The ‘Forgotten World Highway’, SH43 between Taumarunui and Stratford, is now on everyone’s radar.
Twelve kilometres of the road through Tangarakau Gorge is unsealed – one of only two sections of state highway in the whole country that is still gravel.
It is an important route for land owners in the area and it has become increasingly popular with tourists. Waka Kotahi / NZTA director of regional relationships Linda Stewart says sealing the road through the gorge will make it much safer for locals and visitors. “It will encourage more tourists to the area as many rental car businesses don’t let drivers travel on unsealed roads. This project will result in many benefits for the community and the region as a whole. We know there will be lots of people happy to see it get underway.”
No shortage of volunteers
The sealing project is part of a $25.7 million package of works for the Forgotten World Highway funded through Kānoa – Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit and the regional package of the NZ Upgrade Programme. The contract for the first 2km of the sealing work has been given to Te Kuiti-based Inframax. Construction manager Stu Fraser says the project will kick off on November 3 and should be finished by mid-March. Waka Kotahi has not confirmed when the remaining 10km will be sealed. Stu says there have been no shortage of volunteers for the project, despite its distance from main centres. “It is a pretty cool part of the country and it is nice to be able to say you have been part of something significant.”
No more flat tyres
Ian Balme is the founder of rail-cart adventure company Forgotten World Adventures and he is looking forward to the day the road is sealed, having been involved in the planning of the road improvements for several years. Customers were frequently getting flat tyres and other damage to their vehicles from the unsealed section of road. “We would be the biggest volume users of that stretch of road so we might have a vehicle up and down there half a dozen times a day so it will make a huge difference for us just on the maintenance of our vehicles and also not having to wash them so bloody often.”
Decades in the making
Stratford District Council Mayor Neil Volzke says there will be many benefits that accrue from upgrading this road and the whole region will gain by having an improved third access route into the Taranaki region. “Successive Stratford Mayors and the wider community have been calling for this for decades, so naturally I’m stoked that the first part of the sealing work in the gorge is about to begin. The total package of improvements will make the Forgotten World Highway a much safer drive and be much more inviting for visitors to the region to use,” says Mayor Volzke.
The Forgotten World Highway is one of Aotearoa’s iconic back country journeys, so retaining the character of the area and protecting the natural environment has been a key objective in designing the sealing project, Linda says. “Our project team has been working closely with iwi and the Department of Conservation to ensure the sealing project has minimal impact on the surrounding environment, and that the picturesque journey through the gorge is retained.”