settlers of the end of the XIXth Century. Some villages are now even called ‘ghost towns.’ There’s almost nothing left around here.
We can see some old railway all along the road; it’s even possible to rent a little train to ride a few parts of this mythical road, even its totality, in one, two or four days. All along the road, we’re passing through some tunnels. Doesn’t sound exotic but actually, there are not a lot of tunnels in New Zealand. The Moki Tunnel is quite freaky, with its narrowness and its 180 meters long on a dirt road. No wonder it’s also called the Hobbit Hole!
We make a stop at the Bridge to Somewhere, in opposition to the famous Bridge to Nowhere in the Whanganui Region. Apparently, those two have been built in the 1930’s and they have the same design. This. They’re both located in the middle of the forest, one leading to literally nowhere – there’s not even a road on one or the other side of the bridge, while the one we encounter obviously leads to somewhere, to the little ghost village of Aotuhia.
THE WHANGAMOMONA REPUBLIC
Enough of tunnels, bridges, and winding roads, the main reason we wanted to come over there was that we wanted to go to another country! Yes, you heard me, another country inside remote New Zealand! On this road, you can find the Whangamomona Republic (Whangawhat?), a little village founded at the end of the XIXth Century. In 1989, the New Zealand government changed the mapping of regions (kind of like what happened in France not so long ago, remember?) and Whangamomona switches to the Manawatu-Whanganui Region instead of the Taranaki one. Except that no one was happy about it, especially since the Manawatu-Whanganui region is the old rival rugby team. Thus, the residents decided to proclaim themselves as an independent republic.
They have a president (which is today a long white bearded mechanic, after being consecutively a goat and a dog), a passport, a border guard which is a toilet, and about 40 residents. They celebrate their independence every two years at the end of January with sheep races and pouring beer. There’s no need to say that I instantly fell in love with this quirky place.
We settle ourselves at the historic hotel for a hot chocolate. There’s no one around, except some dogs which welcomed us with loads of love! Many buildings seem rundown or abandoned, the white paint of the Post Office is peeling off with time, and moss starts to cover the rooftop. The school bus isn’t as red as before and the tires are almost all flats. Undeniably, on this forgotten highway, we discover another part of New Zealand, a little forgotten as well.
On the president’s garage wall, we can read this text, hand painted, a quote from Marianne Williamson’s poem “Our deepest fear”:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. You playing small does not serve the world, there’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same, as we are liberated from our fears, our presence automatically liberates others.”
This quote resonates in both of us because it took us both a great deal of courage to leave behind everything we knew to come living in New Zealand for a whole year. We both allowed ourselves to see things big, reinvent our lives, and shine a little bit more than usual. Who would have thought Who would have thought a year ago that we would spend a day driving a forgotten road in New Zealand?
And moreover, that I would enjoy hitting the road that much. Not the road you take to go to work or on holidays, but the road which takes you to the middle of nowhere, which turns and makes detours, the road which holds some surprises. A smoky mountain, a bright mountain pass, a wild animal crossing. The road where time doesn’t exist, because you have nowhere to be today, nor tomorrow or the day after anyway. After all, the forgotten roads feel like roads towards freedom.