Tiny town revels in splendid isolation

Hidden Treasures

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 14/01/2013
DAILY NEWS ONLINE

Kirsty McMurray checks out what Whangamomona has to offer people looking for adventure

tdn whanga stand'
The Whangamomona Hotel is a great place for a beer and a meal.

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Big name bands don't play at the Whangamomona Hotel on the weekend, but that's fine by publican Geoff Taylor.

"People come out here for the peace and quiet," he said.

And the tiny old town of Whangamomona is peaceful, and quiet.

There's no cellphone coverage and little sign of modern civilisation for miles on the Forgotten World Highway between Stratford and Whangamomona or beyond, and barely any people.

"You'll have nobody texting you and you don't have to update your Facebook status. I hate going to bars in town and all everyone does is stand there updating their status.

"Coming here is really about quiet time. You can still have a few laughs, couple of beers and a nice time . . . it's nice and peaceful and easy to get away from the crowds."

Although it's not a place that's easy to get to at all.

State Highway 43 is notoriously windy - a sign on what might be one of the slowest corners in the country recommends driving around it at a maximum of 15kmh.

It's pure torture for those with anything less than a cast-iron stomach or who have just burst their bellies with a Whanga burger washed down with a pint of Whanga Republic Bitter Ale.

But stopping at the top of the Strathmore Saddle on a clear day gives an unobstructed and unparalleled view of Mt Taranaki and the surrounding farmland.

There's also the Heritage Trail to follow, with signs telling the stories of how the land of eastern Taranaki was settled and civilised and then more or less abandoned.

In Whangamomona the signs also spell out the history of the ghost-town's derelict buildings - like the Bank of Australasia which was opened in 1911 and later became the district nurse's residence.

Also of interest is how and why Whangamomona became a republic, the raucous, truly Kiwi celebrations it inspires and the string of dubious presidents it's had in the last two decades.

When regional council boundaries were revised in 1989, the new maps took Whangamomona from Taranaki and put it in the Manawatu-Wanganui region. The move prompted a revolt by residents, who protested by proclaiming their home the Republic of Whangamomona and electing Ian Kjestrup as president.

Since then, elected presidents include Billy the Goat, who reigned from 1999 until his death in 2001, and Tai the Poodle, who stood down in 2004 following an alleged assassination attempt.

Incumbent president Murt "Murtle the Turtle" Kennard will be up for re-election at this year's Republic Day on January 26.

While there wasn't much Whangamomona could actually do to keep itself in Taranaki, the town has become something of a legend for its tongue-in-cheek quest for independence and holds a Republic Day festival every second year.

Possum-skinning, whip-cracking, sheep-racing and bridge-swinging have been some of the activities at republic days, which have attracted thousands of people to get their jandals mired in the melted tar on the main street.

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Mr Taylor said the weather is one thing which distinguishes the remote village from its Taranaki roots.

"We've been trying to stay out of the sun, which in Taranaki is easy but out here is difficult."

But if the sun's not a problem, there are plenty of outdoor activities on offer in Whanga.

"You can go for a really nice bush walk. You can take a knife or a rifle in some places and you might catch a sort of four-legged beast which you can carry home to dinner."

Among the various other things to see and do, there's also some good rough mountainbiking to be had, with an 18km ride which begins at the Bridge to Somewhere and like most journeys to Whangamomona, ends at the pub.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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