destinations

The Republic of Whangamomona

Munching on a lamb shank with mashed potato so imperfect you can tell it’s not from a packet, admiring the cluttered walls of old black and white rugby team photos and posters advertising defunct beers that  your grandad might remember.  Just then a farmer turns up on his horse, ties it to a picnic table  across the road and comes inside for a pint of ale. This micronation is no so different to its former nation, but a snapshot of New Zealand a century ago.

The small town of Whangamomona declared independence in 1989 after a regional zoning dispute, and has since become a cult tourism spot, with only a handful of intrepid travellers making the journey down the region’s “Forgotten World Highway”. With many of its old buildings intact and with rusty relics  dotted around the highway, the town has a true pioneer vibe, with an almost comedic culture of people who love to share their unorthodox way of running a “country” to anyone with a beer in their hand.

Local transport in Whangamomona
A Quick History

The area was first inhabited by the Maori Ngati Maru tribe after migrating from coastal Taranaki areas, and later by Europeans, likely in the 1400s. The population grew in the early 1900s with the construction of the railroad.  Whangamomonans have always had strong economic and cultural ties to the Taranaki region, and it wasn’t until these ties were under threat did the town gain notoriety.

The struggle for independence was ignited when Wellington rezoned the town from the Taranaki, to the Manawatu-Whanganui region. Feeling robbed of their rightful Taranaki identity; the publican, a farmer, and the guy that owns the garage got together for a few beers and thus, the Republic of  Whangamomona was born. The town succeeded from New Zealand on 1 November 1989 and its national Republic Day is celebrated biannually in January (they changed their national day for some reason).

Presidential elections are held every two years at the Republic Day festival. The inaugural president was local farmer, Ian Kjestrup who was nominated without his a knowledge. He served for ten years. Billy the Goat was the first non-human elected, and he was succeeded by Tai the Poodle. President Murt Kennard the Biker was the first Whangamomonan to be knighted not by the queen, but by his fellow countryman, which is a pretty cool way to be knighted. Whangamomona finally broke the glass ceiling in 2015 by electing the first female president, Vicki Pratt of the Pub. The current head of state is John Herlihy, he won the 2017 election against a cat, and a lady who promised to become a cat if elected. The next election will be in 2019 at the 30-year  anniversary of the republic.

Whangamomona Hotel: local pub and home of the republic
Need to Know

When you arrive in Whangamomona, you may be able to purchase a visa at the kiosk on the boarder. Alternatively, if you don’t want your passport stamped, you can purchase a local passport for $5 over the bar. Whangamomona adopts the currency of its neighbour, New Zealand, who is responsible for national defence and emergency services. Major  imports include beer and ice-cream; and exports include lamb, honey and hangovers. There are no petrol stations in the republic, so fill up before you get here. Telecommunications are primitive at best, “we have running water and a land line” says the hotel manager, so there is no cell phone reception or internet access, but this just adds to the old-time charm.

Facade of the old general store
Things To Do

The pub is the social hub where you can meet locals and curious tourists alike. It is the birthplace of the republic and is the national government building.  It  has all the bells and whistles of a country pub, including billiards, a piano, and accommodation upstairs, as well as a plethora of information about the republic.

Souvenirs can be purchased at the pub, including passports. Proceeds from passport sales are donated to charity. Passports are valid for 10 years and holders are required to be friendly, courteous, and smile a lot.

Manuka trees grow well in the area, so if you like New Zealand’s famed manuka honey, you’re in luck. Check out the Old Tangarakau Township, there you can find a honey farm by the Ghost Town Campsite.

Hiking is the main activity in the area, with trails to meet different hiking levels. Cycling, motorbiking, 4-wheel driving and horse riding are all popular activities throughout the region.

Fossils can be found around the Tangarakau river canyon. You can search, but please do not take.

There are several spots along the highway and hikes around the area where the colonial history is clearly visible, and the nearby Moki Tunnel is of particular interest; turn your headlights on, drive slowly and admire the tunnel carved out by pick axes.

The main event is Republic Day, held every second year in late January. The 30-year anniversary will be held in 2019, so if you plan on going then, make sure you book your accommodation well in advance.

Whangamomona welcome sign
Visit Whangamomona

Whangamomona is a 45 minute drive from Stratford and just over an hour to Taumarunui, but you’ll want to give this drive a couple days to experience it properly.

The republic can also be reached via rail using modified golf carts. These can be hired as part of a tour in the towns of Stratford and Taumarunui.

References

First female president appointed for Whangamomona republic
Remote rural town divided on whether to move into the 21st century
Republic of Whangamomona Passport
Whangamomona president Murt Kennard gets knighthood
Whangamomona Vol. 1 by Gary Hendry
Whangamomona wakes up to new president… and he’s nice!
and personal experience

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