North To South:
Well, the long awaited adventure had started. I hitched from
north of the country to the south, doing tracks along the way.
major part of the trip was hitchhiking and that's what this chapter is
mostly about. There will be lots of tramps in the south, but
first you need to get there.
Hitching in the North,
was off the plane and my friend Gareth wasn't there. I had to
decide: hitch north or south? North it would be. I
out of the airport and stopped at a nearby gas station to make a
hitching sign that said, "North of Auckland" and the attendant couldn't
have been more helpful. It was good to be back in
truck stopped even though I didn't even have my thumb out
offered me a ride to the center of Auckland, but I really needed to get
north of the city.
Within a few minutes, three people
stopped but could only get me to city center. Nice of them to
if they could assist. Two minutes later, George stopped and
that he could get me where I needed to go. George was an
immigrant from Taiwan who didn't understand English well and dropped me
off in the Auckland suburbs, far away from any highway. There are worse
spots to hitch, but it was hard to think of them at that moment.
walked around looking for options and came to the conclusion:
There were none. I asked a guy where I was and how could I
somewhere...anywhere else. He said, "I think you'll find that
things have changed in the last few years and you'll find hitching very
difficult now." I smiled and said, "I'll do fine."
wasn't a good spot at the moment, but things would be better
enough. He told me of a bus line that led to a motorway
about six km. away.
I had made a vow not to spend any money for
transport and would hitch everywhere. It was about 3:30 in
afternoon and it was getting too late to walk to the
Within a few hours of landing and this goal had already been
missed. I was pissed. Well, at least the bus driver
jovial fellow and we both laughed at the situation.
motorway entrance wasn't a good place to hitch, but within 1-2 minutes
Michael stopped. He said that he couldn't get me north of the
city, but he could get me across the Harbor Bridge and to a better spot
to hitch. He asked me about my time in NZ and I expressed my
frustrations with Gareth and George but didn't want to be
negative. Michael said, "Get it out, let it all out
You'll feel better." "Yeah, I'm pissed off! I asked
very clearly and still he dropped me off in the middle of...." and
vented a bit. He commented, "You're still smiling, so it can
hardly be a bad mood." He was right and things were already
starting to work out.
He stopped at another motorway entrance.
While it had more traffic, it was trickier to find a good spot to hitch
as several roads converged. I walked around without finding a
good spot, but did see a police officer on a motorcycle who was stopped
near a sign that indicated no walkers on the motorway ramp. I
asked him, "If I walk past that sign, but not onto the motorway itself,
is that illegal?" He said, "If you were a Kiwi (a New
we would give you a $500 fine, but usually just give tourists a
warning." I said, "Does that mean I could go there as soon as
leave." He looked at me as if he was staring at a complete
and to be fair, he kind of was. He was subtly telling me
talk openly about it, just do it." and was thinking, "Ach, this guy
isn't terribly bright." He said, "Tell you what we can do..."
he makes a call on his radio and bids me goodbye. I shook his
hand as he left for his act of kindness. Five minutes later,
patrol car picks me up.
He said, "That's not a safe spot for
either you or the people picking you up. We don't want to see
of our tourists get hurt." We talked of rugby and the Kiwi
of sport. He gave me a ride about 15-km north and said,
can't go any further, this is the edge of my district but is a good
place for a ride." I told him it was plenty far and thanked
him. My faith in New Zealand was restored, actually, it was
It was only a few minutes when two women out shopping
picked me up. It was good to be in a country where two women
would pick up a male. They said, "Oh, you look harmless. Why
wouldn't we stop?" I've always tried for that
slightly-bad boy sort of look but always seem to fail
If it gets quick hitches, it's ok. After that it was five
until a guy with dreadlocks in an old, crappy hitcher-friendly car
pulled up. It's the sort of ride you see at a distance and
"Yep, this is the one." He went out of his way to drop me off
a good hitching spot.
minutes after that I met Doug and his son Alexander. They
how my stay in NZ was and I told them about the ups and downs of my
short stay. Doug said, "It's getting late and if you would
to stay at our house, we have an extra room." I told him I
wanted to get to Whangarei. I started to think that's the
I hitch and a few minutes later very sheepishly asked,
"Is...that...offer of your house...still...open?" "Of
replied. When we arrived at there, his daughter, Brittany,
at me and said, "Mum, Dad picked up a hitchhiker."
It was a nice
hobby farm nestled in the hilly countryside. The air was
and still, a nice place to spend the night. Doug cooked some
supper and was apologetic as their kitchen didn't smell so good as an
animal had died underneath the house. He paid Brittany to
underneath to get it, but she couldn't reach it; I understand she got
to keep the money. It was a pleasant evening and Doug and I
stayed up until 2:00 a.m. yakking. It was awfully good to be
gave me a ride out the main road in the morning. He dropped
off at a dairy where he picked up some milk. Before he
with the milk a minute later, an older couple picked me up.
told me they never like to leave a hitcher on the side of the
road. They dropped me off at a fork in the road.
went north and the other went west to the coast. After a few
moments of thought, it was hitching further to the north. I
know why, but it seemed like the thing to do at the moment. A
couple parked at the turnoff saw me and gave me a ride. They
worked at an organic farm and I told them that back home we would have
called them "granola crunchers," they seemed to like that.
dropped me off at a long, straight stretch of road, which actually
isn't such a good place. Cars were moving fast and tended to
bunch up and are too close together to easily stop. How long
it take? I don't remember, but long enough to have to put on
sunscreen. Jim and Tamar, a young couple, stopped and gave me
ride to Whangarei. I had a few other rides and reached
which was as good a place as any to stay for the night.
second car out of Pahia, driven by a couple of loggers, stopped. They
had to move their chainsaws to make room. They stopped at a
out of the way places that I would have never seen on my own and were
really interested in traveling New Zealand and asked me where to go and
about how to backpack. It was a long ride and they dropped me
between towns. Twenty minutes later, a young couple and their
daughter were my next ride. The three of us talked about
as he had done quite a bit of it, introducing his wife to it by
hitching to Wellington at the other end of the island. They
couldn't have been nicer and drove me into the hills to an excellent
hitching place. People had to slow down around an uphill
and had a good spot to pull off and if it took a while, the views of
the harbor below were stunning.
Olaf, a German studying law in
Auckland, stopped shortly after and we spent the day
would stop here and there and saw the giant kauri trees. Olaf
told me of traveling Iceland and some of the dishes that involved
rotted fish and sheep's head that he had difficulty eating. I
introduced him to the term, "choke it down." We stopped at a
restaurant that wasn't very good. He said, "It's hard choking
down." The two of us dilly-dallied across the hills and he
he could take me all the way to Auckland, but I stopped in Te Hana and
see Doug and family.
They seemed happy to see me and I
spent the time watching the Simpsons, playing a game with Brittany (who
beat me most of the time), and spent time late into the night with
Doug. He's an intelligent and thoughtful person and that's
good. Yeah, it's always a good day hitching.
spent some time with the folks in the morning but the time came to
leave and Brittany walked with me to the road, which was a nice
touch. EJ and Anne carted me away. They were a Maori couple
loved Motown and played some good music. They gave me a ride
south of Auckland. From there, it was 15 minutes for Kevin to
stop. He was driving a delivery truck and was a happy guy
nothing but good things to say. He drove me all the way to
Hamilton and asked me about traveling the South Island as he hadn't
been there yet. He said he would drive out of his way to get
to the road to Whatawhata (about 10 km. outside of the city).
Once there he said, "Oh, might as well bring you to
Once there, he offered to bring me right to the house of my friends,
Gareth and Claudia, but I wasn't sure exactly where it was.
asked directions at the BP roadhouse and the attendant, Simon, asked if
I could wait a few minutes for him to get off work and he drove me
right to the house of my friends Gareth and Claudia. I met
13 years before in Italy and he now had a five and two year old and a
newborn. I spent time catching eels with the older boy, Teo,
the two year old, Sebastian. In the evening, I would be
with Gareth and Claudia and periodically they would lapse into domestic
talk. Things had changed quite a bit since Gareth and I had
met many years ago.
spent the morning with the family but around noon, headed to Wellington
at the south end of the island. Hitching generally went
well and I met some nice people. The most notable was a guy
was a big supporter of george bush. I've only met a few
overseas who would admit to supporting him but this was the first
non-American supporter I have ever met or even heard of. At
I thought he was kidding but once I realized he was serious, I made
sure not to offend my host. A Kiwi supporter of bush, go
figger?! After several rides, I reached Wellington late at
and took the first lousy place I could find to stay. No
tomorrow it was onto the South Island.
The ferry ride to
the South Island through the Marlborough Sounds was pretty, as always,
and I spent the night in Picton at Jugglers Rest, which is one of my
favorite backpackers in the country. They used to have
lessons every night, but the jugglers had moved on. However,
still a great place and I did a few walks in the hills outside of
town. I did want to be ready for the toughest tracks that NZ
could dish out.
out of Picton is usually pretty slow and today was no
A veterinarian surgeon picked me up and gave me a ride halfway to
Nelson. He had worked for the Bin Laden family in Saudi
Arabia. "Nice people" he said. I asked what was the
exotic animal he had operated on, which was a tiger. "How did you know
what to do if it was the only tiger you've ever worked on?"
it's nothing but a big cat." It was only a short wait to get
picked up by Larry, a happy man with a gentle sense of humor and a
refreshing laugh who dropped me off in Renwick. Twenty
later Graham stopped. He went 15 km. out of his way and
me off by some nice trails near the Pelorus River.
had lived in Australia for some time and it was interesting to hear him
talk of his time there. I spent seven months in Oz and his
of the country brought me back to the days where the outback was a
I hiked down the trails to a waterfall where I
waded into the water. It was pretty cold and swimming wasn't
order of the day. After hiking back, it was a 30 second
wait. I saw a couple look at me and look at each other and
their heads and a ride was assured. They were extremely low
fuel and concerned about running out. They said, "We picked
up because you looked fit enough to help push."
brought me into Nelson to meet Gary, whom I had met eight years prior
and yes, we met when he picked me up hitchhiking. It was good
see him again. He's an interesting person who has a wealth of
experience in the outdoors. Nice guy
too. We did some
bike riding and spent time outdoors. It's always a good time
it was time to go to Arthur's Pass. It took a while to get my
first short ride and after that, Kerry picked me up for a very long
ride. He sold jewelry on the beach in Hokitika. He
gotten custody of his 14 year old daughter and was an active parent for
the first time in his life. I didn't ask too many details,
she sounded like a handful for him. He dropped me off at
Junction, which leads to Arthur's Pass. It was getting late
the scouting for a campsite was beginning. I gave it five
minutes and just as quitting time arrived, Graham stopped.
was a retired airline pilot who been all around the world. A
fascinating man with many well-formed opinions. A true
to converse with. I wished the ride had lasted longer but we
finally arrived in Arthur's Pass in the pitch black night.
rides like these that make hitching so great. Can't wait for
another day on the road!
out of Arthur's Pass to the Howden Hut and was picked up by Owen, an
Ozzie working in the area who was going to be tramping the Milford
Track and had a lot of questions about Fiordlands. He was
enough to drive three-km off the highway to the trailhead.
first part of the track was through sun-dappled forest which opened up
into a large river valley. The track was down in the
of irregular rocks surrounded by tall mountains. There was a
fence line with numerous animal traps and many, many more
along the trail. On the track was a DOC worker who explained
this valley was one of three valleys in the world which had the Orange
Bellied Parakeet. They had set up what's called an inland
island. If they trap intensively along the head of the valley
along the river, they can keep out introduced pests, such as stoats,
and protect the parakeets. The surrounding mountains are too
for the pests to cross, so as long as they can protect the open end of
the valley, the parakeet can live unmolested. It's a sad
that has happened in so many places in NZ and around the
wish them well.
I continued to walk the flood plain,
periodically going back into the forest. It was a pleasant,
day. The mountains covered in green contrasted wonderfully
brilliant blue sky. There were a few creek crossings but
too big. Later in the day there were plenty of birds
me in the trees, including parakeets, but I couldn't be sure it was the
rare orange-bellied ones or not. I arrived at the Howden Hut
had it to myself. The solitude was....wonderful!
next day started promptly with a steep climb. It was very hot
over the bare rock without any shade, but once at the top, worth every
drop of sweat. The track turned into a route (unmaintained
and on a climb up the next valley, the route disappeared. It
slow going through the scrub, much of it spear grass. What is
spear grass like? Its name says it all. I set a
if I didn't reach the pass within a certain time, I would turn
back. Unfortunately the time ran short and safety dictated a
return. It's ok, I knew how far back it was and could relax
the spirit moved. I sat on the rocks and watched the keas (an
alpine parrot) and lower down in the valley, the bush robins would
follow me along the track. I made the decision to return to
I started and the following day I took my time as the day was
glorious. Summer at its finest, I tell you.
Once I got
back to the road, a helicopter pilot, Jules, picked me up. He
hitched all the way up the African west coast. He told me
particularly bad hitching spot. While the first car picked
up, it took four hours for that car to arrive. Though, it
a bad spot due to the time, rather he was standing next to a sign that
warned of lions in the area. Another pilot brought me into
Arthur's Pass and I spent the day on some short hikes.
South of Arthur's Pass
didn't take long to get a ride from Ray, an Israeli who was so laid
back about things that he wasn't bothered in the slightest when he
swerved all over the road, whenever looking for a music tape.
volunteered to find them for him. He dropped me off at Kumara
Junction and it was few minutes until Darryl picked me up. He was a
helicopter pilot who knew Jules from the other day. He
how important it is to secure the landing zone for a
One time someone didn't secure a sleeping bag and it was sucked up into
the rotors causing him to crash and slide down a mountain. He
dropped me off in Hokitika where I saw a guy in the hitching spot out
of town. He had been there a couple hours so I gave him a few
pointers about where to stand and how to make your bags look smaller
and the like. "The sooner you get a ride, the sooner I can
one" I told him. Within fifteen minutes he was
that, it took a disappointing hour (but hey, the day was pleasant) to
get a ride from Nichole, a woman who emigrated from Holland.
had a few other rides that day on my way to Fox Glacier, including one
where upon hearing my accent, the driver asked me, "Did you vote for
bush?" When I said no, he said, "Good on yah, mate.
in!" I stayed at the Ivory Towers Backpackers and the owner
remembered me from eight years ago, my first trip to NZ. Kind
nice to be remembered...I think.
I hitched to Wanaka and was
picked up by an American traveling through the country working on
organic farms (WWOOF if you're familiar with it). He had been
Fiji and told me of his difficulties in getting past being a
backpacker. "I felt like someone always wanted something from
me." he commented. (He made me realize how lucky I was for
experiences with my friend in Fiji.) He was going to the
Track (a favorite of mine). I wished him a good tramp and
continued south to Wanaka.
Wanaka was a base for a few
days. I really didn't like the town much anymore; it had
in the last ten years. More people and more upscale, but such
the way things go. It was a place to do some day hikes and
sure my body was ready for the Dusky Track, which was coming up in a
met a Canadian, Sean, who was hitching and tramping and we did some day
walks together. I really enjoyed his company. He's very
and down to earth. I usually prefer to hike alone but it's
to have someone to walk with sometimes. Hitching to one of
tracks, a guy passed us up and returned five minutes later.
said, "Sorry I couldn't pick you up earlier, I had to drop my wife off
at home first." He drove us ten-km. down the road, completely out of
his way. That's COOL!
On our last night in Wanaka we
met a European guy who said, "I hear that Canadians don't like
Americans." Sean replied, "Yeah, Americans are fat and narrow
minded. They think they know everything and..." He
listing a number of stereotypes. I wasn't offended in the
slightest as Sean was kidding (I think). The European then
me, "What do Americans think of Canadians? I said,
"We....don't....think of them."
The next morning, Sean and I
were out hitching and a BMW 760, a car the price of a typical NZ house,
stops...No way! The drivers were two guys in their early
twenties. I look at them and again think, "No way!"
were from Birmingham, England, traveling around the country.
Either they were drug dealers or their families had LOTS of
money. But either way, nice guys. I'm not a car
fan, but it
did ride nicely. We got another ride from a German family
Queenstown. Sean stopped there and I continued on into the
mountains to the small town of Glenorchy. The