I’ve been hitchhiking around the North Island of New Zealand, mostly because my budget is minuscule. Inter-city buses are expensive if you don’t book them significantly in advance, which I am incapable of because my M.O. is to fly by the seat of my pants.
Curious what hitching’s like in one of the most benign countries on the planet? Here’s a snapshot of my travel from Tongariro National Park to Wellington yesterday:
Ride #1: I’d almost given up hope of getting any ride down the hill in sleepy Whakapapa village. A woman from the Department of Conservation finally picked me up on her way to Okahune, and she told me I’m the first woman hitching alone she’s picked up in two years. She was proud of me.
Ride #2: After having my thumb out for less than 60 seconds, a big white truck stopped. About 30 minutes into our conversation, this healthy-looking 25-year-old told me told me he’d had brain surgery for a tumor and had restrictions on his license. He also told me he never picked up hitchhikers and that he’d actually pulled over to check his emails. Oops.
Ride #3: Stopped right before I had to walk up the huge hill out of Taihape, thank god. He worked for the biggest security company in the world and trained with the FBI. He taught me how to tell if people are lying and to take photos of the licenses of cars I ride in. And then he told me he’d had a brain tumor and wasn’t allowed to ride his motorcycle anymore.
I’m not kidding.
Ride #4: Picked me up while on duty to deliver car parts in a beater car – but he has a $7,500 mountain bike. Priorities.
Ride #5: Took me the last two hours to Wellington, and told me stories about being the head chef on an Antarctic base, being in a tiny bi-plane over Ruapehu when it erupted, and running a fishing lodge on Lake Taupo – and then took an incredibly boring conference call in the car. He also gave me doorside service to a Wellington hostel – finally.
Lessons in hitchhiking:
– Kiwis are great about picking up hitchhikers–because they all used to do it themselves and like to balance out their karma.
– A camper van will likely NEVER pick up hitchhikers. Even though they have more space than anyone else. Bastards.
– You can tell the hitchhikers in campsites from a mile away, because we only eat meals out of one pot and rarely have beer with us because it’s too heavy to carry around. (And we hate when the camper vans pull up with full coolers, cases of wine, and camp chairs.)