Prior to travelling to New Zealand, I had limited to no experience with hitchhiking, besides occasionally picking up a hitchhiker (or two!) en route to the Canadian Rockies. I guess I had just heard one too many horror stories about single women who had gone missing but had last been seen trying to catch a ride on the side of a highway. But then I spoke to a friend who had recently spent four months travelling around New Zealand, and who was more than eager to share with me his budget travel secrets.
And what was secret number one?
You guessed it, hitchhiking.
In all of his four months of hitchhiking from the North Island down to the tip of the South Island and back up, he had never had a single sketchy ride. And you can imagine, that after four months of hitchhiking, the number of rides he had taken would be approaching the hundreds.
After listening to his story, and speaking to a few local Kiwis, Pascal and myself decided to try it for ourselves. Since then, we’ve hitchhiked over 950 km, all the way from Rotorua, which is about 3 hours south of Auckland down to the beautiful Golden Bay area in the South Island.
We’ve had very little trouble. What I found the most surprising was just how friendly the Kiwis are towards hitchhikers! At first we were not too sure of what to make of all of the hand gestures. So many people would look at us and point in the opposite direction. What were they trying to tell us? Were we on the wrong side of the road? We finally understood that they were simply saying, in hitchhiker sign language, ‘We would love to pick you up. Really, we would. But we’re turning at the next stop. Sorry!’
Other signs include, the simple hands thrown up in the air, many waves and smiles, a finger shaking, and two forearms held together in a cross (Was that some anti-hitchhiker symbol?). Pascal also managed to get a few honks when he tried out his hitchhiker dancing routine (which unfortunately, he didn’t let me film).
Many people told us that it would be harder to hitchhike on the North Island, but we waited, on average, about 10-15 minutes for a ride.
There were times when we barely had put down our bags when someone had already stopped.
All was going smoothly in our hitchhiker bubble of bliss until we arrived at …
Now, for some context. We had just finished hiking (or tramping, as the Kiwis like to call it) over 60 km on our Abel Tasman Great Walk. Elated, we reached the end of the trail and stopped for some pictures. I might have been guilty of expecting some grand finale at the end, or at least a café? A pub? An ice cream stand? But there was nothing. Just this sign.
And a dirt road that seemed to stretch out for ages.
A bus would take us to Takaka for $20, but by now we had bitten the hitchhiking bug, and scoffed at the idea of actually having to pay to get somewhere that close (What’s another 25 km when you’ve just walked 60 km?).
So we headed off.
We were four, as we had met up with two friends on the Great Walk, and we discussed strategies of the best ways to get picked up. We must have walked about 5 km, seeing very little traffic (maybe about 30 or so cars had passed) until someone stopped. They had room for two, and our friends graciously let us get a lift.
We made it all the way to Tata Beach, hoping that there at least we’d be able to enjoy a nice cold beer, but were surprised to find that Tata Beach had nothing. Not even a café.
Luckily, someone picked us up soon afterwards (a school teacher that we had coincidentally crossed paths with on the Abel Tasman) who gave us a lift all the way to Takaka. Up until this point, we hadn’t really struggled with the hitchhiking, other than getting away from the Abel Tasman end point.
Our next plan was to get to Farewell Spit, the tip of New Zealand’s South Island. After waiting for almost an hour outside of Takaka, we finally got picked up and dropped off somewhere halfway between Takaka and Farewell Spit. We tried for another hour, and I experimented with different hitchhiking techniques.
When nothing seemed to work, we walked over to the nearby Mussell Inn, a local brewery that is very conveniently located somewhere halfway between Takaka and Farewell Spit. A few beers helped to ease our disappointment of our first unsuccessful hitchhiking adventure.
Luckily, many more cars were heading back towards Takaka, so getting back wasn’t as much of an issue.
Our last hitchhiking escapade heading back to Nelson from Takaka. We weren’t too worried, as there was a considerable amount of traffic in this direction, but upon arriving at our hitchhiking spot, we spotted two hitchhikers already there.
And then three more showed up.
I had to step up my game.
It may have taken us longer than we would’ve anticipated, but along the way we met some friendly hitchhikers and some entertaining Kiwis! A local from Takaka told us her view about the current sad state of politics in New Zealand as we headed to Motueka.
As for our last hitchhike ride in New Zealand, we were picked up by a taxi driver, who dropped us off near our hostel with these final words:
”Not everything is about the money.”
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