Hitchhiking in New Zealand

Kim and I bought a car online and had to travel from Whangamata to Levin to pick it up. Just to make things interesting we decided to hitchhike – in the middle of winter, across the highest and coldest part of the North Island of New Zealand, the Desert Road. The 511km trip took two days.

John picked us up at just after 8am in Whangamata and gave us a lift to Waihi. He’s lived in Whangamata for 4-5 years after moving there from his farm. We passed the farm on the way and John told us he’d just sold it. His son had been managing it but can’t afford to buy it so now he’s out of a job. John is helping him get a quarrying business going on a corner of the old farm and was on his way to the hardware store to get some equipment so they can get the new 10 ton hammer crusher going.

Then a man from Blackpool who has been living in NZ for about 15 years gave us a lift from Waihi to Paeroa. He seemed to approve of what we were doing with our lives, and told told us that he used to run his own business in the UK until he had a nervous breakdown at the age of 35. Now he says he concentrates on what’s important – enjoying what he’s doing and keeping healthy. He said that money isn’t nearly as important as people think it is and he enjoys working in an op shop.

After a long, long wait in Paeroa, Ruby stopped and gave us a lift to Te Aroha. She was in her 50s and had just been to the gym – maybe having tired muscles explained her slightly wonky driving. I had a bit of a problem understanding her as she spoke very quietly and had a thick Maori/country accent. She knew of Kim’s parents – Te Aroha is a small town.

We were only waiting in Te Aroha for a few minutes. A young man had seen us waiting in Paeroa but didn’t pick us up there as he had a few errands to run first. Seeing us again in Te Aroha he pulled over and took us to Hamilton. He warned us that the vehicle might not last the distance as he was taking it in to have more work done on it – apparently you should never buy an Isuzu Trooper. On the other hand, he did like owning a 4WD as he could take his family to the forest in it. You could tell it was a real four wheel drive becuase it had mud both inside and out.

Shayna stopped in Hamilton because she thought Kim looked cold wrapped up in her green woollen blanket. Her kids are all grown up now and we encouraged her to go ahead with her plans to travel to China for four months. She dropped us off at an intersection in the middle of nowhere – but still on State Highway 1 so getting another lift wouldn’t be a problem.

Kim hitching.

Car number 29 was Henry’s little red Mitsubishi FTO sportscar. He’d already been from Napier to Auckland that day and was on his way back. A man of few words and a loud stereo, I did discover that he thinks that James Brown’s first album was the best. Henry is also a trusting type and left us in the car with the keys while he went for a toilet stop in Putaruru. He dropped us off in Taupo where after waiting for half an hour and, getting steadily colder, we decided to stay for a bath and the night.

The next morning we didn’t have to wait long in Taupo before a woman stopped for us. She was on her way to from Rotorua to Waiouru to pick up a relative. It was her day off from working in one of the resorts just south of Rotorua. We discussed how hard it is to learn a new language and how most tourists thankfully speak at least a little English.

Waiouru was cold cold COLD! The wind was being chilled by a snow-covered and very impressive Mt Ruapehu to the north. Luckily Matt in car number 12 took pity on us and stopped – after all, he’s done a lot of hitch-hiking himself. He was on his way to Palmerston North for a funeral and I made a mental note not to tell him to “have a nice day” when he dropped us off. Matt and his wife came back last year from spending five years overseas in the UK, Europe, South America and Asia. Apparently it took him a bit of time to adjust to living in the same country as his family again – he had to keep spending time with them. He dropped us off in Shannon and there wasn’t much further for us to go.

Matthias was an older German man in a campervan. His son failed to get into university six months ago and decided to go traveling in New Zealand instead, and Matthias came over to spend a few weeks with him and see around New Zealand a little bit himself. Apparently his son has taken advantage of the low male:female ratio amongst German backpackers and has hooked up with a girl from home. Matthias took the chance to ask a local some of the questions he had about his travels in New Zealand, such as whether we’d always had lots of Maori place names (yes) or was it a new trend (no).

And then we were in Levin to buy the car from Jim and Molly. They’ve been in New Zealand for 10 months and chose Levin because Molly got a job as a doctor there. Jim just took the time off and looked after their young child. I guess they couldn’t have liked it here too much as they’re heading back to Seattle the next day. I bet they were glad to get the cash for their car before they left!

On the way home we resolved to pick up any hitchhikers we saw – it just seemed the karmically correct thing to do. We’d given up on seeing any as it was getting dark and rainy, and then north of Taupo I just spotted a shape at the side of the road. Sharon seemed far too young to be on her way to visit her daughter in Tokoroa. We dropped her off in the rain and headed home in our new vehicle.

The car!