Friday, 23 November 2018

The Hobbit’s Hole

I’ve been reading Marilyn of nb Waka Huia most recent blog post about her early life family holidays in Tongaporutu, north of New Plymouth on the west coast of New Zealand’s north island.  Whilst Jan and I never lived in New Plymouth, we did make one visit when my father was working there on the Maui Gas Project.  By then I had left home, married, had a daughter and we were living at Waiouru Military Camp in the middle of the North Island.   We decided to visit my parents and younger siblings for a brief holiday.

New Plymouth is almost due west of Waiouru and, with no research, I packed our small family into our 1967 Vauxhall Viva setting off after work one Friday.  Well I didn’t take a map (OK I’m a fella) and the journey turned out to be very long.  I was to discover there is no direct route west.  Actually the terrain is exceptionally rugged.  What I should have done is gone south to Wanganui and then NW to New Plymouth in a large semi-circle using major roads.  No map and no research; we headed west reaching Raetihi where the road further west was a dead end.  I should have turned south, but instead went north.  We continued north (what seemed like a long way) looking for a road to the west. Eventually reaching Taumaranui where I noticed a signpost on a road roughly heading west. 

Never having been in this area before, I turned onto the road marked State Highway 43.  Little did I know this is the only unsealed State Highway in NZ.  Event today, some 45 years later some of it is still unsealed. 

By now the light was fading and the fuel gauge was reading half full.  Little did I know I’d taken us onto “The Forgotten World Highway”.  Wikipedia describes it “The road passes through small towns such as Toko, Douglas, Te Wera, Pohukura, Strathmore, Whangamomona, Marco, Koruatahi, Tahora, Tatu, Many of these are ghost towns are from the railway days.

Driving the narrow and winding highway takes up to 3 hours, as it passes through rugged countryside. It climbs three saddles: the Strathmore Saddle, Whangamomona Saddle, and Tahora Saddle.”

As darkness fell the vegetation appeared to menacingly close in on either side.  An unsealed lonely road in the middle of nowhere.  With some trepidation I watched the fuel gauge steadily fall. 


Right arrow – Waiouru.  Left arrow – New Plymouth.  Centre arrow - Taumaranui

We didn’t see another vehicle the entire time and there were no lights from towns or farms.  Eventually we found ourselves driving through low cloud with the ever present ferns and trees crowding around us.  I then became very concerned when the mouth of the Moki Tunnel appeared in the vehicle headlights.  I’d never seen a hand cut and unlined road tunnel.

moki tunnel SH46

Photo from Google

Locals refer to it as “The Hobbit’s Hole”.  45 years ago the road surface wasn’t sealed and there was no timber bracing in the roof.  Apparently the tunnel was dug in the 1930’s using two power jack-hammers driven by a coal-fired steam compressor, which was situated at the western Tahora end of the tunnel. The spoil from the tunnel was carried out by horse and skip on steel rails that had been laid from the tunnel to the tip face.

sh46 By now I was starting to become very concerned about running out of fuel.  Fortunately there was a small, but closed, general store at Whangamomona.  I was able to rouse the owner by knocking on his door and he kindly unlocked the sole pump allowing us to refill the car.  Eventually we reached Stratford (and civilization) around 1am.  Needless to say we didn’t use the same route on our return journey.


Don McCoskrie said...

It seems you are fond of unsealed highways as you are now seeking them in Aussie. There are still some unsealed ones left in NZ for you to explore SH 38 Murupara to Waikeremoana is one that springs to mind. In the 60's and 70's there were others such as Napier-Taupo (5), East Cape (35) and Waipoua Forest (12) to choose from in the North Island alone.

Jenny said...

Oh my goodness, what a trip! No doubt Jan was berating you the whole way because you hadn't checked a map to see where you were actually going?
Highway 43 is still a reasonably slow drive these days, very pretty, but three saddles to drive up and over. And there's nothing like that Hobbits Hole. We have been known to stop the caravan as it emrrges, so we can take a photo,just like the tourists do.

Catherine VK4GH said...

Great recount of your trip, so long ago. Still no direct route east to west, if wanting to go from Rotorua to New Plymouth, like we did a few years ago, but we looked at the map first.

Judith Emery said...

Loved this post took me back to our New Zealand trip in 2009 and the unsealed roads we travelled on. Judith nb Serena