Side-story: All throughout the north and south islands of New Zealand, tales of amazing hitchhiking experiences were being shared amongst fellow travelers. Eventually I decided to test my nerve, save some money and see whether I’d experience the same fortune.
Leaving Te Anau, I hauled my gear 15 minutes to the edge of town so there would be no question where I was headed and waited…for 1 minute. All the concern over whether my thumb was stuck out properly was for naught as the very first car stopped and drove me the several hours to my lodging in Milford Sound. The pair were retired teachers from England on holiday – the lady was enthusiastic about the grandchild her daughter was about to have any day now and the man was thrilled to discuss running, triathlons and Cyprus. It was a beautiful car ride for not only the spectacular scenery but also for their company. Down to earth people; completely positive experience.
After kayaking the next day, the guide offered to drive me a ways down the road to where someone could more easily pull over to pick me up. We found a great spot, but as he pulled away the sand flies swarmed and for the first time I wondered if this was really worth it. No sooner did the concern crop up than a campervan pulled over. The lady explained they were only going as far as Te Anau (not Queenstown, my destination), but I could join them that far. Eager to get going and escape the sand flies, I quickly accepted. Inside the campervan, sprawled across mats in the back, were two little girls. This Belgian family live in Shanghai and were spending their Chinese New Year break between Europe and New Zealand. While the mother navigated and the father drove, the girls and I played cards and dress-up (via an Ipad, who knew). An hour in we pulled over for lunch beside a river and they generously shared their spread with me as the girls practiced their fluent English by detailing their school life and extracurriculars in Shanghai. Back on the road to Te Anau, they unexpectedly made the decision to drive me all the way to Queenstown (an extra 2 hours+). Over 5 hours of driving, dropped me right where I needed to be and they wouldn’t accept a penny. A very generous and friendly family; completely positive experience.
This experiment was way beyond my comfort zone. Keep in mind, I’m a product of watching too many Law & Orders (especially SVU) over the years. The anxiety over whether I’d get picked up and the potential dangers nearly prevented me from even bothering to try, but I’m really glad I did. [Don’t worry, I won’t be attempting this back home! There’s a time and place for this type of thing.] So were the travelers’ tales true? Absolutely. Not only was it easy to hitch-hike in New Zealand, it allowed me to meet some wonderful people.
Amazing, amazing experience.