Chapter 3: New Zealand '97
Well I'd finally graduated (again) and had time on my hands. The girlfriend I'd made in Europe the year before was keen on a trip to New Zealand together for a few months, and I liked the idea too. So come April 1997 she flew to Sydney, where we met and took the onward voyage to New Zealand together. She was quite taken with idea of hitching. Our time in Europe was coupled with fond memories of hitching experiences. She'd never had much chance to hitch though, and like many women relished the chance to indulge in it, with a partner by her side in a country that can only be considered as friendly and safe.
Well, it was hardly a ground-breaking adventure. I'd guess that every third or fourth backpacker on the North Island of New Zealand is hitching, and there are droves of them. But it was no less entertaining for its common-ness, indeed hitching New Zealand has got to be one of the most interesting and fun-filled ways of getting around, assuming of course you're prepared to tolerate the occasional drawn out wait.
The two months flew by, the hitching was easy, even along the so-called barren stretches where most hitchers pack it in and take the busses. We hitched it all, north and south, east and west, and never had to wait too long. Not as long as I'd waited in parts of Europe in any case. We were both keen on capturing our experiences in writing, and there was already a tradition here worth continuing. Thus was born the longest, most detailed chapter of this book in its time. Enjoy!
We had stayed with a friend in one of the western suburbs of Auckland and were now trying to escape Auckland and head south. We caught the bus down town and had a think about it but there weren't any nice spots presenting themselves. So we followed the rather unencouraging advice of our travel guide and stood at a motorway entry ramp in the centre of town.
There was no inviting place to stop, a blind corner and not much traffic, but a discarded sign with "Wellington" written on it encouraged us with the suggestion that someone had recently made their escape from this very spot. Wellington was even in our direction after all, south.
It wasn't long in fact before a van pulled over, on that blind corner, in the little space available. Fortunately not much traffic! A friendly Maori asks us where we're going, and we tell him "south, anywhere south". His English isn't too good, and seeming a little confused he asks if we're headed for Wellington. "Yeah, Wellington", we cry. Well he said, he's headed for Massey and he can take us that far. We asked if Massey is going to help us any, we have no idea where it is after all. He tries to explain where it is, but it's not working. Giving up he just says "hop in and I'll show you". His English wasn't great and comprehension was a little dubious, but he was genuinely friendly and we were pleased to be off the mark so we hopped in the back of the van.
Turns out he's an onion farmer and his van reeks of it! But he's got a mattress in the back, he's playing some cool music, and we're on the road feeling great about it and the perfume is making life interesting after all. Conversation is hard with the music running, and his level of English being what it is, but we converse a while all the same. His young daughter is sitting up front with him, but she doesn't speak any at all.
Eventually he pulls up and let's us out of his van saying "Massey". Looked kind of like Auckland to us. We never left the sprawling suburbia on the way anyhow. We let him drive off. We spot an AA (Automobile Association) office across the road and walk over to see where we are.
Imagine what the guy behind the counter things when two ragged souls with backpacks trudge in and ask "Where are we?"! He pulls out a map and shows us where we are.
Would you believe it, we were in a western suburb of Auckland not far from my friends place that we'd left earlier! We might have killed ourselves laughing. Some people I've shared the story with since seemed to think our driver played a joke on us. I can assure you the guy was genuine, confused, but genuine. What a ride.
Anyway, we saw a motorway that was only a few kilometres away on the map and started walking back towards it, thumbs out, feeling a vague sense of Deja Vu oddly enough. Before we got to the motorway though a fellow pulls up and offers us a ride into town. Having never seen a hitcher on this suburban street in the thick of Auckland's west, he asks us how we got there.
Perhaps feeling a little sympathy at our story he takes us past the centre of town to one of the larger southern interchanges, doubling back into town himself. From there we got a ride fairly easily and were finally on our way south.
We were staying in Rotorua and planning to visit Hell's Gate, that famous area of thermal activity. It apparently takes its name from the time George Bernard Shaw visited and expressed his regret at having done so, as it reminded him so pungently of what the Christians had promised him his future would be like! It's only about 10km out of town, but public transport is a little lacking. We thought we'd walk, it's only about 2 hours walk after all. Like true hitchers though, we walked with the long cultivated habit of an outstretched thumb, our implicit invitation for adventure.
We were walking along a stretch of road heading out of town that is three lanes wide in each direction, with a footpath next to the outside lane, debating the futility of a displayed thumb on such a pseudo-motorway laden with traffic but no place to stop. Middle of our discussion and a van speeding along the inside lane catches our eye as it indicates and pulls suddenly across two lanes of traffic onto the footpath with a bit of a toss and bump.
With this van stopped about 300 metres ahead of us on the footpath we debated the likelihood that this startling traffic manoeuvre was intended for us. While we debate the matter between us, as if to answer our question the reverse lights come on and the van drives backwards some 300 metres along the footpath to stop at our feet. Two Maoris in the front ask us where we're going!
"Hell's Gate" we say. They tell us that's on their way, and throw us in. Both of them it turns out had some bad experiences hitching, namely long waits, and a lot of sympathy for fellow sufferers as a result. They were Christians as well, with no shortage of warmth and giving in their nature, almost more Christian than most western Christians I've known. Either way they made a most spectacular entry upon our scene for which we were grateful in every way.
At the entry to Hell's gate my girlfriend bumps into the couple she sat beside on her flight from Berlin to Singapore some weeks earlier! That turns out to be our ride back into town.
Hitching back into Rotorua from one of the sights around town, we got a ride with a fellow on his way home from work. We were discussing where he should drop us off in town, because we needed some dinner and the supermarkets were all a long walk away from our campground and not far off closing time. We decide to get out directly at the supermarket and walk back, it's on the main road into town anyway and convenient for everyone. But this fellow offers to wait for us to do our shopping and then take us to the camp ground. He'd hitched a fair bit as well, and appreciated a hand. So my girlfriend went shopping and I waited by the car to keep him company. I'd have felt guilty otherwise ...
We wanted to see the buried village outside of Rotorua. Our camp ground offered a courtesy bus that took people to the bus station, or to hitching spots. Not an unusual service as it turns out in New Zealand. So we asked for the road that goes out to the buried village. The rather impolite courtesy bus driver tells us that's too far, that's not expecting courtesy, but philanthropy. So he drops us on the main road out of town and turns back. A little frustrated we waited for a lift to the turn-off this bus driver didn't want to takes us to. We waited and waited and waited, finally someone stops and says sure they'll take us to the turn-off, it's only down the road a little. You're telling us just a little, turns out it was about 1 km or so down the road! We could have walked the whole time, and lord only knows what this courtesy bus driver was thinking about ...
From there we immediately (and I mean immediately, I never even had time to get my bearings) got a ride straight to the buried village with an elderly English chap and his kitten. That relieved our nonplus a little in any case.
The courtesy bus from our camp ground had just dropped everyone at the bus stop and asked where we wanted to go. There were four of left in the bus, two couples intent on hitching out. "South towards Taupo" we said. He asked the other couple where they were headed, but they looked perplexed and uncertain and mumbled something like "Yes that'll do" in a thick European accent.
So he takes the four of us south a bit, and drops us on the main road there, just in front of the entrance to a Maori village and thermal area there (called Whakarewa- rewatangaoteopetauaawahiao, I kid you not!). Something of a tourist attraction with cars turning in and out all the time. Just as we arrive we notice another hitcher ahead of us getting into a car with his pack. Looks like a good spot.
Not wanting to stand in front of that turn off we walked down the road a bit to where this other guy was standing. The other couple just stayed there in front of that turn off apparently discussing what to do next. Showed no obvious signs of wanting to go anywhere or extend a thumb in any case.
True enough, not long after we got a ride as far as Taupo with a Dutch fellow and a Australian fellow in a rental car that made wild beeps whenever we drove over 100 km/hr. On the way we passed this guy who'd just got a ride before we got there, he'd just been dumped at a turn-off, his driver clearly going elsewhere, and was gathering his bearings.
We wanted to go on past Taupo to Ohakune and got dropped off on the road heading south out of Taupo. Not long after a Maori fellow stops and offers us a ride to the Ohakune turn- off.
He'd just picked a couple up in front of the Maori village in Rotorua (remember Whakarewa-rewatangaoteopetauaawahiao!) and dropped them off in Taupo. Looks like that other couple finally made up their minds and stuck out their thumb after all!
Later when we were in Wellington at Beethoven's hostel (where yes, they play Beethoven all the time), over breakfast, we bumped into this guy that was dumped out midway to Taupo too.
I like to call it Hitcher's Leapfrog.
We arrived at the Ohakune turnoff, a small army town called Waiouru, in front of the Route 66 diner. Oddly this was the junction of routes 1 and 49, and 66 was nowhere in sight (if it exists it is in fact on the south island). Route 49 was no peak hour thoroughfare by and any stretch of the imagination. Cars looked as plentiful as hen's teeth. Two cars had driven us by in the first ten minutes or so, so we sat down to make some lunch. No sooner than I'd begun to cut the tomato this van slowly pulls up. Sure enough we're on the road to Ohakune!
The lady behind the wheel had her kitten with her, and was out on a shopping trip. He husband works at Waiouru, in the army, but there's not much shopping there. There's probably not much in Ohakune either, but hey, this is no place to be too picky.
In any case she'd never ever picked up a hitcher before, she said, but she knows this road, and like I said, traffic is preeeetty thin. Much to the hitcher's good fortune this very fact sometimes strikes a chord among the few that do pass by. To the hitcher's chagrin it often doesn't! But in this case it did and we got a ride, and our hides were saved from an eternity of etching our woes into the bus stop.
Arriving at the Ohakune Homestead, where we were destined to wash dishes and shovel horse shit for a few days, I asked my girl where the tomato was. She'd thrown it out the window. Couldn't sit there with a juicy tomato in her hand for long I guess. Fair enough.
As an aside, this was not the first time we'd been riding with a kitten in New Zealand either, and I got to thinking New Zealand cats must be a special breed. I grew up with cat's and never in my entire life found one that could tolerate driving without going freaky. Miaow, miaow.
Catching the ferry from Wellington to Picton we checked in our bags like everyone else, which would prove to be a sad mistake. To be sure we had the freedom of baglessness for the three hour journey, but at the other end we had to go to claim our baggage along with all the other passengers. A set up very similar to any airport in fact.
What problem with that? Well as it turns out, by the time you'd collected your bag, the vehicular traffic on the ferry was long gone. Picton, our point of arrival generates very little traffic itself. Activity in Picton swells around Ferry arrivals.
So, with our bags in hand, better said on back, we headed out to hitch on to Nelson. We were coming back this way later, and were in hurry to head down the West coast while the weather was fine, which it was right now. The West coast is notorious for its rain, and the autumn was approaching.
The dilemma in finding a way to Nelson is that there are two roads. One very short road, going through the hills, and one very long road going around the hills. They are the scenic route and the main highway respectively. The scenic route of course, while shorter doesn't save much time, because it's scenic, that is hilly, and windy, and slow.
You might have guessed if the main highway doesn't see much traffic after the ferry load has gone, the scenic route sees even less. All the same we decided to ply the scenic route, we were here to see after all.
We waited and waited and waited, but no luck. Some traffic passed, but it didn't stop. All the while this cute storky bird was hopping around us pecking at insects by the side of the road. Seemed quite happy with us, and provided a little entertainment.
We waited two hours before the next ferry arrived, offering us with the hope of a stream of traffic. We could see the ferry, and had a keen eye on it too, but we never found the traffic. It remains a mystery to us where it went, or if that particular ferry just didn't happen to be carrying any or what, but no traffic turned up.
A little disillusioned we decided we'd better toss the scenic route and ply the main highway. So out we hiked to the main highway and found a spot in the shade (it was hot). Alas the traffic here wasn't much thicker than on the scenic route. A little thicker to be sure, but not stopping any more readily.
Another two hours in fact we waited before finally this van creeps up to us, almost cautiously. Asks us if we're going to Christchurch, which we're not, but at this stage we're prepared to consider it. Turns out he has this rental van that he has to deliver in Christchurch by the next morning, but he needs a driver, he doesn't want to go. It's tempting us. Only snag is there's a $700 deposit required, understandably. At which point we confess we'd rather try our luck a little longer, the whole thing's getting a little complicated for us.
It was a fair wait still before finally another van pulls up. It's only going down to Blenheim, about 20 km down the road, but that puts you on the main highway to Nelson, where we were heading, and besides we were ready to go to Timbuktu if it'd get us on the road again.
He was an engineer working on a new port being built at Picton. Working on a Saturday for some odd reason, but that's port building for you. We hit it off pretty well I think, and it turns out he lives on the road out to Nelson. Says if we don't get a ride before sundown we're welcome to come an crash at his place.
So we wait there on that road to Nelson. Wait, and wait and wait. And sue enough the sun starts to set. The road faces dead west, and the sun is right behind us. I walk back a bit and cast an eye at my girl hitching there. No chance, visibility zero I tell her. We're lucky if someone even notices us let alone stops.
Dejected we decide to take our offer up and walk back down the road. Who should pass at just that moment but our driver again. He was just ducking out to check his vineyard and see if we're still there. Saved for the day we went checked the vineyard out before retiring in this wonderfully grand 100 year old kiwi house, and some wonderful company.
Well we'd migrated from hitcher's hell to hitcher's paradise, but all the same let it be a warning to you. Don't check you bag in on the Picton ferry, go down to the car deck with it and look for a lift out of town before the cars get off the boat. What I've done on most every other ferry I've hitched across with great success.
The next day, Sunday it was, we got a ride to Nelson within a half hour. C'est l'autostop.
From Nelson we wanted to head to Westport to start our sojourn down the west coast. The weather was still fine and we were going to exploit it. We walked out to the highway from our hostel, only to find I'd left something behind, so my girlfriend went back to get it while I waited with our bags. Good thing we remembered it then.
We were parked out front of a service station, when a young lady filling up her mini tells us she'll take us down the road a bit. Squeezed into the mini we went down the road a bit. Not far, but hey, moving forwards is moving forwards.
Wasn't long before we got another ride, with a man and his school aged daughter. He asked us if we were headed for the Wildfoods Festival in Hokitika. Sounded interesting and was on tomorrow, but a bit out of our way, Hokitika is already a fair way down the coast, and we were looking forward to starting our West coast trip at the top. So we said, likely not. He recommended it strongly though said it made the population of Hokitika double and drew Kiwis from all around.
He let us of at his turn-off, from where we got a ride with a farmer a ways into the countryside. Dropped us in front of a fruit barn, where we waited a while before I tried to buy some fruit and fill my water bottle. No-one around though and I didn't feel like a whole sack of apples which were standing around with an honesty box next to them.
It wasn't going good anyhow, we'd been waiting for ages, and the sun was blaring down on us. Just behind us was this road sign, showing a flag man and stating "Please Stop on Request", but it wasn't doing us any good. Still we figured if we walked on to that flag man the cars would be going slower and/or stopped and our chances might improve. So off we walked.
Alas the flag man wasn't anywhere nearby, we walked and walked and the road was all dug up and most certainly a construction site, but no work in progress.
While walking along a car does eventually stop, and offers us a ride to his turnoff. Glad for a ride we jump in and move on, any turn-off will do. We do eventually find the road workers and the flag man, but it was a fair walk on all right. Good thing we got saved.
Anyway, this guy is turning off the Westport road to take a road heading south before the coast arrives. He's headed for Hokitika in fact! We um and ah a bit and mull it over between us, and it's settle, it was clearly written in the stars, we're off to Hoki for the Wildfoods festival.
The festival was a little disappointing in the end, novel to be sure, you could eat Huhu grubs at one stall and worms at another, but on the whole the offerings were the everyday fairground fast food you see at any festival. Reminded me a little of the folk festivals back home, with less music happening and a handful of exotic foods. Worst thing was they ran out of Huhu grubs before we got to try one. The worms were bland, and there wasn't much else in the way of wild food their. We were kind of expecting a menu of Maori delights, but 'twasn't to be.
The one stage playing music was playing good music at least and we parked in front of that and enjoyed the scene for the day. We even got an on the day special discount for a caving tour in Greymouth, something we were planning to do in Westport, but what the heck.
We had to head north again up the west coast, from Hokitika where we'd enjoyed the Wildfoods festival to Greymouth where we'd booked a two O'clock caving tour. It was Sunday and hitching the west coast on a Sunday is nothing to do no a deadline so we checked the bus timetable as a backup, then went out to the main road to try the thumb out while waiting for the bus.
We get a ride all the way to Greymouth very soon after starting. An English couple that had migrated. Were also just at the Wildfoods festival and heading home over the mountains. Just as we were approaching Greymouth a rattly noise began to emerge from the rear passenger side of the car. Too polite to question to mechanical soundness of our car we let it be. Wasn't long though before our drivers pulled over to look at it having noticed it themselves.
Nothing obvious wrong, so I grab the wheel and jerk it. Sure enough the wheel nuts were loose and the wheel was jiggling around on the hub!
Funnily enough the last time they picked up hitchers something went wrong with the car too! But this was a first for me, I'd never seen a wheel come off in mid flight and am glad I still haven't.
As hitching was so successful we were in Greymouth a few hours early. It was Sunday. Let me tell you, don't ever visit Greymouth on a Sunday. We rocked up to the tourist office and asked them how to kill a few hours in Greymouth on Sunday with no transport. The look of sympathy they shared with us did little to compensate for the lack of suggestions they provided. Even the tourist office doesn't know how to kill few hours in Greymouth on a Sunday.
Needless to say we went walking ...
The sun was soon to go down, and we'd spent enough time in Greymouth to know we didn't want to hang around! So we thought we'd try our luck hitching north to the Pancake Rocks before the sun went down. But ow! Was it cold, we stood by an old quarry on the road heading north, and this wind was blowing in off the sea that chilled us to the bone. But there wasn't much traffic coming our way that Sunday evening.
We got a handful of offers all the same that warmed our hearts if not our bones, though they were all for just a few kilometres down the road, and in the cold with the sun going down we didn't feel much like getting stuck in the countryside, and felt it wiser to hang on for a long distance lift, keeping Greymouth as a fall back. Though we had a tent, the wind and cold were almost daring us to make use of it.
The sun was just about to set and we to call it a day, when someone pulled up to us, as if they were expecting us to be there. It's funny how you can tell these things, but you can. Indeed she had been, she'd headed into town over an hour ago to see a friend, and was now heading home, having resolved earlier that if we were still there she'd pick us up. She was going almost to the Pancake rocks but not quite, but she felt sure we'd find somewhere comfortable to crash at Barrytown, where she was going.
It was a beautiful ride along the coast with the sun going down on us, the company was great, and we ended up staying with a friend of hers just out of Barrytown, with whom we got a lift to Pancake rocks in the morning.
We got where we were going and made some friends along the way, which let's us look back on that cold quarry with a warm glint in our eyes in spite of the chill that wracked our bones at the time.
We had spent the night in a very small out of the way place near Barrytown on the West coast and wanted to move on. We couldn't agree where to though, my girl wanted to head south to the glaciers and I wanted to go north first to the Buller gorge, which we'd missed on the way down and was said to be well worth seeing.
Unable to agree we went out to the main highway, upon which there was next to no traffic in any case, and I stood on one side hitching north and she stood on the other hitching south. Double our chances of getting a ride, and a kind of competition to decide for us which way we'd go.
Needless to say my girl won, and we headed south. But it's amusing to think of the truckie who stopped for the lone gal, only to have her point at me on the other side of the road and say "He's with me!". He found it quite interesting too, that we'd ply both routes at once and just go with the flow ...
Heading south along the West Coast we landed back at Hokitika at last. Not long after we arrived a car pulled over. To our dismay it was only dropping another hitcher off and doubling back. It was a German girl heading down to the glaciers as we were. She walked down the road a bit, as a trio isn't likely to get on the road very fast.
She got away before we did too. There is no justice in hitching that's sure. Still it wasn't long before we got off the mark. On the way we passed her even, seems she got a ride in a pretty slow car!
But we only got as far as the next village, Ross, so she was bound to catch up. True to form not long after she turns up, but the car pulls over across the street. There it stays for some time, a toilet stop we suppose, which indeed it was. Which we know, for after the toilet stop the car pulls over to our side of the road and invites us in.
The guy at the wheel, who now has three hitchers along, passed us by in Hokitika to pick the German girl up, so I expect she put a good word in for us. But it was a slow ride all right, this guy ambled along at 60-80 km/hr on the main highway.
We had to laugh when he dropped us off in a village called Harihari (pronounced Hurry-hurry)!
Three of us were dropped off in Harihari, myself, my girl and a German hitcher we met on the way. It was a stroke of fortune that the three of us landed in one car, but we weren't eager to tempt fate so the German girl walked down the road a little, splitting us up again.
There wasn't much traffic as usual, it was warm, and we were out of water, so I walked up the road a little to service station to fill our water bottle. As I walk back I notice a car pull away from my girlfriend, and pull over to the German girl.
My girl tells me these two guys had passed by a few minutes ago (apparently I was a while getting the water) had a change of heart and double back. They asked her if she was headed for the glaciers, which she was, but she said she had to wait for me, and they might like to take this German girl instead. Which they promptly did.
Philanthropic of her no doubt, but as we stood there an hour later still waiting for a ride we had our regrets.
Finally two Australian girls on tour pull up and offer us a ride to the glaciers. We get there and start to pitch tent. The ground was a bit rough though so we looked around and found us a better spot where we finally pitched tent.
Some hours later, after a walk around town, we come back to camp ground for some dinner to find the German girl had pitched tent in that same spot we had first picked out!
Somehow she'd managed to get there much later that we did, though she was off the mark an hour earlier. Our earlier regrets silently evaporated. Turns out the two guys that took her along stopped en route at a lake to do some fishing!
At the Franz Josef glacier we booked a guided tour on the ice for 2 O'clock one afternoon. The glaciers are a bit unstable and only guided walks are allowed. The tour starts at the village, but we felt like walking to the glacier and arranged to meet the bus at the car park near the ice face.
We followed this wonderful rainforest path for two or three hours, ambling a bit here and there so by the time we reached this road it was already 1 O'clock. It was only a short walk from there to the car park where we'd meet up with the tour bus but we'd not had lunch yet and time was running out before the tour, so when we heard this car coming, my girl waves her thumb at it.
Sure enough it stops. Two German guys gave us a ride to the car park, which turns out to be just around the corner. A pretty short ride!
We had our lunch, and the tour was great. The ice rough and crevassed melting all around us, glacier walking is a little like mountain climbing.
The next day we hitched to the Fox glacier, which is just 30km further down the road. Alas it started to rain on us that day, after an month of almost unbroken sunshine. So we didn't feel like staying, we thought we'd just hitch out to the ice take a look and move on.
From the village we walked a kilometre or two to the turn- off for the glacier face. There wasn't any traffic to speak of as usual, so I suggested we stash our bags in the trees and walk down to the ice and back before we hitch on. We could always flag down any passing cars on the way.
Not a bad plan my girl thought, but couldn't she'd like to try and flag down three cars before O.K. Fine, we wait around till some cars come. Turns out a group of three cars arrives at once. The first one passes by, the second passes by, and wouldn't you believe it the last one stops. I think they call it women's intuition or something, I think it's just freaky luck.
It's an Australian couple, the lady is fairly pregnant, so they're not going to do much walking, just take a look and head back. Fine, just what we had planned, sometimes fortune smiles upon the hitcher.
As we're walking from the car to the lookout who should walk past in the other direction but the two Germans that gave us that short ride to the Franz Josef glacier the day before. A smile of recognition crossed all our faces, but as they were leaving and we arriving, and somewhat stuck to our transport we just passed one another with a greeting or two.
We looked at the glacier, took a photo, got to know our hosts a little better, and then all piled back in to head back. They were heading north and we south so we were destined to part at the junction with the main highway again, where they'd picked us up to begin with.
As we approach the junction we see there's a car parked there. Recalling that cars a few and far between here, we're pleased at the opportunity to ask for a ride. Imagine our surprise to see who it was waiting there for us, those same two German guys!
They were headed for Queenstown they said, and we're welcome to come if we're going that way, which we were, so in we piled. We stopped here and there on the way to check the sights out, and eventually escaped the rain as we headed back inland away from the coast. It chased us though and eventually caught up with us again, but the beauty of the day just passed wasn't diminished for it.
When hitching from the Franz Josef glacier to the Fox glacier, we parked ourselves sheepishly in front of the camp ground we'd been staying at, not having paid our camp fees the night before. Traffic was light. If the speed of cars was low, visibility wasn't good either with a couple of sharp bends right in front of us from which the occasional car would issue. So I went back a bit towards the village to scout out a better spot.
Not finding one I came back only to see a car parked behind my girl, thumb still extended. As I'm approaching I point and shout "What's that car behind you?". Surprised she turns around to see the car. Wondering how it got there she goes up to the window, and sure enough they'd pulled over to offer her a ride.
Turns out they drove past us a minute or two earlier, reconsidered and doubled back, throwing a U-turn to stop immediately behind my girl, who never noticed a thing. I just happened to come around the corner as this car had pulled up.
Leaving Wanaka we walked about 2 km out of town to reach the junction there with the main highway passing by. I approached this junction with some enthusiasm looking for messages from our predecessors. Our travel guide namely said that "Hitch-hikers have written, on stones by the roadside, the sorry stories of their long waits"!
Nothing like a challenge I thought. Alas said stones were a figment of our travel writers imagination for we could find none of them there. Our wait wasn't short, in fact we had time to comfortably cut some sandwiches for lunch, but it wasn't sorry either. We got a ride on to Cromwell within a reasonable time.
At Cromwell the rain we'd escaped at the glaciers finally caught up with us. We stood there huddled under a small umbrella. Across the road there was a property sporting a sign that from our angle read RIP. Not a good omen.
All the same this fellow came down from a house up the hill, and opened up a shed that was just across the road from us, shouting across the road that if things got too wet we could shelter in his shed, before retiring back to his house. Not a bad omen.
All our time in New Zealand we had been passed by by motor homes, and on occasion we would promise ourselves that today we'd stop one and travel in luxury. Well today our promise came true, as not long after the rain started a motor home pulled up and threw us in the back.
Three Slovenians in the front, left just enough room as it turns out to squeeze five peoples luggage and us two into the back of the diminutive mobile home, but all the same we were mighty grateful. It's illegal they tell us, for them to carry people in the back, was on the rental contract, so we agreed to duck if we saw any police.
We stopped before Queenstown to watch the water logged bungy jumpers not perturbed by the rain. For some reason none of us was tempted to jump that day.
Our camp ground in Queenstown was on the main road out of town so we stood right there waiting for a lift. After a while a little disillusioned at the lack of results we walked up the road a bit to a better spot. Well it looked better, but on the back of a street sign there were some tales of woe engraved by earlier hitchers that weren't very encouraging.
We got a ride pretty soon all the same. A woman and her daughter heading down the road to Frankton, an outer suburb of Queenstown. She felt we'd be better off there and she'd seen hitchers stranded where we were before. She took us down the road a little out of town just to get us started.
There were scores of blackberry bushes there where we landed, and my girl started harvesting them while I hitched on. The harvest was meagre to say the least, I suspect we weren't the first there.
It wasn't too long though before this tour bus comes rolling past and sure enough comes to a stop beside us. Empty of passengers, heading back to Invercargill for a repair job, the driver treated us to a luxury ride. It was a brightly painted bus and in big letters on its side was written "Good Times Tours". You're telling me!
We went as far as the Te Anau turn-off in that bus, enjoying the best views we'd had in a long while. The panoramic windows of an empty tour bus put those of a tiny little car to shame.
We got out of our bus at the turn-off for Te Anau only to find another hitcher parked there already. It was cold and windy, real windy, and we asked him how long he'd been there. "Hours", came the somber reply.
A little nonplussed we walked down the road a bit and stood there, waiting our turn. The traffic, as ever was light. It wasn't long before we got tired of the biting cold wind and decided we'd walk, just to warm up a bit. "If you get a ride", we asked the other hitcher, "and drive past us, put in a good word for us O.K.". He agreed and we ambled off into the wind, for yes the wind was coming more or less from the west where we were headed.
At times we found shelter among trees, but as often as not we were in a wind that forced us to lean forward as we walked. We did warm up a bit though, and were only aiming to reach Mossburn about 10km down the road where another main road joined this one and we could hope for a little more traffic.
As it turns out we never got to Mossburn, at least not on foot. Maybe halfway there, an hour of walking behind us, someone pulls up. He's returning a rental car to Te Anau, and not really allowed to pick up hitchers, "but what the heck", he says.
Driving through Mossburn we find the other guy had made it that far, so he'd obviously passed us on the way. And just as he couldn't pull over for us, nor could we for him.
We're dropped off on the outskirts of Te Anau, so as not to be seen by anyone in town, remembering that our driver isn't allowed to have any passengers (insurance reasons no doubt). No problem the villages here are so small that the walk from the edge of town into town doesn't rate a mention.
The stretch from Te Anau to Milford Sound is one of those that scares most people out of hitching. On the one hand all the traffic that flows there is going all the way, on the other hand there isn't much that's stop. Only tour busses and rental cars as a rule, all full up with no room for two hitchers in the back.
I was kind of looking forward to trying it, just to show the rumour mongers up. We'd made it all the way down the West Coast by the power of thumb and they said that couldn't be done, so hah!
We were staying in a house cum hostel in Te Anau which was kind of quaint. Over dinner we got to know all our housemates for the night, and unsurprisingly most of them were in fact headed for Milford Sound the next morning. I got back to the dinner table and my girl'd already found us a ride there and back the next day.
So much for my dream of thumbing it. A lame wave of the thumb over the dinner table was small consolation. But granted, no hitcher complains at the offer of a ride ...
We'd just got back from Milford Sound with the German couple with whom we toured the sound that day, had some classic kiwi fish and chips for dinner, when our friends dropped us at the edge of town for the hitch to Invercargill. It was already late afternoon and we weren't sure of getting a ride before sundown so we told them to expect us back at the hostel if things don't turn out. They had a spare bed in the living room there that would've served our needs, and the proprietors live elsewhere.
No sooner had they dropped us off were our pessimistic sentiments quashed when a tanker pulled over. He was headed all the way to Invercargill too which made our day. He delivers LPG to these remote areas and always takes hitchers along with him if he sees any, though he's not allowed too! Those Kiwis are laid back all right, a noble crowd.
On the way back we pointed out where we'd got picked up heading into town. That got us talking about where that car came from. Apparently there was a back road going past some really interesting hills, one of which was called Castle Rock. It's just as fast as the main route apparently so he took us to Invercargill no this quiet scenic route, past what turned out to be a really nice hill that did indeed look like a castle. Something most people passing this way don't see.
In Invercargill we ended up staying in a play house in someone's back yard, which was different and put a nice touch to the end of the day.
In Invercargill we met a fellow, who met a fellow who got picked up by the manager of a courier service. In New Zealand you see courier vans drive past all the time, but they never stop, it's written in the rules I expect. But this guy got picked up by the manager of one such company, a New Zealand wide courier service, and ever since then apparently he'd been riding the courier vans around New Zealand. Now that'd be the day ... A hitcher's dream come true.
We got a ride out of Dunedin that left us in a village called Waikouaiti. While waiting for a lift onwards we noticed the fish and chip store across the road which rung a chord with our stomachs, so I went over to buy some chips while my girl continued our mission of thumb. It took me a while to get some service, it was lunch time and the shop was crowded, but eventually I placed the order. Stepping out to let my girl know all was underway I notice she's talking to some guy pulled over by the side of the road. Wouldn't you believe it, just as I get our order down someone turns up!
Well she explains the situation and he's happy to wait, just had some lunch himself he said. It seemed to take forever before my chips were done though and I couldn't help but feel we were imposing a little upon this guys generosity.
Maybe it serves us right that when we got out at Palmerston just up the road it was raining (again) and we had to wait forever to get a ride out of town ...
We were heading inland from Palmerston, to Ranfurly on a stretch of road as quiet as the best of west. It was raining and we were huddled under our small umbrella for shelter. But compassion wasn't abounding that day, and we still waited over an hour before a sheep truck pulled over. You can smell them from afar.
We'd been in New Zealand over a month, it was about time we got a ride with some sheep! Went all the way to Ranfurly and boy were we glad.
We were trying to hitch out of Ranfurly back to the coast on a Sunday. The look in folks eyes when you tell them that thereabouts isn't very encouraging, they sort of say "wish you luck, you'll need it!". Still we were game and going to give it a shot.
Prepared for a casual wait we set up camp on the outskirts of town. Sure enough the cars weren't rushing at us, but to compensate there was plenty of scope to make each individual driver feel a little guilty at abandoning us you to our fate.
Some time after lunch (this was a casual hitch) this car full to the brim with farm boys pulls over. There's five of them in there, two up front three in the back and they seriously want to try and get the both of us and our packs in there too! They weren't exactly going our way which was the excuse we needed. Bye.
Some time later a guy stops and offers us a ride down the road a little. He reckons there's more traffic there where the bypass meets the road through town again. He should know he lives there. We ended up parked in front of this guys house a short ride out of town. Well we figured, if we end up here all day maybe he'll invite us in.
Fortunately that didn't happen. Two guys pulled up later on. Said they'd passed us earlier in the day when were still standing in town, and they were headed down to the coast now. Grateful for the ride we piled in.
I think it fair to say that was a fairly common pattern in New Zealand. When someone drives past you early in the day, and drives past again hours later, I guess it's a perfect recipe for touching the sympathy in most any driver. Maybe they feel they know you a little already, as if you'd just moved into town or something and can't be all that bad.
It was Sunday and getting late when we landed in Palmerston again, but we had no intention of staying so we found a spot on the north road and put our thumbs into gear. Our spirits lift as a car slows down and puts on the indicator, and sink again as it pulls into the drive in front of our noses and parks in the front garden. A teenager gets out and shrugs.
Minutes later another car slows down and indicates, only to pull into the same drive and park in the same garden to issue some teenagers that shrug.
And again. And Again. And again. Turns out we parked ourselves in front of party or something. When the front garden was full, every few minutes someone would pull out, and then come back again, probably with grog, or drugs, who knows? We weren't invited. Couldn't hear any music mind you.
In time a truck slows down and indicates, but true to our feelings that no truck this dirty is going to a party, it pulls up and invites us in. Thrilled, we throw our bags in the back and hop in front. Turns out to be a guy working at the gold mine, New Zealand biggest by the way, just up the road (the very road we'd just come down actually so we must've driven right by the thing without noticing it).
This guy was going as far as Oamaru and it was getting late, we were tired and Oamaru has penguins to see around dusk so we called it a day right there. Gold mines are not clean places! So screamed our bags as we pulled them out of the back covered in mud and muck. A nice sponge bath came later, for the bags that is, we showered. Then we went a penguin watching ...
We'd camped at Oamaru on the east coast for the night, and I went to the public phone booth out front in order to ring some friends up north and let them know we were heading that way. I rested my wallet with the number in view on top of the phone and started to dial. Just then a car pulled slowly out of the camp ground. It stopped. Would you believe it, it was an English couple we climbed the glacier with more than a weeks ago on the west coast!
They asked us where we were headed, as they were headed north and could squeeze us in. A little excited by the opportunity we piled into the back of their car.
An hours drive later just as we're passing through Timaru, I notice I've not got my wallet with me. I must have left it lying in the phone booth! Halt! We pulled over at a convenient phone booth and I went to ring the camp ground. There was more than $300 cash in that wallet. I rushed back and said I can't make a phone call, I've no money or phone cards. My girl passes me a credit card and I use that, there's a credit card phone there fortunately.
I ring the camp ground and ask them to check the phone booth for my wallet. No need they tell me, some Australian girls found it and said they'd take it down to the police station. A little relieved but still not certain, I ring the police station. They don't know anything about a wallet. So I ring the camp ground again. "Oh, those girls just left five minutes ago, they mustn't have reached the station yet". I ring the police station again, and sure enough it's turned up now, the girls though have gone.
I was in a quandary as to what to do. Turn around, hitch back, or ask then to forward it on to somewhere, if so where? Does a hitcher ever know precisely where he's going?
The police were great and offered to send it on by overnight courier. As we were aiming for Akaroa, a small seaside town, that night that's where they'd forward it to. We could survive on this credit card till then.
The next day in Akaroa we go to the police station to see if its arrived. But there's no-one there. All locked up. That's small seaside towns for you! There's a sign with a number for urgent problems. So I go to a phone and ring the number. It puts me through to the Christchurch police. They don't know why the police station is shut, but offer to look into it and ring back. It takes a while before the ring back; turns out the only policeman for the area is in the hills attending to some break in. But I should go to the house next door and ask his wife if my wallet had turned up.
We find his wife, but she doesn't know anything about it. She says she'll be there till just before five (she's going to watch the cricket) and we should come back then to check if it's arrived.
We come back later and it's arrived! With all the cash! The policeman's wife offers us an address, apparently of the girl who handed it in. We take the address, and write a very grateful thank you.
Just consider these girls found my wallet at (almost) the very same moment I noticed it was missing ... Jung called it Synchronicity, others call it cute, yet others eerie.
In our effort to get to Akaroa, we were left in the middle of Christchurchian suburbia, where the turn-off just happened to be. There was a prison there that set a wonderful mood. Nearby prisons aren't known to make drivers receptive to hitch-hikers for some reason. We stopped and took some lunch, which we regretted, cheap chow mein, which was cheap for a good reason, it was bad.
Destined to walk through the city till we reach it's outskirts, we nonetheless marked a sign with the words "Akaroa Please" and tied it to my girl's pack before setting off on the long march.
To our surprise we didn't get very far at all before someone pulled over. The morning DJ from one of the radio stations in Christchurch on his way home in the country. He used to hitch himself and it was a long way from here to the edge of town he said, so he'd better lend us a start.
We made a note to listen to his show when next we were in Christchurch. It's not often we get a ride with a DJ after all. So if you're ever listening to morning radio in Christchurch, you may be listening to our ride.
We ended up waiting in the town of Little River one afternoon on our quest to reach Akaroa. We'd been dropped off there by the Little River tourist information lady who was coming this way. Parked on the main road, what appeared to be the only road, we waited with patience. We caught the eye of a Canadian fellow working as a volunteer gardener on the property beside which we stood. We kept one another company for a while, he'd been hitching around New Zealand as well, but he had to get to work again before long.
Shortly thereafter this wreck of a car crept towards us and pulled up. A German guy at the wheel offered us a ride a little apologetic for the condition of his car. He'd bought it cheaply recently and it went well enough to get him around the country which is all that mattered.
It was a Singer. And I thought they only made sewing machines! Apparently they're not related to the sewing machine company at all, but were an English car maker long out of business now. Hitching is educational no?
This car never exceeded 80 km/hr and needed a run up to get over big hills. The cabin was full of petrol fumes the whole way, forcing us to ride with the windows down. I got a headache all the same. Still it was a stroke of luck this guy was staying at the very camp we were headed for which was some 10 km out of town on this farm in the hills. Convenient if slightly on the budget side of hitching luxury.
Leaving Akaroa turned out to be phenomenal event for us. It was drizzly weather as usual and we were keen to head north, as far north as it took to escape this weather that had been plaguing us the last week. We were staying at a hostel on the main street out of town, but needed to walk a kilometre or so to reach its outskirts. We crossed the road and started to walk with a thumb extended of course.
Still in the thick of town, this motor-home idles past us and pulls up to park some hundred metres ahead of us. Jokingly I tell my girl that it's probably for us, something my girl won't believe. A hitcher's dream of course riding in the back of a motor-home. But sure enough this lady pops out the back and invites us in, they're going as far as Christchurch. Turns out to be an English doctor and his family, having just worked a half year in New Zealand making a last minute tour. Their last day in the motor-home in fact they were to hand it back in Christchurch.
Well they dropped us off in one of the suburbs of Christchurch, at the same junction coincidentally from whence we'd hitched out of Christchurch two days earlier. The same prison and the same dreadful chow mein shop. Grateful for the lift, we were all the same a little perplexed as to how we'd get through Christchurch in any hurry.
There were only two real options. The first being to catch a bus into town and then out of town on the other side to a good hitching spot. The other was to walk aimlessly through town sporting a thumb and see what happens. More conservative hitchers would have pursued the former, crazy couple we were we opted for the latter.
Just to raise our hopes a little we took some card out of a bin and scrawled "Heading North" on it in big letters before tying it to my girl's pack. Thus equipped we crossed the street and started walking, direction north.
We were in the thick of a shopping centre, (fully equipped with a prison) and an unbroken row of parked cars separated us from the traffic. There was one empty parking spot up ahead which suddenly disappeared as a hungry motorist pulled into it. Following my earlier tease, I ribbed my girl a little and said I'm sure this car pulled over for us. My girl unconvinced, we amble on at our leisurely pace.
As we get to this car, sure enough the guy at the wheel shouts us over and says, he's heading north, hop on in!
Turns out this guy lives in a town just on the northern outskirts of Christchurch. He'd come to this southern suburb because he had a prescription to fill, and the only chemist that would fill it was here. Odd we thought. Turns out the prescription is for morphine, the guy's trying desperately to dry up he says. Gotta kick the habit. Well it's not every day you get a ride with a heroin addict either is it. We wished him luck as he let us out at the start of a motorway heading north.
We were parked in front of a sign declaring the speed limit to be 100 km/hr. Being a place where motorists are more concerned with speeding up than slowing down we figured we'd better pick up our bags and walk back down the road a little, before the 100 sign had caught motorists' eyes.
No sooner had we picked the bags up than this van driver catches our eyes and smiles. This time my girl says "He's gonna stop", and I say "No way". Sure enough though he pulls to a halt about 100 metres or so further on. Was probably just starting to accelerate when he saw us, making the slow down a little more prolonged.
He's going all the way to Picton, the very north of the Island. Well that's the last ride we'll need for the day. We only wanted to go as far as Kaikoura. But when we got there it was raining. We took a look at the beach, the black laval sand didn't grab us any either, so we all had some lunch and then moved on. We thought we'd surprise our friends in Blenheim who picked us up hitching almost a month earlier and put us up for the night.
On the way we stopped at this fur seal colony, apparently the largest you'll see in New Zealand. It was raining, but the seals were a little curious about us, as we were about them. Both of us cautious as well. They made it clear how close was comfortable, and we weren't going to push it any. Close as I'd ever come to a wild fur seal anyway.
Turns out our driver ran an alternate tour company around New Zealand. Brightly coloured buses, and completely self sufficient. They tour around with mattresses in the bus, bicycles on the roof, and kayaks and everything they need for a good time. This was precisely the bus that an old girlfriend had taken when she was in New Zealand years earlier! And here was I in the managers van!
His story was more than interesting too, and we were kept well entertained. He'd grown up in England during the war years it turns out, when the Germans were bombing him and his family on a regular basis. Now he was showing them around New Zealand in busses; most of his clients were Germans. More ironic perhaps, his children both drove buses for him, one was marrying a German he'd met while driving that bus, and the other had a German boyfriend she'd met while driving. One moment they're bombing him, next his kids are marrying them. Life has it's twists that's for sure.
But I could well understand him, my girlfriend, with whom I was riding in his van, was after all German! (me? I'm an Australian child of the 60's). I guess we gotta love 'em.
We got out in Blenheim, and wished our new friend all the best. He was headed for Germany the next week for his son's wedding, and was warmly invited to visit by my girlfriend (who'd soon be back herself). We caught up with our friends in Blenheim and had a warm evening catching up before we caught a ride with them into Picton the next day.
That day we left Akaroa aimed for Kaikoura, we never even got to start waiting for a lift and made it to Blenheim, 400 km down the road, in three lifts, with a string of personalities that left their mark on our souls. It was a day to epitomise the very reasons we hitch!
We arrived in Picton looking to fly back to Wellington. When we came over the ferry crossing took takes 3 hours and cost $44, while on the south island we'd learned of an airline that flies in 20 minutes for $45. So that was the plan.
Imagine our surprise to find that tomorrow was Good Friday and there was a special on offer, to fly over for $25. Needless to say we stayed a day longer in Picton, enjoyed the sunshine, and flew on Good Friday. Not exactly a hitch, but the cheapest flight I've ever taken.
It was 14 seater, single engine plane. My girlfriend has a keen eye, and notice there was no co-pilot as it landed, so she figure she could sit in the co-pilots seat. But I don't believe her, sounds far-fetched to me. So she asks the stewardess as we're boarding, and she says sure, that's fine. Which one of us would like to sit up front she asks. My girl points at me!
The door is at the back of the plane, so I crept past the passengers already boarded and snuck into the co-pilots seat. The other passengers looked as surprised as I did. I only hoped the pilot wouldn't be surprised when he turned up. Fortunately he wasn't. A memorable flight in any case.
When we were last in the north island we came down the middle along the main Auckland-Wellington route more or less. So to head north again we could either work our way up the east coast or the west coast. We left it to fate to decide as we stood next to the railway station prepared to go east or west with the first car to stop.
Wasn't long before a van stopped, a young couple off to Levin to pick up some furniture. Thus we were committed to the western route. Imagine our pleasure to read in later days that it was raining in the east, while we had the sun in the west!
It was Good Friday, and we were in Levin, a small town north of Wellington waiting for a lift. Traffic was reasonable of course, Easter always brings cars to the road, if indeed many of them are full of people and luggage. But it wasn't working for us, the traffic just drove on by ...
This one fellow did stop in time, only took us to the next town down the road, Foxton, where he lives. He tells us Levin is a hitcher's graveyard, he'd seen people stranded there all day with no luck and felt we'd have a better chance from Foxton. He put us on the road out of town in front of a large sport ground where he said we could pitch tent if we were still there that night and no-one would say a thing.
Alas here too we had time to watch the sun on it's steady path through the heavens. Ages and ages later a guy stops, says he's going to Wanganui. Overjoyed we climbed on board.
He was a sawmill operator that lived in Foxton and commuted this stretch daily. Said that spot we were at was a hitcher's graveyard, he'd seen people there in the morning and still there on his way home that evening.
Sure we weren't moving fast, but that was two hitchers' graveyards in one day, not bad going we thought, most might only see one. It was already cooling down by the time we got underway and we got all warm and comfortable looking forward to a bed in Wanganui.
Imagine our joy when this guy tells us he's going to see his sister at this golf course down this road on the left, and pulls over to turn left, only 30 km or so before Wanganui! Ouch.
Now we were in a hitcher's graveyard, a fact clear to our own eyes. The sun was just going down, we were trying to hitch west, into the setting sun, it was cold, there was one car every minute or so and it was a lonely stretch of highway where the cars ripped by at 100 km/hr or more. To make matters worse the only possible place to pull over was the turn off lane for this road our last sawmill buddy took. So we had to park ourselves a fair way before the turn off, giving the speedsters some room to slow down, missing any chance to catch any slow cars coming out of the turn-off.
Well there weren't any coming from there anyway, so it wasn't much of an issue. But sure enough, the sun barely still showing, a car comes out of the turn off. Stops, wait and turns away from us. D'oh. The traffic on the highway didn't have much chance of seeing us, let alone stopping, but at least there was traffic, this turn off had spewed forth one car sum total in the time the highway had delivered 30 or more. What a dilemma!
The sun was now just showing a sliver when the side road spews forth another car, which stops to look left and right. Frantically I jump up and down waving thumbs wildly in its direction, some 100 metres away. My girl laughs at my antics.
But yes! I had the last laugh. The driver pulls over and waves us over, and waits for us to trot the 100 metres or so with our bags. Puffed and overjoyed at our rescue from demise, we pile in.
He's headed for Wanganui all right. Never seen any hitchers here in his life. Pretty weird spot to be hitching he says. Turns out he works at a mental hospital/prison down that road. We never asked him if there was a golf course down there as well! Didn't really want to know.
Hitching out of Wanganui we got a ride with the hostel proprietor to the road out of town. It wasn't working there and we were still in the thick of hilly suburbs so we thought to walk a bit. Not far on there was a long straight with good visibility and slow traffic, so we parked there. Sure enough not long after the is Maori couple stop. Turns out they've already got this punk in the back, some guy they'd picked up just coming into Wanganui.
We had a fun time trying to squeeze our bags into the boot, and three of us squeezed into the back of this little car might have been fun if this our punk neighbour had been a little more conversational or entertaining. But 'twas not to be. I'd caught a cold in Wanganui and was suffering somewhat as it was, so I just lay my head down as best I could with my contorted legs before me and rode it out.
But no, I'm not complaining, such is the lot of the hitcher. We got as far as Hawera and that was progress by any measure. Just think of the joy we had at getting out, and stretching our legs! And besides this couple were genuinely pleasant and friendly, enough to warm anyone's heart. There's a bright side to everything.
At Hawera there were two options for reaching New Plymouth. The main road, quick and straight, or the longer slower, more interesting coastal route. We faced a similar choice in Picton a month earlier, but this time it was possible to hitch both directions at once as we stood at the junction of the two. I stood on the main highway, and just around the corner my girlfriend stood on the scenic route.
A small competition was underway again. Last time we did this she won. This time I cheated, I picked the road with more traffic, though I preferred to travel the less trafficked road (this was of course to offset her feminine advantage).
Wasn't sure how to feel when this car pulled over. Joy at winning, or disappointment at committing us to the simple route. I looked over to my girl, and wouldn't you believe it someone had just stopped for her as well. Now that's Synchronicity for you!
Now we both had to explain to our respective drivers that we were in fact a couple, pointed at the other, and that another car had just now stopped for our partner, and could we please just rush over and discuss the matter before committing ourselves. Boy who'd have thought hitcher's could be so troublesome? (well truth to tell many people, but they never stop do they?).
Turns out her ride only had one free seat anyway, so there was no decision to be made. All were informed and everyone underway.
The ride we got out of Hawera to New Plymouth, was real cute. Aside from the lovely couple up front we had a kitten and a puppy in the back, and this dog was wild, I'd never seen anything like. A little pug face that looked just like Steven Spielberg's Gremlins with a recessed nose, protruding lower jar and teeth and big round eyes hidden in tufts of hair. This was a pure breed too (though I've forgotten the name), so no unique specimen, there are many of them out there. I just had to take a photo.
We were staying in New Plymouth at Hostel 69, the rather risque name of which seems not to register upon many, yet solicits an understanding smile from the rest of us, quite probably including those who named it thus. In any case it's a friendly place, and there's a courtesy lift out to a hitching spot if required, which we naturally exploited. They'd dropped some hitchers off at this same spot some hours earlier, and they were no longer there, so it looked all right I guess.
It wasn't happening in a hurry mind you, and it was lunch time, so I ventured to make some lunch for us. I had a tin of tuna, and remembering a similar incident, told my girl "I bet the moment I cut into this tin someone stops!". So I cut into the tin, and sure enough I'd just got the lid off when someone stops. D'oh!
It was a Syrian guy, playing quaint Arabic music for us. He was only going down the road to the next town, Waitara, which was probably for the better as I was carrying an open tin of tuna (in vegetable oil I might add) all the way. He didn't seem to notice, but all the same it cost me some effort concentrating on avoiding an embarrassing spill while swaying to the Mohammedan groove issuing from his speakers.
Had it been a longer ride I'd have sought a more lasting solution to the problem, but as it turned out he dropped us off at the Waitara turn-off and I still had this open tin of tuna in my hand. My girl thumbed on of course while I, a little relieved, finished making tuna sandwiches for the both of us. Which we got to eat before someone else stopped.
We were standing on a particularly poor intersection with one of those loose gravel edges that don't exactly entice cars to pull over and a racing speed limit to further complicate the situation. A place like that is always good to escape, and any ride will do.
We were relying on the traffic coming out of the turn-off we were standing at. It was slow, and forced to stop for a moment before pulling onto the highway of course. And as it turns out this small black panel van eventually appears to perform just that ritual before pulling over to invite us in. Two pretty gruff guys, the black leather, long bearded, tattoos-all-over type, were going down the road a few miles, just to charge their battery! But we were welcome to come for the ride.
Ordinarily we might think twice about an opportunity like that, but at this junction the second thought wasn't coming. In we piled, glad to be off this spot.
They got as far as the next village and then started looking for a particular house somewhere on the main road further on a little. Having found the house they wanted, presumably a friend of theirs, we reached the end of our ride. We got out and continued thumbing. This spot as it turns out wasn't much better than the last, but at least we had some shade, and some grass to sit on, for that we were grateful.
These guys stayed parked outside this house for a long while with the bonnet up and the keys in the ignition. A half hour at least I'd guess. They must have trusted us a lot I guess, because driving off was a real option (for souls more wicked than we that is).
Eventually they emerged again, tinkered around a bit, disappeared, re-emerged, tinkered some more, then got into the car and tried to start it. Zip. Zero. Nothing. Dead as Dodo. Looks like the battery didn't charge so good.
So they need a hand pushing the car, and who should be standing around to offer one but us. We owed them something, not sure what, but something, so we pushed this car along and the driver clutched the motor into motion, before they piled in and were off. Adios amigos.
It took a while, but in time a car pulled over, and we got a decent ride almost all the way we wanted to go. We weren't exactly sure where we wanted to go in all honesty, but at least as far as this guy was going, at least as far in fact as the Waitomo caves. The guy we rode with was a middle aged surfie, he was off to the east coast on a seismological survey, and had his surfboard with of course. In all honesty this was one of the most pleasant rides we'd had in a long while, we just hit it off real well somehow. Getting out and saying goodbye after a couple of hours together was difficult in all honesty, a moment peppered with the tension of knowing we'd probably never see one another ever again, and kind of regretting it. When that happens you know you had a good ride, that's all I can say.
I reflect that there was a time when under similar circumstance I'd probably have advanced the move to exchange addresses. Many years later, having hitched many tens if not hundreds of thousands of kilometres through dozens of countries, and hundreds upon hundreds of addresses in my little black book, I'd come to accept that even that rarely helped somehow. Hitching just brings you into contact with so many people so far away that only the barest few will ever mature into lasting friendships. For those we remain ever grateful, but to regret the rest would be silly too. Instead we share a few expressions of mutual sympathy, and implicit recognition of our diverging paths, upon the parting. One of life's sombre and valuable experiences I think.
We were left on a junction again, where our path diverged with that of our vehicle. It was a long and wonderful ride to get there, and we were still buzzing a little for the experience I think, but it didn't make this junction any more attractive. A high speed zone with a loose gravel shoulder as usual, not at all conducive for hitching.
But it was warm and we'd just driven a few hours, so we figured the walk would do us good, and tramped on down the road. To our dismay the flat of the junction very soon became hilly and windy, reducing the chance of a ride to zero. Which is no reason to withdraw the thumb from action of course and we walked on a lame thumb waggling at our sides to lure the little traffic that was passing.
Imagine our surprise, almost horror when this car with a trailer comes to a precarious halt on the loose gravel shoulder of this curve, before our very faces! Imagine our surprise to find four people in the car already as well.
All the same the driver climbs out and asks us our plan. Uncertain we proffer the possible goal of Waitomo, and the general sentiment of 'as far and wide as we can get'. "Great" this guy says and lays his plan on the floor. He's headed up to Auckland to drop something off then coming back down to his house a half hour south of Auckland. We're welcome to stay there if we like.
We had a friend in Auckland, and thought a surprise visit might be cool so we said to him that Auckland would do us.
The other three passengers were all 13 year olds or thereabouts. We throw our bags in the trailer, tied them down and tried to squeeze in. With two kids in the back though the two of us didn't fit. So we three my girl in the front (her hips are somewhat broader than mine) and me and three kids in the back. That worked fine. Well almost fine ...
Three 13 year olds in the back of a car with a strange hitch-hiker turned out to be no recipe for harmony. They fought and yelled and fought and yelled and hit each other, and almost involved me once or twice.
I remember an old riddle from my childhood. What makes more noise than a cat stuck up in a tree? Two cats stuck up in a tree, goes the answer. So thought Dad, who's coping strategy for three brawling and screaming pre-pubescent teenagers was to turn the radio up so loud they couldn't hear one another. Inciting them of course to shout louder to hear one another, and me to bury my head anywhere I could. To make things even more fun, radio reception was dreadful and there was as much hi-fi white noise as there was music blasting out of the speakers.
Wow, what ride, what contrast to the beautiful ride prior to that!
Well we got to Auckland, the southern suburbs of Auckland anyway, where he left us at a bust station to reach our friend in western Auckland. Boy were we glad to be moving on.
To be fair this guy was well-intentioned, and friendly and I appreciate the gesture, and even the result, but the execution was a little lacking.
The first time I've ever hitched inside of a metropolis was in Auckland. We were left at a bus stop at the very south of the city, an area notorious apparently for its social problems. It was already late, and we were going to see a see a friend in the west of Auckland. The only way out was of course to take a bus into town, and then another bus out of town.
We didn't even really know where we were in all honesty, but we worked out that the busses here, when they come do occasionally go down town. To simplify the matter we waited with our thumbs out of course.
You can imagine the mixture of joy and unease coursing through our veins when a car pulls over, on that dark quiet road late at night in the 'not so good' part of town. Well there was a young Maori chap at the wheel and he was headed down town. Looked nice enough to us so we hopped in.
He was a rugby player, had even played for a Canberra side for some years, not far from my home. He was heading into town to pick up his girlfriend who was finishing work around then. He dropped us at the main bus terminal down town and wished us all the best, and we him.
Now, not wanting to impose upon our host by expecting her to drive down town and back again (a rather long journey in a sprawling city like Auckland when you live way out in the suburbs), we had to find the bus out to our friend. She had no idea herself and couldn't help us. The information booths were all closed as well, and we had only an address to go from. There weren't any buses around either. Hmmm.
Well a bus did arrive in short time, so I asked the driver what we could do. He told us which busses might help us, so we waited around for one of those. When it arrives I ask the driver again how we could get there.
He wasn't sure so he radioed back to base and asked them. They looked up the address and worked out a route for us. Sure enough we had the right bus, but we'd have to change busses somewhere along the way.
So we're on our way finally. I'm thinking we're running a little late though and would like to have let our friend know that we're on the way. I asked the driver how long the ride would be, sharing the dilemma with him. We had no desire to turn up after midnight.
He asks me for her name and number, and radios base again and asks them to place a phone call for us, informing her that we were on our way! Imagine that for service.
Now we didn't know how to get from the bus stop to her house, and in suburbia the chance of a phone booth near a bus stop is by no means certain, so I prevailed upon the driver for his wisdom. Sure enough he radios base and places the question, and they deliver instructions for us, that we both go through a couple of times to make sure I have them straight. Go Left, first on the right, round the bend, third on the left; that sort of thing ...
So we end up changing buses. When we're in the new bus, the driver of the old bus just before driving off, pulls up beside our new bus and tells the driver where to throw us out, just so we don't over-shoot the mark.
A while later we get out just there, and we follow our directions. Upon arriving we realise we have the wrong street! We were looking for a Sunrise Grove, and we were at Sunrise Street ... Close, but no points.
So we walk around to the main road, find a service station and a phone and call our friend. Sure thing she got the message from the bus company, surprised her a bit in all honesty, and we'd gone wrong but we weren't all that far away so she'd come and pick us up in her car.
So we got there, a little late but we got there, and we'd never had such a helpful bus driver in our entire lives I expect. Let it be said that there are some wonderful bus drivers in the city of Auckland.
We thought to spend our last days in New Zealand exploring Northland. We were at a friend's in Auckland, and she gave us a ride to the nearest motorway, which wasn't far from her place really. We couldn't tell her where we were going, only as far north as we could get, and that we'd be back in a few days to catch our flight home.
It turned out to be one of the craziest days we'd survived in a while and the story meanders a little, but sit still, it has a happy ending and paints a well rounded picture of a day "on the road", a la Kerouac perhaps.
In no time at all we got a ride to the end of the motorway. A young red-headed guy with the most amazing dreadlocks, and reggae music flowing from the speakers. We had to make space for ourselves amongst all the trash floating around in the car, but a pleasant experience all the same. He left us at a bus stop no the main connector road between this motorway and the main northern route.
Almost immediately we got another ride. An American physician, who grew up in New Zealand, back here visiting family in a rental car. A pleasant fellow, and an ardent bird watcher, we stopped to watch birds on the way. That ride got us as far Warkworth.
There we stopped for some lunch before heading back out to the highway. Walking a hundred metres ahead of us was another guy with backpack on, who dropped his stuff on the highway and started to hitch from the junction there. Looked like a pretty silly spot to us, not much room to pull up anyway, so we walked on a bit to the next straight. We got a ride from there almost immediately as well, this time with two city slickers heading north for some fishing. They played loud music, and smoked dope the whole way.
Their turn off was at Ruakaka, where we got out. Alas this was one of these dreadful spots, with a high speed limit, a long straight to exceed that limit on and a loose gravel half-shoulder. Looking down the straight road it was along way before any sign of change, so we thought we'd better give it a go before committing us to a long trek in the broiling mid-day sun. We didn't hold much hope though.
Wasn't long in fact before a car comes to a very outrageous halt behind us, kicking up dust and dirt and skidding a little before a sudden halt on this almost shoulder the road had. Ouch. Still, if we only got to the next town we'd be happy, from there we could hitch on in comfort.
There are the Maori's in the car, two are sleeping. We get in the back with one of these sleeping babies. They were headed for Whangarei, the next town down the road, which would suit us just fine.
The driver, the only guy awake apologised for the precarious stop. He was nice enough, we made some interesting conversation to be sure, but his habit of drinking while driving was a little disconcerting.
The guy next to me in the back woke up and exchanged some mumbles with the driver, upon which they pull up. I was kind of relieved in a strange sort of way when the driver got in the back with us and the ex-sleeper started driving. The driver said he was now too drunk to drive! The new driver had jaundice eyes which didn't inspire much added confidence alas.
My girlfriend found the whole experience most disconcerting. Not a native English speaker she found it nigh impossible to understand the Maori inflected English, and the street talk we were engaged in. She remarked later upon the chameleon like change in my persona in that environment.
Aside from the risk inherent in their driving though I never felt threatened among them, they reminded me very much of other indigenous peoples in my life. They reflect for me an almost compassionate crisis of identity and culture that expresses itself in the language and drug abuse that I know so well from the Aboriginals I grew up with and around, and the mountain folk of Tyrol that are my paternal family.
By the same token jovial and friendly as it was, such a situation can turn ugly in unpredictable ways. Indeed rubbing against that world as a harsh alien amplifies that risk unnecessarily. It is a worth reminder of the sober (or not so sober) risks that hitching will always carry with it.
These guys tell us now they're headed for Kaitaia, way up north. Truth be told that was just where we were headed, and they new it, we told them earlier, but understandably we told them Whangarei would do us, we weren't in any rush.
I was kind of touched somehow at this guys recognition of what was up. He was drunk, but no fool, and clearly not a bad man. He managed something that many of us have grave trouble with, a little humility. He recognised our lack of desire to ride with them for hours, my girlfriend's discomfort, and our fundamental need to escape, with complete understanding, no hint of taking offence. He could accept that somehow, for which I was very grateful. I liked the guy somehow I have to confess, not the situation just the person I was rapping with.
Well, we got to the road leading out of Whangarei, it wasn't far some 10 km from where they picked us up, and they pulled up at a bus stop. There was a lone girl there hitching coincidentally, but seeing this car she lowered her thumb and walked back up the road past us. My Maori friend asked he if she wanted a ride, but she declined.
We got out and they drove off. This girl comes back to her spot. She's Irish. Had an interesting story. She was in Warkworth earlier, where we had lunch. She walked out to the main road, past this same guy we walked past. She said he look a little bored and dejected by that stage, and agreed that just around the corner was a much better spot to stand, which our and her presence tended to testify. Poor fool.
Anyhow, at Warkworth these three Maoris pulled up for her and offered her a ride, which she declined, sensibly I have to confess. So when she saw us pull up here we were already familiar to her and she walked away to avoid the need for a repeated rejection, which need she failed to escape.
In reflection, if we were standing in Warkworth when the stopped and not on this spot where only a madman would stop, we'd probably have waved them on as well. As it was we weren't so picky, and the experience was a good one in its own way. It serves us well to face an uncomfortable experience on occasion, up to a point, a point which we cannot aim for accurately of course, but which is there all the same.
As it was we didn't like this spot so we walked on a bit, needed to talk it through between us anyway, so a walk was good. We found a good spot further on and not long after got a ride with an eccentric young saxophonist. He took us only a short way to another turn-off.
On the way there we passed another hitcher, in a duffel coat and an Akubra (a kind of hat common in rural Australia, and increasingly amongst tourists and the fashion conscious).
There were some wonderful rock formations there on that junction, they'd been fenced off and a small reserve made of them. They were rather attractive and I was glad we were there to see them, we'd have missed them if we drove straight by.
Not long after we got a ride with a farmer headed north. He took us up into some hills before reaching the turn-off to his farm. I gleaned many facts on dairy farming from that man, I had never been aware up to that point just how much milk a cow can produce on a daily basis and where it all goes. The vast majority as it turns out goes into milk powder, what you and I drink is the smallest fraction of milk produced!
Such is the lot of the hitcher however that we were left again, at a junction on the highway that was less than optimal. Not as bad as earlier ones, but not great. It was on a bend in the road, in the hills, with no hope of finding a straight in a hurry. Standing on the road was not a good idea as the six or seven possum corpses littering it testified.
It was a beautiful spot though, one of those spots with a view, rolling green hills, a comfortably warm sun, and no rush to get anywhere somehow. So we just mellowed out.
It wasn't too long before a 4 wheel drive pulls over. It was going to the Bay of Islands. Sounded great to us so we got in. A real luxury cruiser it was too, with a girl at the wheel and a guy up front. Turns out this guy was a hitcher too, none other than the guy we'd just passed before, his duffel coat and hat on the back seat beside me!
Well it turns out this girl is headed way up north, past Kaitaia to Houhora. What dream for us, that's almost as far as you can go in New Zealand. Well we stuck around for the ride needless to say, having dropped our hitching compatriot at the Bay of Islands.
It was a long ride, we stopped for dinner in Kaitaia on the way. Her fathers 4 wheel drive, she was on her way to Houhora to meet him in his fishing boat. Her driving was a little too reckless for my tastes, the sort of ride where you keep a nervous grip on you seat, but we all survived. It was dark when we got to Houhora so we just pitched tent at the camp-ground and retired for the night.
It was a long day, full of thoughts, feelings, encounters and talks. We came a long way and had many things to cope with. Not one of those days that leaves you buzzing with joy, much rather one that leaves you dead in bed. But the picture it paints is a good one I think, that reflects upon the pros and cons of hitch-hiking somewhat.
Our first night in the far north of New Zealand we camped at Houhora, on that long thin peninsula bounded by 90 mile beach on the west. Alas the road ran up the eastern side, which was a little less enticing. Between us and 90 mile beach was about 10 km of pine plantation, about 2 hours walk, or a 4 hour round trip.
We had only the one day to spend, so we were torn between walking out to 90 mile beach and back for the day, or hitching up to Cape Reinga, the most northern point of New Zealand attainable by road. There wasn't really time for both alas.
After a very long and thought stirring hitch up from Auckland only yesterday we agreed the walk would be a comfortable change of pace and opted for that. Our first task was to find the road out of Houhora heading west of course. So we walked down to the village for some directions.
On the way I noticed my girlfriend's thumb in action and asked her what that was for if we were going to walk. A hitching junkie or what? Well why not? If we get a ride before reaching the beach road so be it, otherwise we walk. Who knows there might even be traffic on this beach road, though it be only a four wheel drive track.
There wasn't much time to think about it in the end as a car pulled up before we'd gone anywhere. An elderly lady who'd just been shopping was heading home and she lived a few minutes up the road. A little uncertain of what that would bring us we explained our position. She didn't know exactly where the road out to the beach was, was most insistent that we could hitch up to the cape and back with no trouble at all.
She sounded pretty convincing, the lack of traffic around us didn't back her up much, but nothing ventured nothing gained, so in we hopped. A few minutes later at her turn-off we got out and continued walking as we were thumb extended, wondering if we'd not gone way past the beach road already. Quite clueless we were.
Perhaps for the better then that within a minute a car pulls over for us. A migrated English couple from Whangarei out exploring the northern peninsula. They asked us if we didn't mind a few stopovers on the way, as they weren't going directly north but exploring along the way.
Wow, what a dream. Of course we don't mind. We're keen to see the area too of course, and hitching rarely offers that scope given most traffic is in a rush from A to B ...
As it is we ended up driving out to 90 mile beach! Then we went up north to the cape! So we did kill two birds with one stone. We picnicked at Paua Station, went swimming at a beach, and tumbling down sand dunes at the Te Puki stream, before swimming at another beach, and finally heading home to Houhora for dinner. What a wonderful day.
Earlier we had considered one of the ubiquitous bus tours up to the cape from Kaitaia. The busses run up 90 mile beach and come back down the road, or vice versa and are quite popular. In fact at the Bluff on 90 mile beach we must have seen 6 or 7 fully laden buses drive by.
In the end, we saved ourselves a considerable sum, and had a better time of it! Unlike the day before, this was indeed one of those days that left us buzzing with joy ...
It was time to head south again, this time along the coastal road to the Bay of Islands. We went for a walk down the road to a shady spot, where we waited patiently for a ride, in face of the very quiet road before us.
We were surprised when this flatbed truck comes from the wrong direction and pulls up!? Turns out they'd just driven by in the right direction, and changed their minds and double back. And we never even registered their driving by in the first place. We must have been dozing off or something.
There wasn't any room in the cabin, but we were welcome to ride on the back if we liked. Which we did. They were only going to Kaitaia, some 30 or 40 km south of here so we wouldn't have to ride on the back of this truck too long. From Kaitaia there would be more traffic which encouraged us.
Sitting on our packs, and clinging to the rail behind the cabin we rode south on the back of this flatbed. Quite a ride, the wind in our hair, a panoramic view of our surrounds and the occasional smile from traffic behind. It got interesting when we passed a road construction site, where the road was opened up and the where laying lime. In a cloud of white dust, our heads down, we idled past machinery in action, dusting ourselves clean afterwards. The wind was good after that helping to blow us free of lime dust again.
We were at the turn-off for the coastal road south, just north of Kaitaia, where they were moving a house in true Kiwi style. It's fairly common in New Zealand to see trucks driving around with half a house on the back. Here they were trussing up just such a house and lifting it off the foundations for a trip somewhere.
We got a ride fairly quickly from a Maori lady and her daughter. They were going up to "the hill". Not entirely sure where "the hill" was we asked, but the feedback wasn't very clear. It wasn't very far that much we could tell. Oh well, why not?
Turns out that the hill was a few minutes drive away, no more. Oh well, the meant well. The worst thing was, that they turned off in the hills and we were now on a winding road again with no place to pull over and dreadful visibility. We'd have been considerably better off staying where we were down on the flat and waiting for a longer ride. Sometimes you have to wonder how these drivers think they're helping? You can land in the most dreadful spots on account of very well meant lifts.
Resigned to walking a ways in search of a spot to hitch from we set out, thumb in tow of course. Just as we were looking at this wonderful stopping lane, on the other side of the road, and ruing the fact that in our direction there was absolutely no chance to pull over, this car pulls over in defiance of our beliefs. Well it stops more or less on the road, half on it anyway, as best possible off the road.
Over the past months we'd grown used to the fact that our saviours from such dreadful spots, the very people willing to pull over where it wasn't possible to do so, were often quite challenging rides in the end, the sort of people you might not ride with if you were in a better spot and less desperate to escape the spot you're in.
Imagine out surprise when we notice that this is the very same couple that had granted us a tour of the north just yesterday! We didn't even recognise the car at first oddly enough. They were of course equally surprised to see us there beside the road, and couldn't drive by leaving us in that mess of a spot. Oh sometimes fate is charming.
So we had another day together, and yes were carried on touring the north. We stopped at beaches to swim and took long winding detours to capture the scenery. We found the most wonderful fresh fish and chips at Mangonui. Wonderful.
Eventually our paths diverged, and we carried on south. It would have been nice to stay together a while longer but our flight was drawing close and we had some ground to cover yet.
We were at a junction again, waiting for a ride on the coast road heading south. We noticed a sign "Kaeo 2km" pointing in our direction, so we figured a walk wouldn't hurt us to reach this next village. We had some postcards to send anyway.
It turns out that these were a dreadful 2 km, with no possibility of a ride. The junction we were at was much better. The sun was glaring and hot making the walking uncomfortable by the side of this ugly road. All the traffic drove us by of course and we made it to Kaeo.
We mailed some card, and bought ice creams in the supermarket. Crossing the street to find a hitching spot we're waved over by a driver parked there. He'd passed us on that 2 km stretch into town it turns out, and had to do some shopping himself. Figured if we'd got here by the time he was finished he'd give us a lift.
Mighty pleased we got in. A Maori fellow with his young daughter, and her pink bicycle. He was headed south to Whangarei to visit his mother and was happy to take us as far as the Paihia turn-off on the way (Paihia being our goal that day).
On the way we got to talking about Kiwis and how we'd not seen any yet, and were about to fly out. For two months we kept putting it off, thinking we'll do it later, and now it looks like we've missed our chance. But no, it turns out there's a kiwi house not far from his place just near here. He'd never been there and felt it was the perfect excuse to make the trip with his daughter.
It turns out the thing was much further than he expected, some 12 km along an unsealed road heading west from the main road. It was shut too, when we got there, but perhaps the ultimate irony that left us smiling a bit, was that there were no kiwis there. Lions and things, but no kiwis.
The poor fellow was a little embarrassed. No need, the drive was nice and hey we did see lions, not many of those in New Zealand, quite a thing to find them out here in the middle of nowhere like this. And beside now he knows that it's a wildlife park without kiwis.
He decides on the way to take us into Paihia, it's not much of a detour for him, and maybe he feels a little funny about the lions, who knows? We're grateful anyhow. He tells us about a kiwi house in Whangarei and how to get there as we pass through on the way south. We make a note of visiting that one as its on our way ...
Hitching out of Paihia we got the most amazing ride I can recall. This old man creeps very slowly and almost uncertainly up to us in his car, and asks us where we're going. "South to Auckland" we say. He offers us a ride to the junction with the main highway headed to Auckland, some 10km down the road at Kawakawa.
He drives slowly, almost uncertainly, but then he's not young any more. Along the way we're talking about hitching of course, and it turns out he has stories to tell. He spots a couple of people along the side of the road a way's ahead and exclaims "There's another couple looking for a ride with a big red pack", while pointing at a couple standing beside their parked red car! Not inspiring much confidence in his eyesight I have to confess and much understand as to why he's cruising so slowly all the way. A little embarrassed he notices it's a car and not a backpack a few seconds later.
But that's not the amazing thing, a little worrying perhaps, but not amazing. The amazing thing is how long he'd been picking up hitchers. Almost ten years ago he started picking up hitchers in this area, and has taken a photo of every single one, got them to sign his guest book and taken their address to send them a print of the photo. The photo albums, guest books and address books he's got in the back seat, at least some of them, for you to thumb through as you're riding along. Pages and pages of photos of hitchers, couple, singles, signs and thumbs, a veritable compendium of New Zealand hitch-hikers.
Having counted the photos recently he surprised himself to find he has over 5000. He's numbered 7 guest books and 27 address books. They call him the Angel. The Angel of the Northern Hitch-hiker, indeed.
In all my years I've never met anyone who'd picked up that many hitchers, and kept such a record of them. An average of about 2 people a day every day for ten years. Wow. Now there's a well meaning soul for you.
Sure enough He took our photo, and now we're in the club ...
The junction between the Paihia road and the main highway south seems a popular spot for hitchers. There's plenty of room to stop, traffic is slow and plentiful, visibility is good. So it was that a fellow was standing there already as the Angel dropped us off.
Much to his embarrassment he came rushing up to our car thinking it was a ride for him. When he noticed we were getting out he didn't look impressed. The Angel turned around and went back the way he'd come from.
This guy had been standing there for ages already it turns out and wasn't particularly conversational, rather grumpy in fact. He didn't have any luggage with him, which probably didn't help his image a lot. A lot of drivers like to see a pack of some sort as a reassurance as to your motives in flagging traffic down.
A car pulled up once. It looked a little lost to us, no sign it had stopped for hitcher, a couple checking directions on a map probably. We watched it all the same to see if anyone signed us over. Our fellow hitcher of course rushed past us towards the car with enthusiasm, that was clearly waning as he got closer and closer. By the time he reaches the car he's hesitant but looks in the window all the same, only to be shooed off.
It didn't surprise us much that a van pulled up and threw us in leaving him stranded as before. I can imagine his frustration mounting and his chances of scoring a ride declining with it. It has a way of showing in your body language I think, and in that split second a driver needs to decide whether or not to stop, bad body language doesn't help.
A van with trailer had stopped for us. There were already two Dutch hitchers in there, and the drivers two young children. We were all on our way to Whangarei. The driver it seems, to take his kids to McDonalds for a biennial treat. It saddens me a little to think that McDonalds is considered a treat. A testament to the power of marketing, that tiny processed burgers on soggy buns can capture the imaginations of so many.
All the same it was a pleasant ride with the two kids in the back. They weren't shy, rather talkative, quite radiant. We had quite a party back there.
Here's hoping the learn to see McDonalds for what it is one day ... Ronald McDonald has a lot to answer for.
In Whangarei we got to see our kiwi at last. Following the directions our Maori friend from Kaeo had left, we found the nocturnal Kiwi house with little trouble. It was a long walk and we hitched there and back from the main highway without trouble. Short one minute rides, but saved us a trek with our bags through the broiling midday sun.
The Kiwis were wonderful to see too. A darkened house that forces the poor devils to think day is night and night is day, for the pleasure of onlookers like us. Necessary of course because they sleep all day, and only at night move about. They move about behind thick plate glass, being very shy birds.
Perhaps that is a life not to be envied, but that very lifestyle unfortunately makes these poor birds virtually unseen, unheard all over New Zealand. Thus isolated from public awareness their plight also goes unnoticed, and they are suffering greatly. The kiwi houses help to spread some awareness and are full of wonderful information. I can recommend a visit.
Our last day in New Zealand we hitched from Auckland to Hamilton some 100 km to the south, from where we would fly back to Australia.
Having stayed the night in the west of Auckland, our only problem was to avoid the centre of town. We waited at the western motorway for a lift that went past town in the southerly direction. Three times we got offers into town but not past it, before we decided we'd accept the next one and try our luck. We might be here all day before someone going around town turns up.
The next offer was also headed to town, but when we shared this story with our driver, having hitched south of Auckland many times himself, he took a southerly detour to leaves us at a good spot to head south, before doubling back into town himself.
We were at a motorway entry ramp, with much traffic, and plenty of room to pull over. There was a car fair right next to us, probably generating much of the traffic. We were having little luck in spite of it all.
This truck pulls up in time, coming to a rattling and startling halt. The driver gets out and it turns out he's only stopped to tie down his load a little better. All the same shout "You stopped for us?", and he radiates "No" but says all the same "Hop in" almost reluctantly somehow, and rather gruff about it. Unsure of ourselves we got in.
We got a ride all the way to the end of the motorway, where he turned off, which was really useful to us. By the time we'd got there, this rather gruff driver of ours had warmed up a little and was in the end glad he'd picked us up I think.
From this turn off, we actually had a long ramp to walk down to reach the end of the motorway. We could see the signs in the distance. There wasn't any traffic on this ramp, none at all.
The first car to drive by pulls up somewhat belatedly all the same, and backs up to greet us. A couple who evidently had to discuss it rather quickly before deciding to pull over. They asked us where we headed, and we replied "Hamilton". She asked him where they were headed, and he shrugged and said "Hamilton".
Turns out they were from Tauranga and not actually going to Hamilton, but Hamilton was no huge detour, sort of an alternate route home for them. Ironic in a way, our first ride out of Auckland two months ago took us to Tauranga, though we were headed in the direction of Hamilton, now this, our last ride in New Zealand was to take us to Hamilton, though they were headed for Tauranga.
Life moves in interesting cycles sometimes I think.