It’s a strange thing when you realise that you’ve become caught up in the BookaBach system and suddenly, in the middle of everyday life, have to pack up your stuff, put the things you need in the camperbus, secure any personal items in the lock up room and head out of your house for nine days, or whatever period it might be. But that’s how it’s been with us for the holiday periods. The income generated pays for our next holiday as well as, in most cases, leaves us with a surplus.
So, here we are, on the road again, this time heading for New Plymouth via the Forgotten Highway. It’s a bit of a round about trip from Rotorua but there is a place I’ve always wanted to visit, Whangamomona. I’ve been saying it for years, I can spell it and I can even pronounce it properly and now, it has become a reality. There are a few teething problems as we consult google on the best route but eventually we decide to head to our destination via Bennydale. Where you ask? It’s a little hard to describe, hidden away in the middle of nowhere, miss and you blink it. Just a few scattered houses and the Wooden Heart Café which is having peak rush hour when we arrive. A dozen foreigners speaking a language I fail to recognize, are trying to decipher the chalk-board with the help of a heavily full-face tattooed local who gives them a local experience which money can’t buy and which they will take back to whichever country they come from. We are not surprised by the fact that we are the only New Zealanders in the café (apart from the staff) 75% of the traffic we have seen has been campervans, caravans and farm quad bikes.
The area which has been little known for so long, is now part of the Timber Trail, a section of bike-riding on the NZ cycling circuit. A route following old tramlines and special cut tracks from Pureora to Ongarue, which you’ve probably never heard of either. Accommodation is limited but among the few local houses and their flaking paint which peels off and blows in the wind, there is an immaculate wee house, the BikeaBach which caters for cyclists, and others.
We pass old pongas with their old leaves falling like brown skirts, moss -covered fence posts, musters of sheep and stop for a spot of blackberry picking by the side of the road and finally arrive at Ohura, yip, I’d never heard of it either. No one is at home in this town. The main street is wide, every shop is closed, we stand in the middle of the road feeling like displaced people. Suddenly I see a familiar sign, toilets, I wander down a side street to a water tank kitted out as public conveniences, they are meticulously clean, so someone must live here. There is a bunch of plastic flowers placed on the floor by the toilets, the kind that you see faded in cemeteries, or by the side of the road. I wonder if someone is “repurposing” them or maybe they are genuinely there to brighten the place up.
The drive through gorges and saddle roads opening out to spectacular high country scenery is stunning. It is real heartland New Zealand. And then we arrive. Whangamomona. Permanent population of 12. IT is everything I imagined. This tiny village is its own republic, complete with president and it’s own passport and fast becoming added to many backpackers bucket list. We arrive in the late afternoon and as we pass the hotel it’s hard not to notice all the patron’s heads turn and follow us as we turn towards the Camping ground.
The manager is a man of few words. Like those in the Australian outback he appears to be a stranger to polite conversation and pleasantries but speaks volumes without actually saying a word. He takes our payment and points towards the carefully manicured grounds and hedge along which we can hook to power. The facilities are in an old school house and are ever so clean. In the ‘ladies’ there is a set of scales. One can only assume that the weight conscious must arrive with regularity. Me, I have done nothing but sit in our camperbus and eat all day so the scales will have to remain unemployed for tonight at least.
It is a still night filled with stars and a moon so bright we have to pull the bus curtains. It is the kind of night that you only find in a place like Whangamomona.