Remote rural town divided on whether to move into the 21st century video

GRANT MATTHEW

Whangamomona Hotel manager Anika Williams speaks about cell phone coverage in Whangamomona.

Residents of one of the country's smallest and most isolated towns appear to be torn between moving into the modern world or staying as they are.

Tiny Whangamomona, on State Highway 43, the "Forgotten World Highway", roughly half-way between Stratford and Taumarunui, has no cellphone reception or petrol station and its population has shrunk from 24 to 14 since 2001.

However, it still attracts an average of around 168 cars a day, mostly tourists.

Residents in Whangamomona have put up different ideas of how to move the town forward, or whether to change it at all.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

Residents in Whangamomona have put up different ideas of how to move the town forward, or whether to change it at all.

Stratford District Council asked locals and those with interests in Whangamomona a range of questions on its future, including if it should be improved, promoted as a tourist destination, and if broadband and internet should be a high or low priority.

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But the 22 submissions it received showed locals divided between keeping the character of the town and opening it up - with some even preferring a phone box to modern communications.

Some residents wanted the Forgotten World Highway sealed, while others preferred the gravel sections.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

Some residents wanted the Forgotten World Highway sealed, while others preferred the gravel sections.

Sharron Irwin, who has lived near the town for 33 years, said improving the cellphone reception would be a great thing.

"We definitely need it, it's so important because if there's a crash or you break down, this is the most important part to have it," she said.

"We want to keep it more or less the same, you can add some mod cons like cellphone but I think you need to keep the character because that's something that people come through to look at.

While around 14 people live in the town, most of people in the area are farmers.
GRANT MATTHEW/Fairfax NZ

While around 14 people live in the town, most of people in the area are farmers.

"We need to keep it the same but there's always room for improvement."

But Whangamomona Hotel manager Anika Williams said she would prefer to have an old public phone box in the town instead of phone reception.

"To me that would make a lot more sense, especially for the international tourists," she said.

The differing opinions over the need for an internet connection are repeated through out the submissions, which will be discussed by Stratford District Council on Tuesday night, before its normal meeting.

Some residents would like the council to do more on the Whangamomona Rd, while others would like it left as it is.

Some wanted State Highway 43 completely sealed, while some said it would take away from the adventure of travelling to the town.

Most of the submitters agreed the town's character needed to be protected with specific bylaws and rules, but Bloss Cop disagreed.

"This is the Republic - we don't do policies or rules," she wrote in her submission.

Shona Gower said it should be protected, but within reason.

"The character is the people and location and the journey," she said.

"Maintain the look but don't impose on the rights to modernisation." 

The council also asked what other services and infrastructure was needed in the town and rubbish collection, re-opening the cemetery and building walking tracks in the area were all suggested.

"Open up the cemetery, so people who have spent all of their lives out there can be buried here," Vanessa Kenney wrote.

Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1988 in a show of defiance against the Government's decision to move it from the Taranaki Region into the Manawatu region.

Since then, it has elected a president every two years and was even governed by a goat for a period.

 - Stuff

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