We haven’t forgotten our adventure, 4-8 March – our 16th annual trip with our longtime friends, three other lesbian couples who manage land projects- small or large. Steph and Annette are on Seahorse Farm near Whangarei , Jenny and Lesley have Pokaiwhenua Tree Farm near Putaruru, and Joy and Jill have been developing their extensive new gardens in Otaki. (We, of course, have now downsized to 8 pots on the deck, and Tanya manages an allotment in community gardens at the church next door.)
Tanya organised this year’s trip for the group – a
Forgotten World Adventure rail trip with 2-night stays at each end- Taumarunui and Whangamomona.
Monday 4 March
We two left Auckland on the Kiwirail Northern Explorer at 7.45 am for National Park. It’s a great rail trip, and we enjoyed talking politics with the English couple opposite us. June Nevin, our host in Taumarunui, met us at National Park and drove us to her accommodation at The Inn at the Convent; and after a rest we headed up a nearby bush walk on Mangaroa Hill, at the top of which we were rewarded with spectacular views of the hilly folded land around Taumarunui , and of the distant mountains Ngauruahoe and Ruapehu .
Our first two nights were spent as a group in Taumarunui at The Inn at the Convent. Lively June Nevin, who with her partner has renovated the old convent building and furnished it, provided a warm welcome, fine furnishings, lots of information, and excellent dinners and breakfasts. The 103-year-old building is now an elegant home filled with an eclectic collection of colourful art and sculpture, with even a bevy of nuns (fine pottery miniatures) to welcome us on a table by the front door.
Tuesday 5 March
We spent Tuesday in and around Taumarunui- as a group, visiting Bradley’s Garden and the Lavender Farm in the morning, and going our own ways in the afternoon. The two of us explored the town, visiting the local art gallery and then the REAP Centre to ask about Maori and Pakeha educational activities and social developments. We were urged to visit the Taumarunui Community Kokiri Trust, where we met CEO Christine Brears, and had a most interesting hour learning about the Maori history and current projects in the town and surrounds.
Wednesday 6 March
The Forgotten World Adventure rail journey began at Okahukura, just north of Taumarunui, where 12 carts were awaiting the travellers. Our group were installed in two rail carts at the front of the train, just behind one of our two guides (Michelle and Lorraine) who escorted us all day, one in the front cart and one at the back of the line, to ensure we all arrived safely. The carts are modified golf carts seating four – we took it in turns to drive- i.e. manage the brake and the accelerator.
And what a wonderful journey it was from Okahukura to Whangamomona, a 6 hour trip! Especially on a fine day – we were in luck with the weather. The landscape- steep hills, thick native bush, a gorge, old mines, and stops for refreshments at three tiny settlements – Matiere, Ohura and Tokirima – with historic plaques and interesting craft stalls or shops. We went through 21 tunnels, and over 15 bridges, before arriving late afternoon at The Republic of Whangamomona(see note below), our home for the next two nights. The old hotel there has been beautifully renovated while maintaining its historic character, and we enjoyed good meals as well as a folk music evening with a local family group (accompanied expertly by our Joy, on spoons!)
(In 1989 regional council boundaries were redrawn, with an emphasis on connected catchments. These revised maps made Whangamomona part of the Manawatu-Wanganui Region. Residents objected, as they wanted to continue being part of the Taranaki Region, and on 1 November 1989, they responded by declaring themselves the “Republic of Whangamomona” at the first Republic Day. Though the move began as a pointed protest, the town continued to hold a celebratory Republic Day once a year, during which a vote for President was held. The day has become a local festival day, and attracts visitors from throughout the North Island. In 2001, the celebration became biennial, held in January to take advantage of the summer weather.
Thursday 7 March
The next morning we explored the village, including the township, the old school, now a motorcamp flying the Republic of Whangamomona flag, the new motel next to the pub, the craft shop Dolly Gray, named after a local horse which ” ran 3rd one day in a packhorse race down Whanga way ” (in 1910), and the live miniature horses grazing nearby. Three adventurers climbed a nearby hill from which they had a spectacular view of Taranaki. Some had a little snooze.
Friday 8 March
Rain came down the next morning as we headed homewards, so the bush was dripping and misty as we were driven by bus from the hotel back to the Taumarunui depot over the hills and through the gorge and the deep bush of the Forgotten World Highway, before all heading off to our various homes.